Explosive folly

October 26, 2004

THE NEWS that 380 tons of high explosives was left unguarded in Iraq, and has gone missing, is dumbfounding.

Safer? Wasn't the whole point of the war in Iraq supposed to be about keeping weapons out of the hands of terrorists - to make the world a less dangerous place?

Yet, as reported by The New York Times, here was this huge cache of extremely destructive explosives, kept under control for years by the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, suddenly available to anyone who wanted to pick it up - thanks to the anarchy unleashed by the U.S. invasion.

The administration's response so far has been that there were so many other caches of weapons and explosives in Iraq that there was no way they could all be guarded. That is not reassuring.

Administration officials also point out that although these explosives were stockpiled for possible use as detonators in nuclear bombs (if Iraq ever got a nuclear bomb), they were not in themselves nuclear material. That is true. However, the IAEA reported last month that large amounts of nuclear equipment elsewhere in Iraq had been pilfered. That, too, is not reassuring.

How can the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was in charge in Iraq when the explosives were carted away from the site called Al Qaqaa, have been so phenomenally negligent? Bright young civilians who were tapped by the Bush administration came to Baghdad and got their tickets punched in the Green Zone, and then went home again while the occupation they oversaw - of a country they rarely saw - got one thing wrong after another.

How can the Defense Department, to which the CPA reported, have been so blinded by its initial success that it placed America's own soldiers in such unnecessary danger? How many roadside bombs have been fashioned from this material? How many of the 966 American soldiers who have died in Iraq since May 1, 2003 - when President Bush declared victory - were killed by explosives from Al Qaqaa?

How can the White House have been so deluded by its pronouncements of success that it believed it could ignore reality - the reality being the hard work that should have been done to secure a vanquished Iraq?

It used to be the case that soldiers who fell asleep on guard duty in wartime faced the firing squad. We live in a more forgiving era, but surely those who were so derelict in their duty in this case should at least be relieved of further command.

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