Iraq

‘Looting’

Anyone want to talk about what happened to Saddam’s WMD?

In the weeks after Baghdad fell in April 2003, looters systematically dismantled and removed tons of machinery from Saddam Hussein’s most important weapons installations, including some with high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear arms, a senior Iraqi official said this week in the government’s first extensive comments on the looting.

The Iraqi official, Sami al-Araji, the deputy minister of industry, said it appeared that a highly organized operation had pinpointed specific plants in search of valuable equipment, some of which could be used for both military and civilian applications, and carted the machinery away.

Dr. Araji said his account was based largely on observations by government employees and officials who either worked at the sites or lived near them.

“They came in with the cranes and the lorries, and they depleted the whole sites,” Dr. Araji said. “They knew what they were doing; they knew what they want. This was sophisticated looting.”

Not interested? Ok, move along now.

Still here? Ok, well, Christopher Hitchens has some thoughts on the above story.

My first question is this: How can it be that, on every page of every other edition for months now, the New York Times has been stating categorically that Iraq harbored no weapons of mass destruction? And there can hardly be a comedy-club third-rater or MoveOn.org activist in the entire country who hasn’t stated with sarcastic certainty that the whole WMD fuss was a way of lying the American people into war. So now what? Maybe we should have taken Saddam’s propaganda seriously, when his newspaper proudly described Iraq’s physicists as “our nuclear mujahideen.”

My second question is: What’s all this about “looting”? The word is used throughout the long report, but here’s what it’s used to describe. “In four weeks from mid-April to mid-May of 2003 … teams with flatbed trucks and other heavy equipment moved systematically from site to site. … ‘The first wave came for the machines,’ Dr Araji said. ‘The second wave, cables and cranes.’ ” Perhaps hedging the bet, the Times authors at this point refer to “organized looting.”

But obviously, what we are reading about is a carefully planned military operation. The participants were not panicked or greedy civilians helping themselves—which is the customary definition of a “looter,” especially in wartime. They were mechanized and mobile and under orders, and acting in a concerted fashion. Thus, if the story is factually correct—which we have no reason at all to doubt—then Saddam’s Iraq was a fairly highly-evolved WMD state, with a contingency plan for further concealment and distribution of the weaponry in case of attack or discovery.

The whole point that was lost in the media and anti-war crowing about the absence of WMD finds after the liberation of Iraq was that no-one seriously disputed there were once WMD programmes there. The question should always have been – what happened to them?

Not for the first time the focus on ‘liar, liar, pants on fire’ actually let the organisers of the invasion off the hook, as Hitchens concludes:

Supporters of the overdue disarmament and liberation of Iraq, all the same, can’t be complacent about this story. It seems flabbergasting that any of these sites were unsecured after the occupation, let alone for so long. Did the CIA yet again lack “human intelligence” as well as every other kind? The Bush administration staked the reputation of the United States on the matter. It won’t do to say that “mistakes were made.”

Actually given what else has happened since the liberation it isn’t that flabbergasting at all.

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