Powered by TypePad

« From One Curse To Another | Main | Check Your Calendar »

October 28, 2004


Brad DeLong

Now I'm really puzzled. Somehow it's a plus that it's not 377 tons of explosives that were unsecured and now are missing, but 250,000 tons? That's 25 pounds of explosives and munitions for every Iraqi man, woman, and child.

Not enough troops. Not enough planning. Not enough competence.


I know how Duelfer feels. It was hard for me to get "all worked up" about the threat posed by Saddam. Of course, Duelfer's since vindicated my non-chalance.

P.S. The original Times story has held up much better than the original administration explanations imho.

P.P.S. What's with the Russians took it angle? That too was a Times first pager, er...Washington Times.

Lurking Observer

Brad D:

The first order question might be why Saddam Hussein, so successfully contained, had such enormous quantities of ammunition. If he was so contained, and so not a threat, and since he was under UN sanctions (which worked in both directions), what was the purpose behind the massive acquisition and stockpiling of so much ammo that literally hundreds of thousands of tonnes were lying around? That, as you note, there were 25 lbs. for every Iraqi (including, presumably, Kurds and Shi'a).

Is 250K tonnes better than 377? No, it's context. It is, as Anthony Cordesman noted, somewhat silly to be so concerned about 377 (or is it 380? or 373?) tonnes, when there was so much about.

There were (and probably still are) huge quantities of ammunition lying out there, although more of it is guarded now than, say, on March 31, 2003. But that's huge quantities that are no longer available to Saddam Hussein to gaze at wondrously, or plan on using.


Really? The NYT's report was that a precise quantity (380 tonnes) of a given item (RDX/HMX) was removed from a given bunker or bunkers (those w/ IAEA seals) by known persons (Iraqi looters) at a precise time (after the US had passed through the area).

We now seem to have some questions as to whether all, some, most, or none of the explosives were removed.

We now seem to have questions about whether, in particular, much of the RDX was there at the start fo the war.

We have, w/ today's press conference, some questions as to who might have done the removing (including, amazingly, by the US military itself!).

We have open questions as to what might have been in the sealed bunkers, whether the seals were intact, and when the last time somebody eyeballed the actual contents.

Finally, we do NOT know when the bunkers were emptied.

If that's considered holding up well, I suppose CBS' documents PROVE to you that Bush was AWOL as well?

As to the Russian business. While I personally had grave doubts about the veracity of that story, it was striking that Shaw's comments should align w/ those of Ion Pacepa, who had been a senior officer in a Warsaw Pact intelligence system. More to the point, if there were convoys of vehicles departing Iraq, it is not clear whose vehicles they were (although I would assume they were Iraqi), who was behind the wheel, and most of all, what was onboard (including the question neither Duelfer nor Kay nor Saddam has answered: What happened to the raw materials, including growth media and processing machinery, for his WMD??

Rob W

I will say this: The Administration's damage control on this has been some of the worst I have ever seen. They've presented several scenarios, some of which are utterly incompatible with one another. One appeared to be an outright lie. Whose running the shop out there? Larry DiRita will not be Rumsfeld's spokesman after this election, even if Bush wins.


LO-I said holding up better than the Administration's original explanations. If you deny that, so be it.

Rob W

Lurking Observer.
I think we do know that the stuff in the videos from April 18th was HMX. David Kay, the person who first discovered that Iraq had these materials blatantly said so yesterday on CNN.

We also know, from Mr. Kay again, that the only bunkers with IAEA seals at the complex were ones in which these explosives were stored. Finally, we know that the at least one and most likely several of the bunkers remained sealed on April 18th when the TV camera crew was at Al Qaa Qa.

Finally, we know that the Pentagon's PR machine is a bunch of amatuer hacks.

Geek, Esq.

The KSTP reporter, now in Seattle I believe, said that they did cut through that IAEA seal.

The Pentagon briefing was an absurdity. The soldier, who seemed very honest, was talking about loose munitions in unlocked bunkers. No seals, no powder, no HMX.

Why did the Bushies put someone as lame as DiRita in there?

And, TM, isn't it sad that "incompetent" is considered a mild term for the POTUSA?


I'm still confused about how Iraqi looters took 370 tons of stuff out while the US controlled that part of the country. We weren't attacking random looters, but a convoy of trucks heading someplace would have attracted a lot of attention. We might not have had one soldier evey 6 feet, but we surely controlled the whole area. 380 tons. That major who did the briefing said that each of their truck and trailer combos could carry 18 tons. That's 380/18=21+. So they loaded 22 tractor-trailers to near capacity and cruised them around Iraq. They might have tried it at night. Once.
If they did it one truck at a time that would attract attention as well. They had about a week between the 3ID and 101st. So they could have sent in 3 trucks a day for that week. That would have required that none of those huge tractor-trailers were noticed by anybody. Sorry, anybody who paid any attention to the war knows that either scenario is impossible. Take away the trailer and you double the trips necessary. If you use civilian vehicles and the Toyota pick-ups that seem so ubiquitous over there you are now nearing, and possibly passing, a thousand trips.
So we have to believe that there were either 22 or 43 trips by large, cargo-carrying vehicles or a thousand trips by civilian vehicles either all at once or over a week and that none of this was noticed in a war zone where we had total control of the skies.

There's all kinds of other questions, but the logistics would have been impossible.

John Anderson

"The IAEA had a response..." except the TImes-Dispatch seems to think that was the 28th - it was the 25th (well, Australian date: isn't that the 24 here, or is it 26)?
. I first started posting this 10.27 with little or no response, probably because I did not include links and noone could find the story - I stumbled across it by accident and had trouble finding it again, so I've added the links and how to find it on Google. Is that better?
10.25.2004 ?RDX never at alQQ? And never sealed?
. text http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2004/s1227830.htm
. audio Real player http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200410/r34182_85029.ram
. audio WIndows player http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200410/r34182_85034.asx
IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming interview on ABC (Australia) - "IAEA inspectors visited Al-Mahaweel on Jan. 15, 2003, and verified the RDX inventory by weighing sampling," Fleming said. She said the RDX at Al-Mahaweel was NOT UNDER SEAL [emphasis added - JSA] but was subject to IAEA monitoring."
"The bulk of the RDX was stored at ANOTHER SITE that was under Al Qaqaa's jurisdiction," IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
She says that the report seen by ABC only covers the Al Qaqaa site itself.
The second site, Al Mahaweel, is roughly 45 kilometres from Al Qaqaa.
Well, so much for about 140 of the 372 tons? Or what?
10.29.2004 3ID says "I did not see any IAEA seals at any of the locations we went into," Maj. Austin Pearson said.
Search google for "Mahaweel" - http://www.dailyherald.com/news_story.asp?intid=38289156 is the only one in the US to have this?
. But search "Melissa Fleming" and you find the Australian ABC entry.
. What video? pics of a seal on the ABC/KSTP are of a "sample" seal, not from the video! http://instapundit.com/archives/018748.php
. and from "r-dubya" comment at the Captain's place "The close up picture from KSTP is a cropped photo that is available at the IAEA site. http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/News/2002/31012002_news01.shtml It is not a close up of the seal that the news crew may have viewed at whatever bunker they had filmed.


And, TM, isn't it sad that "incompetent" is considered a mild term for the POTUSA?

Yes, but - some of us are worried that it will be used to describe the good days of a Kerry Administration. This is conventional Irish optimism BTW - we are heartened by the notion that no matter how bad things are, they could always get worse.

Lest you wonder, it is not my opinion that we are facing a choice between Abraham Lincoln and Che Guevera.

More like Sonny and Cher, actually. But which one is Cher?

The 140 ton of RDX are metric measurement - they were 140 out of 340 metric tons. Roughly 154 US tons.


I apologize to those who have noticed some cross-posting. I also appreciate our host's patience with my use of large numbers of recycled electrons.

I appreciate all the spiritied responses. I wish I could take the time to respond to each point, but at the moment what follows will have to suffice.

Al Qaqaa is just the tip of the iceberg.

This "0.1%" business is utter nonsense, blatant deception, and stunning innumeracy. It's not just that 377 tons are missing due to utter incompetence. It's that 425,000 tons are missing due to utter incompetence.

Here's the central question I think is emerging. I think this question transcends any question about 377 tons of this or that: did we do a reasonable job, in general, of securing major weapons sites, or were we, in generable, grossly underprepared to manage that crucial task, resulting in a massive arms giveaway to our enemies?

To answer this question we need to attempt an overview of the arms situation, and we need to attempt an overview of the looting situation.

First, the arms situation. Recent WaPo has some helpful data (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7418-2004Oct28.html).

How much was there when we got there? "U.S. military commanders estimated last fall that Iraqi military sites contained 650,000 to 1 million tons of explosives, artillery shells, aviation bombs and other ammunition." Let's split the difference and call that 825,000 tons.

Of that, how much have we captured? "The Bush administration cited official figures this week showing about 400,000 tons destroyed or in the process of being eliminated."

So how much is still out there? "That leaves the whereabouts of more than 250,000 tons unknown." Using the 825K figure above (for the total), I think it's reasonable to say the unknown category is 425K. In other words, the amount we've captured is roughly equal to the amount still missing.

Now let's consider what Rummy said recently: "By our count, we have destroyed over 240,000 tons of weapons. And we have captured another 160,000 for a total of over 400,000 … There are hundreds of weapons sites that exist in that country that we’ve either emptied or guarded ... the 380 tons ... mathematically is less than 1/10th of 1 percent of what you’re talking about 400,000 is as to 380 is less than 1/10th of 1 percent." (http://www.dod.gov/transcripts/2004/tr20041026-secdef1501.html)

Now what's that supposed to mean? Those figures (380/400,000=0.1%) are being mentioned very, very frequently by a variety of people. I think this is intended to suggest (and indeed I think many people are being fooled along these lines) that we've found 99.9% of what there is to find. Indeed, if that were true, making a fuss about the last 0.1% would be a case of whining.

Most people using those numbers (including Rummy) consistently fail to mention that there is still about 425,000 tons out there that we can't account for. In other words, our performance rate isn't 99.9%. It's more like 50%. The 0.1% figure that's being touted is virtually meaningless and simply intended to mislead. This is blatant innumeracy. The 377 missing tons are simply one example of the 425,000 tons that are still unaccounted for.

The logic of this is utterly basic, but the WaPo article is the only one I've seen that even bothers to mention that a quarter of a million (or more) tons are still missing (Now I notice a KR reporter who also gets it right: http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/10042037.htm). Virtually every other report conveys the misleading impression that only 377 tons are missing.

This is an outrageous distortion. Consider this example (which uses exactly the same ratios). Let's say that half the cars sold by GM were certain to burst into flames at random intervals. Let's say they sold 2000 cars. Let's say that one owner went to the newspaper and complained "my car is bursting into flames." Now imagine that GM lines up the owners of the 1000 cars that work and then proclaims "what a crybaby, he's only one in a thousand, why is he making a big deal; his situation is only 0.1% of the whole." Of course this is completely dishonest, because exactly half the picture is being concealed. But that's exactly what's happening now every time that "0.1%" figure is repeated.

Now let's consider the looting situation. Bremer's report (http://www.iraqcoalition.org/regulations/20040420_CPAORD_75_Realignment_of_Military_Industrial_Companies__with_Annex_A.pdf) indicates that as of 4/15/04, the level of "Machines Destruction and Looting" at Al Qaqaa was 85%. Is that an aberration? Apparently not. This memo lists 32 major military/industrial facilities, representing a total employment of almost 50,000 people, that suffered looting damage at an average level of roughly 73%.

Is this our only offical indication of looting? No. Senior figures in our ally, the new Iraqi government, have expressed dire concern about wholesale, widespread looting of military sites (http://www.turkishpress.com/news.asp?id=31993).

Anyway, the history of massive looting across the country is well-documented (WaPo 4/8/03, "Rampant Looting Sweeps Iraq," http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A10475-2003Apr11&notFound=true/). So is Rummy's famous comment about ostensibly inevitable "untidiness."

So what does Rummy say now about looting? "U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he doubts hundreds of tons of Iraqi explosives were looted after U.S. forces invaded the nation ... 'We would have seen anything like that ... The idea that it was suddenly looted and moved out, all these tons of equipment, I think that is at least debatable.'" (http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20041029-104704-4552r.htm and http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/10042037.htm)

This is staggering. Then how did Al Qaqaa reach a status (by 4/15/04) of 85% looted? Or is Rummy saying Bremer is a liar? Also, if it's doubtful that "hundreds of tons of Iraqi explosives were looted after U.S. forces invaded the nation," then how did it come to pass that 425,000 tons of munitions are missing? It's not just that hundreds of "tons of Iraqi explosives were looted after U.S. forces invaded the nation." It's that almost half a million "tons of Iraqi explosives were looted after U.S. forces invaded the nation."

Hmm, let's see. 425,000 tons of munitions are missing. Bremer himself documents that Al Qaqaa and other major sites became (roughly) 73% looted, within the first twelve months. Am I the only one that thinks that perhaps these two facts are connected? Why is our government doing everything it can to obscure the fact that for every ton we've captured, there's another ton out there that we can't find (until it finds us, in the form of an IED or car bomb)? Why is our government doing everything it can to hide the fact that we failed to prevent rampant looting at major weapons sites?

Rummy often asserts that "in many instances Saddam Hussein took weapons out of weapons sites and put them in – we found them in hospitals, we found them in schools, we found them all across that country, buried in some instances" (ibid.). Without saying so directly, Rummy is trying to explain why we still can't find 425,000 tons. The implication here is that before we showed up, Saddam covertly (despite extensive satellite surveillance and scores of UN inspectors) took half his massive arsenal and hid it under someone's bed, and that's why we still can't find it. That's absurd. Aside from the fact that we would have noticed and screamed bloody murder, did Saddam trust his people enough to hand them half his munitions? I doubt it. It makes much more sense to understand that the reason we're currently finding ammo in all sorts of funny places is that the looters had to put it somewhere, after we let them steal it.

Here's the simple truth, as shown by the facts: after we chased his troops into the hills, we left Saddam's arsenals unguarded (simply because we were unprepared to do otherwise; we were counting on flowers and kisses). As a result, half that stuff is now in our hands, and the other half is in the hands of our enemies. Someone please show me why some other interpretation of the facts is more parsimonious than this one.

By the way, making a mistake like this is bad enough. But it's much, much worse to deny reality and avoid taking responsibility.

By the way, note that the best the Pentagon can do at this point is trot out someone (Pearson) who was there five days before ABC shot video of IAEA seals. Pearson admits he made no attempt to even look for (let alone remove) IAEA-sealed material.

Incidentally, this is the same moment we discover that not only is Bush a failure at hiring a competent Secretary of Defense, but he is also a failure at hiring competent Photoshop artists, and even the guy who tailors his shirts can't manage to avoid the Quasimodo effect.

It's also comforting to note this development: a crowd of Americans is asked to swear an oath of loyalty. Not to the flag, not to the country, not to the constitution, but to George Bush. Stunning.

Meanwhile, we find out that (as aptly put by WR Pitt) "Mr. Wanted-Dead-Or-Alive is still upright and breathing," and thanks Bush for continuing to read the goat story, so that the bad guys would have plenty of time to get their work done. Nice to know how our staunch CinC felt about all this: "... I don't know where he is ... I just don't spend that much time on him ... I truly am not that concerned about him."

One more thing. On 10/27/2000, a CNN poll gave Bush a 13-point lead.

Cecil Turner

"Incidentally, this is the same moment we discover that not only is Bush a failure at hiring a competent Secretary of Defense . . ."

I'm trying to identify the likely Kerry Administration defense experts that could match the Bush team's top three (Cheney, Powell, and Rumsfeld) . . . and my feeling is you really ought to pick another talking point.

"Nice to know how our staunch CinC felt about all this: "... I don't know where he is ... "

"And if I am elected, I will send the entire US Army to hunt down the last cavedwelling terrorist in Pakistan"? In order to have a convincing criticism, you need to propose an alternative that'd work better. Coming up with a dumber idea isn't persuasive.


Yes jukeboxgrad, as you just figured out and showed us so eloquently, Iraq is a dangerous place.
I'm not going to argue the numbers as I don't know them and you could be right. But you did leave at least one thing out of your lengthy analysis. We don't really have maps to all of these bunkers scattered around the country and, in many cases, buried. Do you remember the Migs we accidently found buried in the sand? Think California, lots of desert and open waste-lands. There aren't signs on the freeways that say "gas/food/lodging/ammo-dump".

We would need a soldier every 6 feet to do it perfectly.


"We don't really have maps to all of these bunkers scattered around the country and, in many cases, buried."

Of course not. But we had detailed maps to the major ones (on account of the UN, and on account of our airborne surveillance), and we acted like those maps didn't exist. It's not a question of failing to find and secure some minor cache hidden in the desert somewhere. We consistently failed to secure the major sites, and as a result what's missing now is not just high-explosives, but also nuke-related machines, old chemical warheads, and live HIV virus. Is this were a movie, it would be hysterically funny. Given GWB's life in a bubble (in his own words), maybe to him it is just a movie.

Cecil Turner

"Of course not. But we had detailed maps to the major ones (on account of the UN, and on account of our airborne surveillance), and we acted like those maps didn't exist."

Which would explain why the 3ID and 101st dropped in there in the first place, and Major Pearson spent so much time and effort blowing stuff up?

"what's missing now is not just high-explosives, but also nuke-related machines, old chemical warheads, and live HIV virus."

Really? And what was Saddam doing with that stuff anyway, after 12 years of swearing he wasn't?

The comments to this entry are closed.