How We Armed al-Qaida, then Lied About It

In the Iraq war, we failed to secure one of the largest armament works on the planet; ignored warnings about the security of the plant; allowed its looting and thereby armed the insurrection; then lied about it because the story threatened the re-election of George W. Bush.

Two weeks after the start of the war, Jacques Baute, the head of the Iraq nuclear inspection teams, visited the US mission to advise, again, that the weapons sites needed protection. He specifically mentioned Qa’qaa. Just days before the invasion, he told officials, inspectors had inventoried the facility’s HMX, RDX and PETN stores and ensured that the seals were still intact. This kind of materiel, the Frenchman suggested, should be kept out of the hands of looters. There was no reaction.  …

On 3 May, an internal memo at the IAEA warned that, if Qa’qaa was not secured, the result could be “the greatest explosives bonanza in history”. …

Ali, who had worked at Qa’qaa for 14 years, was invited to the Green Zone to confer with the US military. The meeting had been called to discuss how best to get Iraqi industries back on their feet. Ali had other plans.

After the conference, he pulled the senior US general to one side and explained that he had come from Qa’qaa and that it had been severely looted. He then handed the general a dossier containing his senior staff’s assessment of the damage. Such was the extent of the looting, the report stated, it had to be assumed that all explosive materiel inside the facility – not just the RDX, PETN and HMX – had gone. The total quantity was staggering.

“We told him that we had lost 40,000 tonnes,” Ali recalls. “The gunpowder, anything that burned energetically, could be used as an explosive, so you could consider that part of the missing explosives.” If the general was concerned, he concealed it well, especially when Ali informed him that among the looted munitions were 1,000 suicide-bomb belts manufactured at Saddam’s orders in February 2003. …

On Thursday 21 October – 13 days before the presidential election – Chris Nelson, the author of a respected Washington political online report, received an anonymous phone call. A huge quantity of high explosives had gone missing, he was told. They had been stolen. They were being used to attack US troops. Nelson did some checking, discovered the story stood up and posted it on the internet that weekend. …

With the presidential election just eight days away, it now became crucial for the White House to neutralise the story. If voters suspected that American GIs were dead because of sheer official incompetence, they might be tempted to vote the wrong way. …

The looting of Qa’qaa raised a whole swathe of issues that the Bush administration was not keen to address. Not this close to an election, anyway. Over the course of the next week, the White House deployed a number of tactics to make it go away. The first tactic was simply to assert the story was untrue. …

the administration added another point: even if the materiel had been at Qa’qaa, even if it had been looted, the loss wasn’t significant. Iraq had been awash with munitions at the end of the war. Some 402,000 tonnes of armaments had been destroyed. It was estimated that Iraq’s total holdings were in the region of 650,000 tonnes. Compared with this vast figure, 341 tonnes was a paltry 0.06%. The New York Times was making a mountain out of a molehill.

On this issue there was a double deception. Qa’qaa’s administrators had already informed the US, in writing, that the sum total of munitions looted from their facility was not 341 tonnes but 40,000. On this accounting, the missing explosives constituted more than 6% of all explosives in Iraq, a very great deal more than 0.06%, in fact.

Further statistical manipulation was afoot, too. While the missing materiel from Qa’qaa was pure high explosive, the 402,000 tonnes destroyed by US forces included some very heavy objects that contained no explosives at all. “[The Pentagon] was trying to compare the weight of the guns and stocks and metal and all of that stuff,” says a senior weapons-intelligence analyst. “They were counting tanks and guns and bazookas – metal – as opposed to the raw explosive that can be directly used . . . It’s an absolutely dishonest comparison.”

How the US let al-Qaida get its hands on an Iraqi weapons factory | World news | The Guardian

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