November 04, 2004

Nouvel Observateur article confirms Al QaQaa unguarded in November

Well, I've read Sara Daniel's original piece for the French magazine La Nouvel Observateur, which ran in November, 2003. I've translated it here. It repeats her claim in the magazine this week that she spent time with a guerrilla group, the one responsible among other attacks for the SAM attack on the DHL Airbus last November, and that it was still using the Al QaQaa munitions dump to supply itself with TNT that month, seven months after the fall of Baghdad, and that the depot was effectively unguarded when she drove on to it and wandered around in broad daylight along with the guerrillas. Daniel's website has a photo from the dump apparently taken Nov. 6, 2003.

The rest of the interview with "Abou Abdallah," the guerrilla leader, is interesting in its own right, specifically on how the guerrillas were organizing themselves a year ago (at the doors of mosques), and how he and others specifically disavowed either loyalty to Saddam (then still at large), suicide bombing, or foreign Muslim influences. It's well-read in company with the contemporaneous Paris-Match interview, apparently with a leader of this same group of insurgents ("Abou Abdallah" again?). One thing you can say for sure... a year ago, the French periodical industry seems to have had a much better human intelligence penetration into the Iraqi resistance than the Americans did.

Interesting note: apparently on the same roll from Nov. 6 is Daniel's photo of two men holding surface-to-air missiles, a SA-7 and a SA-14. This pretty much confirms these are the same guys as in the Paris-Match piece, who also had one of each when they attacked the cargo plane leaving Baghdad Airport (and the same grungy white car, for that matter). Not publicity-shy, these ones.

UPDATE: A couple other thoughts this morning:

1) I never understood the hawk objection to this story, that it was only 200-plus tons of IAEA-sealed material at Al Qa Qaa. As you can see by aerial photographs, the IAEA-sealed bunkers comprised at most 10 per cent of the facility, and the agency's manifests show those bunkers as being far from full. Plus it was known to be one of the 80 or so largest weapons caches in Iraq, which supposedly had 400,000 tonnes of ammunition. Even the most conservative estimate of munitions at Al QaQaa then at the end of the war would be 2,000 tonnes, including the IAEA-sealed stuff... probably MUCH more. That's why the Pentagon briefing with the ordnance officer who cleared out the "easily accessible" 200 tonnes was so meaningless. At absolute most it was a tenth of what was there.

2) The two French interviews both also put paid to the idea that terrorists couldn't use anything but "blocks of C-4." Both interviews make reference to mixing their own explosives from the powdered explosives they had looted. (Compared to extracting HE from artillery shells, it's much safer, in fact.)

3) Here's a thought... the American major said he cleaned up all the easily accessible stuff, on the ground and in the bunkers; the subsequent pictures, including Daniel's from November, 2003, show ordnance all over the ground. Isn't that itself an indication of uncontrolled looting?

4) Daniel's article directly contradicts the Pentagon talking points on this, that the facility was "looted and stripped and vandalized" within 4 weeks of the fall of Baghdad. But Daniel's guerrillas were allegedly still going back to pick up extra High Explosive in November, rather than taking the risk of being caught with it elsewhere... therefore, it can hardly have been "stripped." The Pentagon line indicates that things happened too fast (the whole "catastrophic success" thing), but Daniel's story suggests the Americans could have still taken some corrective action any time through the summer and early fall and still kept some explosive out of the hands of guerrillas keen to use it.

Posted by BruceR at 01:37 AM