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Iraq under US Occupation

Post-Invasion Looting

Project: Iraq Under US Occupation
Open-Content project managed by AJB, KJF, mtuck

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The Baghdad Museum is evacuated and locked by its curators, who anticipate Baghdad being overrun by American troops within the next few hours. The last three on the grounds are the director, Dr. Jaber Khalil; the director of the State Board of Antiquities, Donny George; and the curator in charge of the museum’s collections, Dr. Nawala al-Mutawalli. They are forced to flee the grounds because Iraqi militiamen have sought cover around the museum, and they fear a firefight. The entire area is under US control by April 9; by April 10, the Army has left the area without posting guards. George pleads for the Army to return to prevent looting, but is ignored. Much of the looting that ravages the museum’s collection takes place on April 12 (see April 13, 2003). The international outcry against the looting is so fierce that the Army will begin posting guards on April 16. [United Press International, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Nawala al-Mutawalli, Jaber Khalil, National Museum of Iraq, Donny George, Iraqi State Board of Antiquities

Category Tags: Post-Invasion Looting

Unchecked looting of Iraqi ministries.Unchecked looting of Iraqi ministries. [Source: Representational Pictures]Widespread looting and general lawlessness breaks out as the security forces of the Baathist regime fade away. Countless age-old treasures are lost when museums are looted (see April 13, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/10/2003; CBC News, 4/11/2003] US officers at Central Command in Qatar tell CBC news it is up to Iraq’s own civil authorities to stop the looting. “At no point do we really see becoming a police force,” says Brigadier General Vincent Brooks. “What we see is taking actions that are necessary to create stability.” [CBC News, 4/12/2003; Washington Post, 8/18/2005] The Coalition Provisional Authority later estimates the cost of the looting at around $12 billion. According to reporter George Packer, the looting canceled out the “projected revenues of Iraq for the first year after the war. The gutted buildings, the lost equipment, the destroyed records, the damaged infrastructure, would continue to haunt almost every aspect of the reconstruction.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 302]

Entity Tags: Coalition Provisional Authority, Vincent Brooks, George Packer

Category Tags: Security, Post-Invasion Looting

Sabah Asaad, managing director of a refrigerator factory outside Baghdad, later tells journalist Naomi Klein that when he goes to a nearby US Army base begging the soldiers to help stop the looters who are destroying the factory, they refuse. “I asked one of the officers to send two soldiers and a vehicle to help me kick out the looters. I was crying. The officer said, ‘Sorry, we can’t do anything, we need an order from President Bush.’” [Harper's, 9/24/2004]

Category Tags: Economic Reconstruction, Post-Invasion Looting

The priceless Warka Vase, looted from the National Museum and later returned.The priceless Warka Vase, looted from the National Museum and later returned. [Source: Art Daily (.com)]In a press briefing, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismisses the wave of looting and vandalism throughout much of Iraq (see April 9, 2003 and After April 9, 2003) with the comment, “Stuff happens.” The looting is “part of the price” for freedom and democracy, he says, and blames “pent-up feelings” from years of oppression under the rule of Saddam Hussein. He goes on to note that the looting is not as bad as some television and newspaper reports are trying to make it out to be (see Late April-Early May, 2003 and May 20, 2003). “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things,” he tells reporters. “They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here.” General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is with Rumsfeld at the press briefing, agrees. “This is a transition period between war and what we hope will be a much more peaceful time,” he says. CNN describes Rumsfeld as “irritated by questions about the looting.” Rumsfeld says that the images of Iraqi citizens ransacking buildings gives “a fundamental misunderstanding” of what is happening in Iraq. “Very often the pictures are pictures of people going into the symbols of the regime, into the palaces, into the boats and into the Ba’ath Party headquarters and into the places that have been part of that repression,” he explains. “And while no one condones looting, on the other hand one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who’ve had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003; CNN, 4/12/2003]
Accuses the Media of Exaggeration - Rumsfeld accuses the media of exaggerating the violence and unrest throughout the country: “I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn’t believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny—‘The sky is falling.’ I’ve never seen anything like it! And here is a country that’s being liberated, here are people who are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they’re free. It’s just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country! Do I think those words are unrepresentative? Yes.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003] “Let me say one other thing,” he adds. “The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think: ‘My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?’” [Huffington Post, 4/11/2009]
'Looting, Lawlessness, and Chaos on the Streets of Iraq' - The next day, Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbiasias reports: “All day long, all over the dial, the visuals revealed looting, lawlessness, and chaos on the streets of Iraq. Nothing was off-limits, not stores, not homes, not embassies, certainly not Saddam Hussein’s palaces nor government buildings and, most disgustingly, not even hospitals.” She is “astonished” at Rumsfeld’s words, and observes that “the only free anything the Iraqis are going to get in the next little while is going to be whatever they can ‘liberate’ from electronics shops. Maybe Rumsfeld’s marketing people can come up with a slogan for that.” [Toronto Star, 4/12/2003]
Archaelogists Outraged at Rumsfeld's Remarks - Historians and archaeologists around the world are outraged at Rumsfeld’s remarks. Jane Waldbaum, the president of the Archaeological Institute of America, says her agency warned the US government about possible looting as far back as January 2003. She says she is as horrified by Rumsfeld’s cavalier attitude towards the looting as she is with the looting itself. “Donald Rumsfeld in his speech basically shrugged and said: ‘Boys will be boys. What’s a little looting?’” she says. “Freedom is messy, but freedom doesn’t mean you have the freedom to commit crimes. This loss is almost immeasurable.” [Salon, 4/17/2003]
Failure to Protect Hospitals, Museums - Four days after Rumsfeld makes his remarks, progressive columnist John Nichols notes that had a Democratic or liberal government official made such remarks, Republicans and conservatives would be “call[ing] for the head” of that official. Nichols notes what Rumsfeld failed to: that looters stripped hospitals, government buildings, and museums to the bare walls. He also asks why US soldiers did not stop the looting, quoting the deputy director of the Iraqi National Museum, Nabhal Amin, as saying: “The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened.” Nichols notes the irony in the selection of the Oil Ministry as the only government building afforded US protection. He concludes: “When US and allied troops took charge of the great cities of Europe during World War II, they proudly defended museums and other cultural institutions. They could have done the same in Baghdad. And they would have, had a signal come from the Pentagon. But the boss at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, who had promised to teach the Iraqi people how to live in freedom, was too busy explaining that rioting and looting are what free people are free to do.” [Nation, 4/15/2003]
Fired for Confronting Rumsfeld over Remark - Kenneth Adelman, a neoconservative member of the Defense Policy Board (DPB) who before the war said that the invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk” (see February 13, 2002), later confronts Rumsfeld over the “stuff happens” remark. In return, according to Adelman’s later recollection, Rumsfeld will ask him to resign from the DPB, calling him “negative.” Adelman will retort: “I am negative, Don. You’re absolutely right. I’m not negative about our friendship. But I think your decisions have been abysmal when it really counted. Start out with, you know, when you stood up there and said things—‘Stuff happens.‘… That’s your entry in Bartlett’s [Famous Quotations]. The only thing people will remember about you is ‘Stuff happens.’ I mean, how could you say that? ‘This is what free people do.’ This is not what free people do. This is what barbarians do.… Do you realize what the looting did to us? It legitimized the idea that liberation comes with chaos rather than with freedom and a better life. And it demystified the potency of American forces. Plus, destroying, what, 30 percent of the infrastructure.” Adelman will recall: “I said, ‘You have 140,000 troops there, and they didn’t do jack sh_t.’ I said, ‘There was no order to stop the looting.’ And he says, ‘There was an order.’ I said, ‘Well, did you give the order?’ He says, ‘I didn’t give the order, but someone around here gave the order.’ I said, ‘Who gave the order?’ So he takes out his yellow pad of paper and he writes down—he says, ‘I’m going to tell you. I’ll get back to you and tell you.’ And I said, ‘I’d like to know who gave the order, and write down the second question on your yellow pad there. Tell me why 140,000 US troops in Iraq disobeyed the order. Write that down, too.’ And so that was not a successful conversation.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: John Nichols, US Department of Defense, Jane Waldbaum, Richard B. Myers, Kenneth Adelman, Iraqi Oil Ministry, Nabhal Amin, Donald Rumsfeld, Antonia Zerbiasias, Iraqi National Museum

Category Tags: Post-Invasion Looting, Security

Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan sits amidst the wreckage in the National Museum.Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan sits amidst the wreckage in the National Museum. [Source: Getty Images / Salon]The New York Times reports that in the four days of looting in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities (see April 9, 2003 and After April 9, 2003), the National Museum of Iraq has been almost completely pillaged. Over 170,000 artifacts have been stolen or destroyed from the museum, which once boasted an irreplaceable collection of artifacts from Mesopotamia dating back as far as 7,000 years. The Times reports that archaeologists and specialists once regarded the museum as “perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East.” Only today have museum curators and government officials been able to start cataloguing the losses, as the waves of looting have begun to ebb, and fires set in dozens of government buildings begun to burn themselves out. While some treasures may have been stored in safes and vaults, the 28 galleries of the museum, and the museum’s main storage vaults, have been “completely ransacked,” the Times reports. What could not be taken was vandalized; 26 huge statues were methodically decapitated. Museum officials are enraged that US troops refused to protect the building (with one exception, a single intervention on April 10 that lasted about half an hour). The museum’s corridors are littered with smashed ceramics and burned-out torches of rags soaked in gasoline. “All gone, all gone,” one curator says. “All gone in two days.” Iraqi archaeologist Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammed describes a crowd of thousands of looters armed with rifles, pickaxes, knives, clubs, and hunks of metal torn from automobiles. He watched as they stormed in and out of the complex, carrying precious antiquities away in wheelbarrows and handcarts. Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan watched helplessly as men with sledgehammers smashed glass display cases to get at the valuables inside. Some of the looters were from the impoverished districts of Baghdad, Hassan recalls, but many were middle class citizens who seemed to know just what they were looking for. “Did some of them know the value of what they took?” Hassan says. “Absolutely, they did. They knew what the most valued pieces in our collection were.” Muhammed blames the Americans for not securing the museum, as do many other Iraqis. “A country’s identity, its value and civilization resides in its history,” he says. “If a country’s civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation.” [New York Times, 4/13/2003; St. Petersburg Times, 2/6/2005] Later investigations prove that many of the antiquities thought looted were actually hidden away by museum curators (see June 13, 2003).

Entity Tags: National Museum of Iraq, Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammed, New York Times, Mohsen Hassan

Category Tags: Post-Invasion Looting

US troops with the 101st Airborne Division use tools to cut through wire seals on nine explosives-storage bunkers at the Al Qaqaa military facility. The seals were put there by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before the invasion, to seal bunkers containing hundreds of tons of conventional high explosives that could be used in the detonation of nuclear weapons. The Airborne soldiers search the bunkers for chemical and biological weapons. After finding no such weapons, the soldiers depart, leaving the bunkers unsealed. A Minnesota television station will broadcast a video of the incident in November 2004. The bunkers will be looted by Iraqis almost immediately thereafter (see Late April-Early May, 2003); by October 2004, the IAEA will report that around 380 tons of high explosives are missing from the facility (see October 10, 2004 and October 25, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Search for WMDs, Security, Post-Invasion Looting

An overhead view of Abu Ghraib prison.An overhead view of Abu Ghraib prison. [Source: Google Earth]The US Army seizes the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, which is notorious for having been the scene of torture under Saddam Hussein. BBC reporter Martin Asser describes the event: “It had been only lightly looted, vandalism mainly, and the MPs—reservists led by a colonel from Florida—were there to secure the location ‘as a possible center for operations’.” [BBC, 8/4/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Military Operations, Human Rights Violations, Post-Invasion Looting

About a dozen US soldiers witness looters stealing high explosives from the Al Qaqaa ammunition site in northern Babil Province over a span of several days. The Al Qaqaa facility is where hundreds of tons of some of Iraq’s most powerful conventional explosives have been stored since 1991 (see May 2003); at least nine of its bunkers were unsealed by US troops days before (see April 18, 2003). In October 2004 the International Atomic Energy Agency will inform the US that around 380 tons of high explosives from Qaqaa are missing (see October 10, 2004 and October 25, 2004). The US soldiers, Army reservists and National Guardsmen, will say in November 2004 that they are unable to prevent the looting because they are drastically outnumbered. Some of the soldiers call their commanders to request help in securing the site, but receive no reply. The soldiers later describe watching Iraqis heave explosives from unsecured bunkers into Toyota pickup trucks. They try, with little success, to deter the looters; one noncommissioned officer will recall: “We were running from one side of the compound to the other side, trying to kick people out.… On our last day there, there were at least 100 vehicles waiting at the site for us to leave so looters could come in and take munitions.” Another officer will recall: “It was complete chaos. It was looting like [Los Angeles] during the Rodney King riots.” The soldiers who recall the events for the Los Angeles Times ask not to be identified, fearing reprisals from the Pentagon. When US search teams visit the facility on May 8, they find it “had been looted and stripped and vandalized.” No IAEA-monitored materials are found. No US forces were specifically delegated to guard the Al Qaqaa facility, codenamed “Objective Elm” by US strategists. Marine units are later delegated to guard the facility; one senior Marine officer will say in November 2004: “That site was just abandoned by the 101st Airborne, and there was never a physical handoff by the 101st to the Marines. They just left. We knew these sites were being looted, but there was nothing we could do about it.… There was no plan to prevent these weapons from being used against us a year later.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, International Atomic Energy Agency, US Marine Corps

Category Tags: Search for WMDs, Security, Post-Invasion Looting

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warns US officials that the Al Qaqaa military facility must be kept under close supervision. The facility has long been a storage cache for hundreds of tons of extremely powerful explosives such as HMX and RDX since 1991, when, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, the UN locked down the facility. In 1996, the United Nations used some of the Al Qaqaa explosives to destroy a large Iraqi germ warfare facility. The IAEA repeatedly warned the US about the explosives cache before the March invasion; with the current wave of looting and depredations occurring around the country (see April 9, 2003), terrorists or other unfriendlies could, the agency says, help “themselves to the greatest explosives bonanza in history.” In October 2004, the IAEA will come to believe that looting of the explosives began in April 2003 because of “the theft and looting of the governmental installations due to lack of security.” That same month, the US media will learn that at least 380 tons of explosives from the Al Qaqaa cache have gone missing (see October 10, 2004 and October 25, 2004). [New York Times, 10/25/2004]

Entity Tags: United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Search for WMDs, Security, Post-Invasion Looting

Lieutenant General William Wallace tells the Financial Times that, contrary to reports, there was very little looting of antiquities from Baghdad’s National Museum. “[A]s few as 17 items were unaccounted for,” Wallace says. Curators and archaeologists have reported massive looting and vandalism, with over 170,000 artifacts and priceless objects either missing or destroyed (see April 13, 2003). [United Press International, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: William Wallace, National Museum of Iraq

Category Tags: Post-Invasion Looting, Public Opinion

Just over two weeks after President Bush visits the the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare an end to major combat operations in Iraq in the infamous “Mission Accomplished” appearance (see May 1, 2003), the administration’s plan to implement Iraqi self-rule is postponed “indefinitely” due to looting and lawlessness. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Category Tags: Security, Post-Invasion Looting

Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, whom author and media critic Frank Rich calls “a reliable unofficial spokesman for the [Bush] administration’s foreign adventures,” confidently declares that only 33 artifacts were looted from Baghdad’s National Museum, not the 170,000 originally reported stolen or destroyed (see April 13, 2003) or even the 2,000 or 3,000 now considered lost (see June 13, 2003). Krauthammer never explains how he arrives at the conclusion that 33 artifacts were taken, and does not mention the figure in subsequent columns. He does take the opportunity to lambast war critics such as Rich, who decried the looting, as indulging in “narcissism” and “sheer snobbery” typical of “Upper West Side liberalism.” Krauthammer writes that since the looting has been revealed to be less endemic than originally reported, leftist war critics have “simply moved on to another change of subject: the ‘hyping’ of the weapons of mass destruction.” [Washington Post, 6/13/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 86]

Entity Tags: National Museum of Iraq, Frank Rich, Charles Krauthammer

Category Tags: Post-Invasion Looting, Public Opinion, Search for WMDs

A panel from the ancient and priceless ‘Treasure of Nimrod,’ originally believed to be stolen but later restored to the National Museum.A panel from the ancient and priceless ‘Treasure of Nimrod,’ originally believed to be stolen but later restored to the National Museum. [Source: Zeenaraqi (.com)]UPI columnist John Bloom delves into the mystery of the looted antiquties from Baghdad’s National Museum. Curators and archaologists report over 170,000 antiquties and artifacts either stolen or destroyed, and massive damage done to the building itself (see April 8-12, 2003 and April 13, 2003). On the other hand, General William Wallace has claimed that “as few as 17 items were unaccounted for” (see May 7, 2003). After some research, Bloom claims that virtually everyone involved in the affair is lying to some degree, and, he writes, “the reporters on the scene have been played for patsies.”
Mystery Man - Apparently, Bloom finds, the controversy centers on Donny George, who is officially the director general of research and study for the State Board of Antiquities. George is not the director of the museum; that position is filled by Dr. Jaber Khalil, who “is never quoted in Western news accounts,” Bloom reports. Instead, George became the museum spokesman early in the occupation. He is also a liar, according to Bloom. Reporters say that George gave them the 170,000 figure on or around April 13. George says he never made such a claim. There were 170,000 pieces in the entire collection, he says, but he has no idea how many were stolen or vandalized. The story has become politicized, Bloom writes, somewhat in the US and far more so in Britain, where war critics have seized on the story as evidence of the lack of respect the Pentagon has for the culture of a nation it has seized. The Pentagon calls the museum a military outpost for Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, and its pillaging an understandable reaction from the Iraqi people who hated Hussein and his Ba’athist thugs. After the April looting, archaeological expert Dan Cruikshank, who works for the BBC, attempted to piece together a picture of what exactly was and was not taken. He divided the museum into three main areas:
bullet The galleries themselves. Most of the looting and vandalism took place here. But the galleries had been cleared of much of their valuables. Curators had been planning for this months in advance, having gone through looting after the 1991 Gulf War. They feared both citizen thieves and vengeful Kuwaitis traveling with the US troops. They hid the smaller items, leaving behind only antiquities that could not be stolen without mechanical equipment. Somewhere between 17 and 50 major items were either stolen or vandalized; another 15 items sustained major damage.
bullet The museum offices and conservation rooms, where the safes, keys, and equipment are kept. These areas were heavily looted, but mostly of modern equipment such as computers, fax machines, and copiers.
bullet Five secret storerooms known only to the curators. These are reinforced, locked vaults located in various places throughout the museum. Here is where most of the museum’s treasures were hidden away. Experts who visited the museum after the April looting found that three had not been opened, including one room stuffed with tens of thousands of Greek and Roman gold coins. One had been opened with a key, indicating an inside job. The fifth had been broken into and some items stolen.
Squirreled Away - George was one of the first and loudest of lamenters on April 13, blaming US soldiers for their indifference and lamenting the museum that had been, in Bloom’s description, “overrun by a ravenous horde.” However, George kept a few facts to himself. One, he put the most prized possessions of the museum into a secret vault; only George himself knows where that vault is. Two, many museum staff members took items home to protect them. Three, most of the gold items, including 600 historically priceless pieces of jewelry from the Treasure of Nimrod, are safe in a vault underneath the Iraqi Central Bank. They have been there since the days of the Iran-Iraq war. Four, at least one of the secret storerooms was found to have housed not only antiquities, but parts of a machine gun, an unexploded hand grenade, and a rocket-propelled grenade. The room itself has slit windows giving an excellent field of fire for the street below. This discovery gives some truth to the Army’s contention that its soldiers had taken fire from the museum.
Playing Both Sides - Bloom moves into the realm of admitted speculation in trying to divine George’s underlying motivation. He believes George, who held high rank in the Ba’athist regime, wanted to play his cards close to his chest until he could be sure how everything was going to settle out, not offending either the US occupiers or the Ba’athists, who might, as happened in 1991, end up remaining in power. He also believes George wanted to protect valuable artifacts that had disappeared from the museum long before the war. He wonders if George was collaborating with Saddam Hussein, defending the museum against the depredations of the notoriously rapacious Hussein family (who had no compunctions about selling treasures on the international market), or perhaps both.
Planned Burglary - Bloom and Cruikshank both believe that during the April 12 looting, the same people who plundered the museum in years past came back to steal one more time. Five of the most valuable items were snatched, smuggled out of the country apparently through Damascus, Syria, and sold on the black market in Tehran and Paris. Bloom writes: “That’s what stolen-to-order means. They had lined up buyers in Europe long before the war broke out.” Bloom and Cruikshank also cannot figure out how two of the most valuable artifacts—a 4,500-year-old alabaster relief vase and a 4,250-year-old bronze statue—were stolen. “It would have taken, at the least, a block and tackle, a hoist, and a pickup to get them out of the museum.” Did no one see any of this? Bloom asks.
Real Losses - It seems clear that several thousand antiquities and valuables were indeed looted. The latest figure, from UNESCO and the US Customs Service, hovers around 2,000 to 3,000, notwithstanding the claims of General Wallace. Bloom notes, “Even if the losses are limited to 50 priceless items and 3,000 lesser items, that’s still the most significant robbery of antiquities in living memory.” John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art said in late May: “It’s only by comparison with the most dire initial reports that said everything was gone that it seems not so bad. Yes, not everything is gone, but major things are.” Other sites suffered worse depredations—the archaelogical digs at Larsa, Nineveh, Hatra, Mosul, Babylon, and the Sumerian city of Umma, among others. Bloom writes: “Lost in all the claims and counter-claims about who was responsible, who was lying, and what was done or not done, was the fact that the whole affair was based on a libel against the Iraqi people—that they would destroy their own citadel of history. It would be the equivalent of thousands of Americans rampaging through the Smithsonian Institution like cannibals.” Cruikshank says flatly, “It is simply not true that the people of Baghdad looted their own museum.” [New York Times, 6/1/2003; United Press International, 6/23/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, John Russell, John Bloom, Jaber Khalil, Iraqi State Board of Antiquities, Donny George, Dan Cruikshank, National Museum of Iraq, William Wallace

Category Tags: Post-Invasion Looting

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warns L. Paul Bremer, the head of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), that it is likely the huge explosives cache at the Al Qaqaa military facility in northern Babil Province has been looted (see May 2003). In October 2004, a senior Bush administration official will admit that securing the facility was not a major priority at the time; officials were far more concerned with the transfer of authority to an Iraqi government (see June 28, 2004). “It’s not an excuse,” says the official. “But a lot of things went by the boards.” In October 2004, the IAEA will inform the US that at least 380 tons of explosives from the Al Qaqaa cache have gone missing (see October 10, 2004 and October 25, 2004). [New York Times, 10/25/2004]

Entity Tags: L. Paul Bremer, Bush administration (43), International Atomic Energy Agency, Coalition Provisional Authority

Category Tags: Search for WMDs, Security, Post-Invasion Looting

The letter sent by an Iraqi official to IAEA inspectors reporting hundreds of tons of missing explosives.The letter sent by an Iraqi official to IAEA inspectors reporting hundreds of tons of missing explosives. [Source: New York Times]Dr. Mohammed Abbas of the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology writes a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency warning that the huge explosives cache at Al Qaqaa (see May 2003) has been cleaned out. The IAEA had warned US officials of the likelihood of such an event months before, as well as before the March 2003 invasion (see May 2004). Abbas says that “urgent updating of the registered materials is required.” According to Abbas, the facility is missing around 377 tons of HMX, RDX, and PETN explosives, some of the most powerful explosives ever created. HMX stands for “high melting point explosive,” RDX for “rapid detonation explosive,” and PETN for “pentaerythritol tetranitrate.” The IAEA will forward the letter to the US. IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei is “extremely concerned” about the “potentially devastating consequences” of the missing explosives, according to a European diplomat. Dr. Van Romero of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology says: “HMX and RDX have a lot of shattering power.… Getting a large amount is difficult” because most nations carefully regulate who can buy such explosives. An expert who recently led a team that searched Iraq for deadly arms says that the “immediate danger” of the looted explosives “is its potential use with insurgents in very small and powerful explosive devices. The other danger is that it can easily move into the terrorist web across the Middle East.” [New York Times, 10/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Van Romero, International Atomic Energy Agency, Ministry of Science and Technology (Iraq), Mohamed ElBaradei, Mohammed Abbas

Category Tags: Search for WMDs, Security, Post-Invasion Looting

A 1996 photograph of one of the Al Qaqaa storage bunkers.A 1996 photograph of one of the Al Qaqaa storage bunkers. [Source: New York Times]The US media learns that Iraq’s interim government reports that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives, used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads, and detonate nuclear weapons, are missing from a former military installation (see October 10, 2004). The facility, Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under US control but in reality is “a no-man’s land,” in the words of the New York Times, “picked over by looters as recently as” October 24. UN inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had monitored the huge cache of explosives for years. The IAEA says that machine tools usable for either nuclear or non-nuclear purposes are also missing. White House and Pentagon inspectors admit that the explosives disappeared some time after the US-led invasion of Iraq. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was informed of the missing explosives within the last month; according to the Times, “[i]t is unclear whether President Bush was informed.” US officials began answering questions about the missing explosives after reporters from the Times and CBS’s “60 Minutes” began asking questions. The CIA’s Iraq Survey Group has been asked to investigate the disappearance.
Similar Explosives Used in Other Terrorist Attacks - The immediate concern, according to US officials, is the explosives’ possible use in major bombing attacks against American and/or Iraqi forces. The explosives, mainly HMX and RDX, can be used in bombs strong enough to destroy airplanes or large buildings. The Times notes that the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland (see After December 21, 1988) used less than a pound of such explosive. Larger amounts of the same kinds of explosives were used in the November 2003 Riyadh bombings (see May 12, 2003) and a September 1999 bombing of a Moscow apartment complex (see September 9, 1999 and September 13, 1999). The explosives can also be used to trigger a nuclear weapon, the primary reason why it had been, until the invasion, monitored by UN inspectors from the IAEA.
Repeated IAEA Warnings - The IAEA had publicly warned about the danger of the Al Qaqaa explosives before the invasion, and after the overthrow of the Iraqi government, IAEA officials specifically told US officials that they needed to keep the facility locked down (see May 2003). Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says that the missing explosives need to be kept in perspective, as US and allied forces “have discovered and destroyed perhaps thousands of tons of ordnance of all types.” Iraq’s Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Rashad Omar, tells Times and CBS reporters: “Yes, they [the 380 tons of explosives] are missing. We don’t know what happened.” Omar says that after the invasion, Al Qaqaa was the responsibility of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which served as Iraq’s de facto government until June 2004 (see June 28, 2004). “After the collapse of the regime, our liberation, everything was under the coalition forces, under their control,” he says. “So probably they can answer this question, what happened to the materials.” The CPA is defunct; Bush administration officials say they don’t know where the explosives could be. One senior official says that the Qaqaa complex was listed as a “medium priority” site on the CIA’s list of more than 500 sites that needed to be searched and secured during the invasion. “Should we have gone there? Definitely,” says one senior official. Another senior official says that US soldiers gave the Qaqaa facility a cursory inspection during the push towards Baghdad in early April, but “saw no bunkers bearing the IAEA seal.”
Refusal to Allow IAEA Inspections after Occupation - Satellite photos taken in late 2003 showed that two of the ten bunkers containing HMX had exploded, presumably from bombing during the US offensive, but eight remained relatively intact. The Bush administration refused to let the IAEA back into Iraq to inspect and verify the Qaqaa facility or any of the other stockpiles formerly monitored by IAEA officials. By May 2004, the IAEA was warning CPA officials that the facility had probably been looted (see May 2004).
More Unguarded Stockpiles - Iraq is dotted with unguarded stockpiles of explosives, say US military and administration officials. One senior administration official notes, “The only reason this stockpile was under seal is because it was located at Al Qaqaa,” where nuclear work had gone on years ago. [New York Times, 10/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Di Rita, New York Times, Condoleezza Rice, Coalition Provisional Authority, CBS News, Rashad Omar, US Department of Defense, International Atomic Energy Agency

Category Tags: Search for WMDs, Security, Post-Invasion Looting, CIA in Iraq

The National Museum of Iraq, which was extensively looted and vandalized in the weeks after the US invasion (see April 13, 2003 and June 13, 2003), reopens, though the public cannot yet visit. Many of the stolen items have been returned, the vandalism has been repaired, and the museum refurbished and updated. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other dignitaries receive a private tour before the museum is opened to the public. The opening generated some controversy, with the Ministry of Tourism pushing for a gala reopening celebration and the Ministry of Culture arguing that security remains too tenuous for such a high-profile event. The state minister for tourism and antiquities, Qahtan Juboori, says that of about 15,000 pieces stolen from the museum, 6,000 have been returned. They include 2,466 items brought back from Jordan, 1,046 from the United States, and 701 from Syria. It is unclear when the public will be allowed back into the premises. [Los Angeles Times, 2/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Iraqi Ministry of Tourism, Iraqi Ministry of Culture, Qahtan Juboori, National Museum of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki

Category Tags: Economic Reconstruction, Post-Invasion Looting

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