Tuesday, October 26, 2004

NYTimes > Campaign 2004 > The Candidates: Iraq Explosives Become Issue in Campaign

The New York Times > Washington > Campaign 2004 > The Candidates: Iraq Explosives Become Issue in Campaign:
"The White House sought on Monday to explain the disappearance of 380 tons of high explosives in Iraq that American forces were supposed to secure, as Senator John Kerry seized on the missing cache as "one of the great blunders of Iraq" and said President Bush's "incredible incompetence" had put American troops at risk.

Mr. Bush never mentioned the disappearance of the high explosives during a long campaign speech in Greeley, Colo., about battling terrorism. Instead, evoking images of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and traveling with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, at his side, Mr. Bush made an impassioned appeal to voters to let him "finish the work we have started." But he also charged that his opponent had abandoned the defense principles of Democrats like John F. Kennedy.

"Senator Kerry has turned his back on 'Pay any price and bear any burden,' " Mr. Bush said, "and he has replaced those commitments with 'wait and see' and 'cut and run.' "

Yet even as Mr. Bush pressed his case, his aides tried to explain why American forces had ignored warnings from the International Atomic Energy Agency about the vulnerability of the huge stockpile of high explosives, whose disappearance was first reported on Monday by CBS and The New York Times.

In several sessions with reporters, the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, alternately insisted that Mr. Bush 'wants to make sure that we get to the bottom of this' and tried to distance the president from knowledge of the issue, saying Mr. Bush was informed of the disappearance only within the last 10 days. White House officials said they could not explain why warnings from the international agency in May 2003 about the stockpile's vulnerability to looting never resulted in action. At one point, Mr. McClellan pointed out that 'there were a number of priorities at the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.'

Asked about accusations from the Kerry campaign that the White House had kept the disappearance secret until The Times and CBS broke the story on Monday morning, Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, said the White House had decided 'to get all the facts and find out exactly what happened in this case, and then whether there are other cases.'

Ms. Bartlett went on to say, 'So doing it piecemeal - I don't think that would have been the responsible thing.' He said that so far, no other large-scale cases of looting of explosives had been found."…

While the White House sought to minimize the importance of the loss of the HMX and RDX - two commonly used military explosives that can also be used to bring down airplanes or to create a trigger for nuclear weapons - the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, took the unusual step on Monday of writing to the United Nations Security Council to report that the explosives were gone. He usually sends a report every six months, and his last was just a few weeks ago.

"He doesn't do that to report trivia," a European diplomat familiar with Dr. ElBaradei's views said. "It's something that is considered grave."

Dr. ElBaradei said his agency, whose inspectors were barred from returning to Iraq by the Bush administration after the invasion, had informed the multinational force in Iraq of the disappearance 10 days ago, hoping for "an opportunity to attempt to recover the explosives before this matter was put into the public domain." However, he noted Monday's news coverage and said he had to inform the full Security Council.

Bush Accuses Kerry of Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

As a quarterback, Bush is a shrill cheerleader.

con·cept: NYTimes > Campaign 2004 > The Candidates: Iraq Explosives Become Issue in Campaign