According to an International Atomic Energy Agency report issued earlier this month, there was “widespread and apparently systematic dismantlement that has taken place at sites previously relevant to Iraq’s nuclear program.” This includes nearly 380 tons of high explosives suitable for detonating nuclear weapons or killing American troops. Some of the looting continued for many months — possibly into 2004. Using heavy machinery, organized gangs took apart, according to the IAEA, “entire buildings that housed high-precision equipment.”
This equipment could be anywhere. But one good bet is Iran, which has had allies and agents in Iraq since shortly after the US-led forces arrived.
This was a preventable disaster. Iraq’s nuclear weapons-related materials were stored in only a few locations, and these were known before the war began. As even L. Paul Bremer III, the US administrator in Iraq, now admits, the United States had far too few troops to secure the country following the fall of Saddam Hussein. But even with the troops we had, the United States could have protected the known nuclear sites. It appears that troops did not receive relevant intelligence about Iraq’s WMD facilities, nor was there any plan to secure them. Even after my briefing, the Pentagon leaders did nothing to safeguard Iraq’s nuclear sites.
I supported President Bush’s decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein. At Wolfowitz’s request, I helped advance the case for war, drawing on my work in previous years in documenting Saddam’s atrocities, including the use of chemical weapons on the Kurds. In spite of the chaos that followed the war, I am sure that Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein.
It is my own country that is worse off — 1,100 dead soldiers, billions added to the deficit, and the enmity of much of the world. Someone out there has nuclear bomb-making equipment, and they may not be well disposed toward the United States. Much of this could have been avoided with a competent postwar strategy. But without having planned or provided enough troops, we would be a lot safer if we hadn’t gone to war.