Grim news – but is it true?
From Monday’s Times: ‘The Iraqi interim government has warned the United States and international nuclear inspectors that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives ‘used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons – are missing from one of Iraq’s most sensitive former military installations. The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no man’s land, still picked over by looters as recently as Sunday. United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year.’
The Times puts Bush on the defensive: ‘The International Atomic Energy Agency publicly warned about the danger of these explosives before the war, and after the invasion it specifically told United States officials about the need to keep the explosives secured, European diplomats said in interviews last week….’
Deeper in, the Times glides right by the possibility that the weapons were already gone by the time U.S. forces arrived. ‘A senior Bush administration official said that during the initial race to Baghdad, American forces ‘went through the bunkers, but saw no materials bearing the I.A.E.A. seal.’ It is unclear whether troops ever returned.’
In a tonal shift from their usual reports downplaying Hussein’s threat, the Times emphasizes Hussein’s weaponry in order to expose the administration’s alleged failure: ‘The explosives missing from Al Qaqaa are the strongest and fastest in common use by militaries around the globe. The Iraqi letter identified the vanished stockpile as containing 194.7 metric tons of HMX, which stands for ‘high melting point explosive,’ 141.2 metric tons of RDX, which stands for ‘rapid detonation explosive,’ among other designations, and 5.8 metric tons of PETN, which stands for -pentaerythritol tetranitrate.’ The total is roughly 340 metric tons or nearly 380 American tons.’
Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News was quoted on National Review Online contradicting the front-page story from that morning’s Times: ‘April 10, 2003, only three weeks into the war, NBC News was embedded with troops from the Army’s 101st Airborne as they temporarily take over the Al Qaqaa weapons installation south of Baghdad. But these troops never found the nearly 380 tons of some of the most powerful conventional explosives, called HMX and RDX, which is now missing. The U.S. troops did find large stockpiles of more conventional weapons, but no HMX or RDX, so powerful less than a pound brought down Pan Am 103 in 1988, and can be used to trigger a nuclear weapon. In a letter this month, the Iraqi interim government told the International Atomic Energy Agency the high explosives were lost to theft and looting due to lack of security. Critics claim there were simply not enough U.S. troops to guard hundreds of weapons stockpiles, weapons now being used by insurgents and terrorists to wage a guerrilla war in Iraq.’
Miklaszewski concluded (according to quotes taken down by the Media Research Center): ‘Pentagon officials claim there’s no evidence the H.M.X. or R.D.X. have been used in attacks in Iraq. Nevertheless, the explosives are still missing, and President Bush today ordered a full investigation. But one U.S. official tells NBC News that recent disagreements between the administration and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency makes the agency’s release of this explosive information, one week before elections, appear highly political.’
Neither of those points made it into the Times.
Clay Waters is director of TimesWatch.org, where a longer version of this column originally appeared.