An Ounce Of Prevention

There has been much commotion over the lack of armor on Iraq vehicles and vests, but that's always been a trade-off. If you reinforce a HUMV enough to survive an RPG strike, you may make it too heavy to accelerate to avoid getting hit; and full body armor suits are great except when 120 temperatures causes soldiers to collapse from heat prostration.

The far more egregious outrage is why hundreds of thousands of tons of ordnance were allowed to be looted by insurgents in the first place.

The Pentagon admits that a breathtaking 250,000 tons of heavy ordnance (out of 650,000 tons total) -- aircraft bombs, artillery and tank shells, mines, rockets -- were allowed to be looted by our undermanned army in the four-30 weeks after the invasion. That's equivalent to 1 million 500-pound bombs. At 20 250-pound roadside mines or market closeouts a day, that's enough for 274 years of attacks.

"During the fall of 2003, what you would see was Iraqis going in at night, individually and in trucks," US weapons inspector David Kay told U.S. News. "They would pull ordnances out and drive off."

Security was so bad after Saddam Hussein's regime fell, Kay recalled, that his team was often shot at by insurgents when they went to inspect the sites: "There were just not enough boots on the ground, and the military didn't give it a high enough priority to stop the looting. Tens of thousands of tons of ammunition were being looted, and that is what is fueling the insurgency."

In April 2003, David DeBatto, a military counterintelligence officer at massive Camp Anaconda, 50 miles north of Baghdad, found a five-square-mile ammo dump two miles south of the camp which, he says, was "littered with anti-aircraft missiles, land mines, rocket-propelled grenades, plastic explosives." He reported it again and again in written reports to his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Timothy Ryan, even giving him a tour of the dump.

"Local Iraqis told us, 'These guys' -- and they would point to looters in the distance -- 'are fedayeen. They're going to take this and make it into bombs and use it against you,'" DeBatto said in an interview. Nothing was done. "We had enough people. If we had placed four, five, six guys at the main entry to that facility, that would have been enough! Every time I went back there, there was less."

Two other intelligence agents also reported seeing that and many unsecured ammo dumps all over Iraq bursting with deadly material -- all of which were massively looted. "They were wasting people for really menial things: KP, when there were a thousand Iraqis begging to do it for a jug of water. I would have feasts with sheiks and ministers -- when I came back me and my team of counterintelligence special agents would be ... emptying out latrines. Bottom line is they ignored it (because of) a lack of people, ignorance, and ... absolute lack of planning for the occupation. Every day was a new day -- you made it up as you went along," said DeBatto.

Lt. Col. Timothy Ryan's commander from July 2003 was Col. Thomas Pappas, who was convicted of dereliction of duty and relieved for his part in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. Pappas had directed Ryan to take no action about the looting.

When questioned about the looting, Donald Rumsfeld famously replied, "Freedom's untidy. And free people are free to commit mistakes, and to commit crimes and do bad things." The looting was "part of the price" for the liberation of Iraq and not uncommon for countries that experience significant social upheaval. Rumsfeld seemed to think the looting was a finger in Saddam's eye and a healthy release of "pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression."

DeBatto says, "They made a decision at the highest level -- Rumsfeld -- to just let it go. They wanted not to be seen as brutal occupiers and didn't react at all. You had these heavily armed Americans who could have stopped anything, yet they let these looters take everything they wanted. We have given every weapon Saddam stored for 30 years ... to every terrorist and two-bit thug in the Middle East."

Worst was the Manhattan-sized weapons dump of Al Qaqa'a (an issue before the 2004 US election), loaded with 380 tons of HMX, RDX, PETN high explosives, so powerful they are used in nuclear bombs, and useable in making near undetectable IEDs out of rubble (no metal). The 101 Airborne Division, which swept the area April 7-10, 2003, said they "did not receive orders to search and secure the entire facility or search for high explosive-type munitions." By May 27, 2003 it was stripped of all explosives by looters.

Even the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Facility was allowed to be looted under the noses of US troops, putting a lie to the entire WMD excuse for invasion, and releasing dangerous radioactive compounds. Although only the IAEA knew what existed there, the administration blocked them from inspecting it for two months. DeBatto found empty shells meant to be filled with chemicals and bills of lading from the late '80s.

The cost of the negligence has been borne by soldiers blasted by massive IEDs and car bombs, which were easily available only because of the looting: 745 coalition deaths and 2,000-4,000 wounded by Oct 26. Insurgents have destroyed everything short of Abrams tanks with these artillery shell or air bomb IEDs, sometimes daisy-chained together or shaped to penetrate armor. Although US forces are stopping half of them, IEDs now cause the majority of US deaths in Iraq, 176 (59%) from IED or car bomb in the last four months alone (May-Aug 2005) compared to only 77 from the same period in 2004. The Marines have really suffered: this June, 24 of 28 Marine fatalities, 85 percent, were from IEDs and car bombs. In addition, helicopter crash deaths from anti-aircraft missiles, RPG and missile attacks on vehicles, even mortar fatalities, could be largely blamed on the unlimited looting.

The looting of all institutions, which allowed the insurgency to flower, first caused amazement among Iraqis, then outrage, and finally contempt. The US wasn't all powerful; it was incompetent, careless and impotent -- and the protective aura of invincibility evaporated. Even hundreds of high power transmission towers and lines were destroyed.

Rumsfeld said in the 2004 Congressional hearings on Abu Ghraib, "I would resign in a minute if I thought that I couldn't be effective." Yet he ignored the most basic rules of invasion and perhaps 900 Americans have paid the ultimate price for his arrogance and hubris.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; or in this case, a quarter million tons and 140,000 troops.

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