Cuckoo About Qaqaa

by Venomous Kate

By now, one would think the mainstream media would be hasty to correct inaccurate stories, what with all the flak the Beeb, CBS and 60 Minutes II have taken in the past year. But no. Once again it’s left to bloggers to point out the obvious.

The NY Times — which first “broke” the story about the explosives at Al Qaqaa — continues to emphasize the weapons’ presence when U.S. troops first reached the munitions complex and found crates of HMX still bearing the IAEA seal.

Mainstream media is missing the point, which is: given the history of the Al Qaqaa site, why did the IAEA abandon it on March 15, 2003, leaving all of the HMX and other munitions in place? Al Qaqaa State Establishment, after all, was a known part of Saddam’s pre-1991 clandestine nuclear program.

According to intelligence collected by Western governments in 1990, Saddam Hussein got serious about acquiring technology and equipment for nuclear weapons in 1987. Two different organizations were involved in the procurement and development tasks for his clandestine nuclear program: The first, Al Qaqaa State Establishment, located in Iskandariya near Baghdad, was thought to be in charge of developing the non-nuclear components for a nuclear weapon, German intelligence documents say.

That, of course, emphasizes the irresponsibility of the agency’s decision to leave behind an unguarded cache of an explosive capable of triggering a nuclear device in a country on the eve of war.

But it’s not the first time the IAEA has chosen to ignore the potential dangers involved. Nine years prior, U.N. weapons inspector Charles Deulfer had urged the agency to remove the munitions.

Mr. Duelfer said he was rebuffed at the time by the Vienna-based agency because its officials were not convinced the presence of the HMX, RDX, and PETN explosives was directly related to Saddam Hussein’s programs to amass weapons of mass destruction.

Instead of accepting recommendations to destroy the stocks, Mr. Duelfer said, the atomic-energy agency opted to continue to monitor them.

The agency’s decision to leave the munitions in place was nothing short of gross negligence. After all, the IAEA had confirmed Al Qaqaa’s role in Saddam’s clandestine nuclear program. According to the agency’s Fact Sheet on Iraq’s Nuclear Weapon’s program, Al Qaqaa was one of several places Saddam had used to create weapons-grade nuclear material.

Research & Development: Created special unit at Al Qaqaa for the production of high explosive lenses, detonators and propellants for nuclear weapons.

Indeed, it appears that the IAEA and UNSCOM have, despite all evidence, chosen to ignore the possible dangers contained within the Al Qaqaa facility. If nothing else, Saddam’s history of evading the agency’s requests for information on the site should’ve tipped them off.

During the June/July 1998 discussions, IAEA again raised with Iraq the matter of Iraq’s declared inability to provide certain drawings, documents and experimental test data. Specifically, Iraq has maintained that it no longer has in its possession weapon-design engineering drawings, the Al QaQaa drawing register, experimental data on the results of PC-3 (the cover organization of the clandestine nuclear programme) related experimental work carried out at Al QaQaa after 1988, drawings of explosive lenses or the drawings received from foreign sources in connection with Iraq’s centrifuge uranium enrichment programme.

Curiously, in their haste to depart prior to the US-led invasion, the IAEA took very few steps to render Al Qaqaa safe.

[A]n IAEA report* obtained by FOX News said the inspectors noted that despite the fact that the Al-Qaqaa bunkers were locked, ventilation shafts remained open and provided easy access to the explosives.

The IAEA can definitively say only that the documented ammunition was at the facility in January; in March, an agency spokesman conceded, inspectors only checked the locked bunker doors.

*Read the report in full. (pdf)

So why, then, is the IAEA — and the world — attempting to shift the blame for the missing weapons to President Bush and the Coalition forces, who did not even reach the Al Qaqaa site until April 3, 2003?

On April 3, 2003, elements of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division made it to Al Qaqaa, where they were engaged by Iraqi forces from inside the facility, Defense officials told FOX News.

The 3rd Infantry soldiers stayed long enough to battle the Iraqis and to give the facility a brief inspection before heading out to continue on their prime objective — reaching the Iraqi capital.

A day or so after Baghdad fell on April 9, 2003, troops from the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade arrived at Al-Qaqaa.

One officer with the 101st said looters had already gone through the facility.

Ultimately, if anyone is to blame for the missing explosives, it is the IAEA itself. The agency knew as far back as 1990 that Al Qaqaa was involved in Saddam’s clandestine nuclear program, and five years later weapons inspectors warned that the site’s cache of HMX should be removed and destroyed. Just as the agency chose to ignore warnings about the possible theft or misuse of the explosives, the agency has also consistently chosen to leave those munitions unguarded: first, in 1998 when the IAEA left Iraq, not knowing when or if it would return, and again on March 15, 2003, the eve of war.

Developing story…additional details and sources are continuing to be added.

UPDATE 10:35 a.m.: Keep in mind that the IAEA left Iraq on March 15, 2003, that the U.S. strike began on March 19, 2003. So who owns/owned the trucks depicted in this photo of Al Qaqaa, taken on March 17, 2003?

This picture released by the Pentagon Oct. 28, 2004 shows trucks parked outside one of the bunkers of the Al Qa Qaa Explosive Storage Complex on March 17, 2003
Source: Fox News

UPDATE 11:39 a.m.: At least one U.S. official suspects that Russia may have carted away many of Iraq’s munitions prior to the war. John Shaw, deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, says he is “almost certain” the Russians removed the munitions at Al Qaqaa.

“The Russians brought in, just before the war got started, a whole series of military units,” Mr. Shaw said. “Their main job was to shred all evidence of any of the contractual arrangements they had with the Iraqis. The others were transportation units.”

Russian involvement in weapons removal wouldn’t be all that surprising, considering that Russia had sold banned weapons to Iraq for years prior to the war and was suspected of training Saddam’s intelligence officers. Although Russia denied the training relationship, just days before the war Saddam’s defense minister bestowed decorations on two Russian generals in Baghdad for unspecified “services to Iraq.” (Within days of Russia’s denial, Iraqi intelligence documents detailing the Iraq-Russia spy link were discovered in Mukhabarat.)

3 Responses to “Cuckoo About Qaqaa”

  1. Very nice investigative piece, but does the revelation of the Army Captain that his unit effectively removed the munitions, and was only made aware there was a question as to their whereabouts after the NYT story broke dispense with any need to point the finger of blame at anyone?

  2. Tig, 377 tons were missing. According to Maj. Pearson’s account, his team removed 250 tons of munitions, and they don’t know what percentage consisted of the missing explosives. Even if the entire removed load consisted of the missing explosives (which he’d certainly remember, don’t you think?) that still leaves 127 tons unaccounted for.

    You can the IAEA – and Kerry – are still going to try to blame Bush and the US troops for their absence.

    So Pearson’s statement only narrows the question: were the missing explosives taken before or after his unit got to Al Qaqaa?

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