A mess of missing ordnance
In Iraq, weapons, weapons everywhere--and free for the taking
It came out of nowhere to dominate the final week of the presidential campaign. But the disclosure that tons of advanced explosives had somehow vanished from an Iraqi weapons dump came as no surprise to David Kay. The former chief U.S. weapons inspector says there has been looting at scores of unguarded Iraqi weapons dumps since the American invasion. "During the fall of 2003, what you would see was Iraqis going in at night, individually and in trucks," Kay told U.S. News . "They would pull ordnances out and drive off." Security was so bad after Saddam Hussein's regime fell, Kay recalled, that his team was often shot at by insurgents when they went to inspect the sites: "There were just not enough boots on the ground, and the military didn't give it a high enough priority to stop the looting. Tens of thousands of tons of ammunition were being looted, and that is what is fueling the insurgency."
Arsenal. What fueled the heated exchanges between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry last week was something quite different. Within hours of the disclosure of the missing explosives from the al Qaqaa weapons dump, Kerry used the report to ratchet up his criticism of Bush for his alleged mismanagement of the Iraq war and the planning for the postconflict phase. After three days of ignoring the issue, Bush finally responded, blasting Kerry for making "wild charges" about the missing explosives. Absent from all the campaign rhetoric was any hard evidence showing whether the explosives were taken from the weapons facility before or after the fall of Baghdad, on April 9, 2003. Despite a Pentagon investigation, the answer to when the explosives were taken may never be known conclusively.
But secret Defense Intelligence Agency documents obtained by U.S. News confirm Kay's account of extensive looting at Iraqi weapons sites and indicate that the problem was much larger than the explosives taken from al Qaqaa. A DIA report dated Nov. 9, 2003, notes that the "[v]ast majority of explosives and ordnance used in anti-Coalition improvised explosive devices/IED s have come from pilfered Iraqi ammunition stockpiles and prewar established . . . caches." Another report, a "special analysis" prepared by a joint Defense Department intelligence task force last December, reflected similar concerns. The report said that the number of attacks on coalition forces and Iraqi citizens jumped from 115 the previous May to more than 1,060 in November and concluded that the weapons being used by the insurgents were not limited to "small arms, mortars, rockets, and explosives" but included surface-to-air missiles. The report concluded that attacks using IED s "have grown at a sustained rate . . . accounting for the largest percentage of coalition casualties." It also provided chilling evidence of the range of weapons available to the insurgents. They "retain access to virtually all the weapons systems and ordnances previously controlled by the Iraqi military, security and intelligence assets," the report concluded. "Unsecured arms depots and storage sites, in addition to open and black market availability of weapons and ammunition, eliminate the need for the [insurgents] to maintain a formidable arsenal."