Read the New York Times story below, and then read Josh Marshall’s account of the poorly-coordinated attempt from the White House and the Bush campaign to kick up enough dust to hide the naked incompetence displayed at al Qaqaa.
Note that, even if you accepted one of the White House’s three or four mutually contradictory theories about what happened to 380 tons of high explosive, you’d still be left wondering why no one noticed at the time they were missing, or made the mandatory report to the IAEA until three weeks ago.
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 27 – Looters stormed the weapons site at Al Qaqaa in the days after American troops swept through the area in early April 2003 on their way to Baghdad, gutting office buildings, carrying off munitions and even dismantling heavy machinery, three Iraqi witnesses and a regional security chief said Wednesday.
The Iraqis described an orgy of theft so extensive that enterprising residents rented their trucks to looters. But some looting was clearly indiscriminate, with people grabbing anything they could find and later heaving unwanted items off the trucks.
Two witnesses were employees of Al Qaqaa – one a chemical engineer and the other a mechanic – and the third was a former employee, a chemist, who had come back to retrieve his records, determined to keep them out of American hands. The mechanic, Ahmed Saleh Mezher, said employees asked the Americans to protect the site but were told this was not the soldiers’ responsibility.
The accounts do not directly address the question of when 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives vanished from the site sometime after early March, the last time international inspectors checked the seals on the bunkers where the material was stored. It is possible that Iraqi forces removed some explosives before the invasion.
But the accounts make clear that what set off much if not all of the looting was the arrival and swift departure of American troops, who did not secure the site after inducing the Iraqi forces to abandon it.
Note to the tiny minority of my readership that might be interested in the political impact of this: This will be the fourth news day dominated by a story about a Bush screw-up in Iraq, with only four more news days until the election. That can’t be the atmosphere in which Karl Rove would like the undecided voters to be deciding. Complaining that your opponent is somehow cheating, or showing desperation, by reading the newspapers seems somewhat of a far fetch.