Experts worry other weapons are circulating in Iraq
VIENNA, Austria – Revelations that nearly 400 tons of conventional explosives have disappeared in Iraq have experts worrying that other weapons might also be in jeopardy of falling into insurgent or terrorist hands.
Even the State Department concedes it can’t provide “100 percent security for 100 percent of the sites.” And by all accounts, Iraq is studded with weapons depots – many in places where U.S.-led forces are preoccupied by fierce fighting.
Troubling questions about which other weapons could be vulnerable to looting have arisen since the U.N. nuclear agency’s warning this week that 377 tons of non-nuclear explosives vanished from the former Al-Qaqaa military installation south of Baghdad.
International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Tuesday that the Iraqis have not told the IAEA about any other missing materials since their Oct. 10 letter stating that the weapons vanished from Al-Qaqaa as a result of “theft and looting … due to lack of security” sometime after coalition forces took control of the capital.
But she said the agency’s chief Iraq inspector, Jacques Baute, “would encourage more such reporting on what has happened to sites subject to IAEA verification.” IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei reported the explosives’ disappearance to the U.N. Security Council on Monday.
The missing explosives have become a hot issue in the final week of the presidential campaign, with the White House stressing that the U.S.-led coalition has destroyed hundreds of thousands of munitions and the Kerry campaign calling the disappearance the latest in a “tragic series of blunders.”
“There was an utter lack of curiosity to follow up on what was well-known to the U.N.,” said David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector.
“There was a systematic failure of the military, which overran the country and left all these explosives behind without protecting its rear,” he said. “The military should have had the sense to either secure high explosives and armaments or blow them up as they went through.”
The Al-Qaqaa explosives included HMX and RDX, key components in plastic explosives, which insurgents in Iraq have used in repeated bomb attacks on the U.S.-led multinational force.
Among Iraq’s known weapons depots is one near Khaldiya – about 50 miles west of the capital – where a suicide car bomber attacked a U.S. convoy Monday, destroying at least two Humvees. Others have been identified around Tikrit and near Karbala – places where U.S.-led forces have battled insurgents and been targeted by car bombs.
Last week, a patrol from the 1st Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade discovered a weapons cache at a large depot near Salman Pak, south of Baghdad.