October 25, 2004

Missing Explosives

Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq

As we should always do before jumping to conclusions at a time when we know for a fact that various factions are trying to stampede us with scare stories and overblown outrages, let's take a closer look. October Surprises have a long history of being less than substantial on close examination. Their purpose is to get us to buy a pig in a poke, so let's open the bag and check out the pig first.

I read through the NY Times piece very carefully, and noticed that the only evidence cited that the explosives were still there at the time of the invasion was the unsupported word of a Saddam-era Iraqi official. He stated that the cache was looted "after 9-4-2003." (That's April 9, 2003, the day Baghdad fell.) The current minister is cited as confirming this, but is actually only quoted as saying: "Yes, they are missing. We don't know what happened."

So from the article we know they were there in "late 2002" when IAEA checked them, that the invading Coalition troops coming through a few months later saw no IAEA marked materials, and that the explosives are not there now. We know that two of the 10 bunkers went ka-boom before or during the invasion, big time. And we know that the only verification the article presents for the implication that they were still there at the time we invaded, and that we blew it and let them get away, is the word of a Saddam-era bureaucrat telling the IAEA that it's not his fault. One of the very bureaucrats whose butt would be on the hot seat if the explosives had taken a friendly little hike to Syria, in one of those many convoys spotted heading there by satellite imagery in the few months immediately prior to the invasion.

The story might be true--lack of evidence offered is not evidence of falsity. But there's no proof that it's true in the story itself, the tone is highly overplayed, there is significant underplaying and omission of all "doubt factors" and alternative hypotheses, and there are BIG grey areas of journalistic wiggle room in the construction.

To add some context to the startling figure of 350 tons or so of missing armaments, here's the Army Corps of Engineers report on the total amount of ordanance captured and/or destroyed in Iraq to date. It comes to 328 THOUSAND tons. Even if we let those 350 MOL tons be looted, they would represent about 1/10th of 1% of the total arms we have captured and destroyed to date.

You won't see that mentioned by the Times. Iraq was so awash in munitions that even an extra half-million-plus pounds of them is a drop in the proverbial bucket. With or without the missing explosives, there was never any shortage of munitions available to insurgents. But mentioning this would undercut the effectiveness of the article as an attack on Bush.....

Can you say "Rather biased?"

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