Sunday, October 31, 2004

The New York Times > AP > International > Weapons Remain Unaccounted for in Iraq

The New York Times > AP > International > Weapons Remain Unaccounted for in Iraq:
"From the deserts of the south and west to the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq is awash in weapons sites -- some large, others small; some guarded, others not. Even after the U.S. military secured some 400,000 tons of munitions, as many as 250,000 tons remain unaccounted for.

Attention has focused on the al-Qaqaa site south of Baghdad, where 377 tons of explosives are believed to have gone missing -- becoming a heated issue in the final days of the U.S. presidential campaign."

But with the names of other sites popping up everywhere -- al-Mahaweel, Baqouba, Ukhaider, Qaim -- experts say the al-Qaqaa stash is only a tiny fraction of what's buried in the sands of Iraq.

``There is something truly absurd about focusing on 377 tons,'' said Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst and Iraq expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. He contends Iraq's prewar stockpiles ``were probably in excess of 650,000 tons.''

Underscoring the depth of Iraq's militarization before the March 2003 invasion, the Pentagon says U.S.-led forces have destroyed 240,000 tons of munitions and have secured another 160,000 tons that is awaiting destruction.

Through mid-September, coalition forces inspected and cleared more than 10,000 caches of weapons, U.S. arms hunter Charles Duelfer said in a recent report. But up to 250,000 tons remains unaccounted for, according to military estimates, much of it in small stashes scattered around the country.

The Bush administration has touted the thousands of tons of explosives it did find after the March 2003 invasion as a sign of success, and officials argue that U.S. forces pushing to Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussein could not stop to secure every cache.

Critics, however, say war planners should have committed more troops to the task of securing sites or let U.N. inspectors back to help.

The debate is sharpened by the possibility that whatever munitions unsecured may since have fallen into the hands of Iraqi insurgents leading a bloody campaign of bombings and attacks on U.S. forces since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Among the sites that don't appear to have been secured was a cache of hundreds of surface-to-surface warheads at the 2nd Military College in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Each warhead is believed to have contained 57 pounds of high explosives.

Peter Bouckaert, who heads the emergency team for New York-based Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press he was shown a room ``stacked to the roof'' with the warheads on May 9, 2003. He said he gave U.S. officials in Baghdad the exact GPS coordinates for the site, but that it was still not secured when he left the area 10 days later.

``Looting was taking place by a lot of armed men with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades,'' Bouckaert said Saturday in a telephone interview from South Africa.

``Everyone's focused on Al-Qaqaa, when what was at the military college could keep a guerrilla group in business for a long time creating the kinds of bombs that are being used in suicide attacks every day,'' he said.
con·cept: The New York Times > AP > International > Weapons Remain Unaccounted for in Iraq