Al Qaq-up

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Today's Los Angeles Times reports:

In the weeks after the fall of Baghdad, Iraqi looters loaded powerful explosives into pickup trucks and drove the material away from the Al Qaqaa ammunition site, according to a group of U.S. Army reservists and National Guardsmen who said they witnessed the looting.

The soldiers said about a dozen U.S. troops guarding the sprawling facility could not prevent the theft because they were outnumbered by looters. Soldiers with one unit—the 317th Support Center based in Wiesbaden, Germany—said they sent a message to commanders in Baghdad requesting help to secure the site but received no reply.

NEXT: Wither the MSM?

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  1. Hey, the originals of those oil extraction contracts weren’t going to guard themselves.

  2. WTF? Why didn’t the soldiers witnessing the raid on the munitions dump either blow the got dam thing up or shoot the looters? Sure they were outnumbered, but they had much better weapons and it’s hard to carry off explosives while they are exploding.

    This is why we should stay the fuck home and not get involved in this crap. It is beyond the realm of comprehension that an Amercian soldier would stand by and watch munitions that are almost guaranteed to be used against Americans in the future be looted by the “alleged” enemy.

    For a little perspective, see if you can imagine Marines on Guadacanal standing by and watching the Japanese carry off machine guns, grenades, bombs, dynamite, and other weapons from an armory.

  3. I was hoping this site would go back to normal after the election. Guess not.

  4. Unlike the Marines, not very member of the US Army is a rifleman… put simply the support command troops might ahve had little inclination to start a firefight with a larger group that was as well armed if not better armed. Just a thought.

  5. Well brett, I guess some of us consider the mess in Iraq to important whether there’s an election going on or not.

  6. Well, remember, the whole point of going to Iraq was to fight the type of people we’re fighting right now. They wouldn’t dare show themselves unless they were armed, so in order to distinguish between them and ordinary people I guess we’d need them to be armed, wouldn’t they? Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to identify the enemy.

    See, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

  7. See, you guys are thinking “too modern”. Remember, back then, Bush promised we were “liberating” them. Obviously the people looting weren’t Saddam’s soldiers, so therefore Bush figured they would use those explosives against terrorists. Or Iran. Or perhaps turn them into crude chairs to sit in while throwing flowers.

    Haven’t you guys grasped this? NOBODY in the White House (or at least, no one listened to) thought this was going to be tough. It was go in, kick some ass, kiss a few laughing children, turn it over to Chalabi and let Bush bask in the reflected glory of war.

    Who fucking cared about explosives? We were going to be universally loved.

  8. Let me elaborate on why we couldn’t secure those weapons: The basic idea is to leave a bunch of guns lying around in an area where you think Islamo-fascists might be hiding out. The ones who take the weapons and shoot at you are the ones you need to kill. Better to fight them in Fallujah than in Fargo!

    See, Hussein was actually quite oppressive toward the Islamic Fundamentalists. They couldn’t do their thing in Iraq so they had to come to the US instead. Now they can make their mischief in Iraq instead of the US, and we can fight them there instead of here. It’s really quite brilliant!

    We’re basically setting out flypaper to attract Islamo-fascists from around the globe.

  9. TWC once when I was on a pipeline job I asked an operating engineer for some help and the welder jumped up and yelled at me to do my own goddamned work and never ask someone from another trade to do my job. Do you think the Army might have the same mentality?

  10. Nyuh? Not much here right now that’s either insightful or helpful.

    I tend to think that if Cavanugh’s article about liberal hawks’ accountabilty has a corollary, it’s that not every incident, fuckup or mistake in war can be laid at the feet of the strategy or leaders. A war may be planned, but battles are improvised by the people who show up to fight it.

    I’m not knocking your opposition to the war, but I think it makes some of you look less credible when you magnify every wartime misfortune into a referendum on war policy or leadership. And I think this cuts both ways. I never thought Mogadishu somehow demonstrated Clinton’s incompentence as Commander-in-Chief.

  11. The most generous interpretation of the decision to guard the oil ministry, but not the weapons depots, would be something like:

    We believed the Iraqis would swiftly form a humane government that could take responsibility for their own issues. We trusted that this government could keep the weapons out of the hands of terrorists. But we did not trust that a humane government would set up their oil deals the way we wanted.

  12. hilly, the widespread nature of the looting in Iraq – of museums, of weapons caches, of nuke facilities, of schools, etc. – demonstrates that the inability to secure these sites was not the consequence of some bad battlefield decisions or bad luck, but of a systemic problem. It did not happen here or there, it was a countrywide problem. No one was ordered to secure these places, and not enough troops were provided to do the job.

    BTW, the lack of armor available to the troops in Mogidishu was also not the fault of the troops, but the consequence of decisions made by the political leadership.

  13. Looters put 380 tons of explosives into pickup trucks? Color me unconvinced.

  14. Chaos and looting following fall of a city or country, I’m sure that that never happened before. When the Roman Empire fell, everything was so neat and orderly.

  15. Al Qaqaa is just the tip of the iceberg.

    “Iraq Awash in Arms Sites, Some Unguarded”

    From the deserts of the south and west to the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq is awash in weapons sites – some large, others small; some guarded, others not. Even after the U.S. military secured some 400,000 tons of munitions, as many as 250,000 tons remain unaccounted for.

    Attention has focused on the al-Qaqaa site south of Baghdad, where 377 tons of explosives are believed to have gone missing – becoming a heated issue in the final days of the U.S. presidential campaign. But with the names of other sites popping up everywhere – al-Mahaweel, Baqouba, Ukhaider, Qaim – experts say the al-Qaqaa stash is only a tiny fraction of what’s buried in the sands of Iraq…

    On even more important news, check out this table.

    Assuming those figures are correct, something very funky appears to have gone on in Florida.

  16. Of course, Overlord, precisely because it *has* happened before, over and over, you might (well, you apparently didn’t, but I did) expect the Bush administration to prepare for it and try to take steps to prevent or at least minimize it. And yet they didn’t.

    Also, what Morat and Joe said.

  17. But how would we know who the bad guys are if they couldn’t arm themselves? I thought we went to Iraq to cleanse the Middle East of bad guys, and we can’t do it if they don’t identify themselves. Weaponry aimed at American soldiers seems like sufficient ID.

  18. Overlord, even I think comparing Bush’s post-war strategy to that of the Vandals is a little harsh!

    Josh, “looters” does seemed to be stretching the term. Perhaps the same stretching as occured with “handful” and “deadenders.”

    I’ve seen the term “organized looters” before. Perhaps it was coined by Military Intelligence.

  19. What a lovely excuse. “Well, hey, you know, shit happens in war”.

    No kidding, genius! That’s why people plan. And one plan that DIDN’T require a genius was, oh, “Hey, let’s make sure we guard the well-known complex of Al-QaaQaa, which contains almost 400 tons of the easiest to use and most powerful conventional explosives in the world! Just in case some naughty people might want to use it to build extremely powerful, hard-to-detect bombs that can — with little risk to the builder — be easily assembled and detonated by tens of thousands of people from the laid-off Iraqi Army”.

    The fact that no one seems to have bothered speaks volumes about the war, it’s authors, and the level of thought they put into it.

    It’d be comical if it wasn’t for all the death.

  20. “What a lovely excuse. “Well, hey, you know, shit happens in war”.

    No kidding, genius! That’s why people plan.’

    It’s also why people don’t start wars.

    But seriously, I was just upset the Saddam might be overthrown.

  21. Hey, the originals of those oil extraction contracts weren’t going to guard themselves.
    Well somebody has to make sure all those French officials get their bribes. Gawd, put on another record. Has the US extracted one drop of oil from Iraq yet? Cuz gas is sure pricey considering this war was just to grab some oil. And considering that that oil’s the same shit that’s sitting under Alaska.

    The article still doesn’t really say that what was stolen and when; it implies a lot, but proves little. “Iraqi looters loaded powerful explosives into pickup trucks and drove the material away from the Al Qaqaa ammunition site” yet “The soldiers interviewed by The Times could not confirm that powerful explosives known as HMX and RDX were among the munitions looted” and that was the stuff we were concerned about. “One soldier said U.S. forces watched the looters’ trucks loaded with bags marked “hexamine” ? a key ingredient for HMX ? being driven away from the facility.” Yeah well heximine is also camp stove fuel and used in hair spray, it’s not an explosive. One wonders if the insurgents have a couple hundred tons of high plastic explosives ready to go why they’re still jerryrigging howitzer shells to make bombs. Maybe they have lots of coffee and really nice pompadours under the turbans. I kid, I kid.

    No one was ordered to secure these places, and not enough troops were provided to do the job.
    Betcha there weren’t enough troops were on the boats to prevent France from getting looted on D Day. Because they weren’t there to do police work, they were there to kick the Germans off the beach. Assault requires less troops than garrisoning. Nobody expected the Iraqi Army to fold like a house of cards, so the plan called for enough troops initially to conduct an offensive.

    Having mass confusion, blown assignments, unclear instructions, and colossal mistakes during combat operations is pretty normal. First Gulf War was textbook right? A good chunk of our casualties came from our troops shooting each other. How many troops die in peacetime just training for combat? So how do you know when you’ve really fucked up? When you lose the bulk of your army retreating from Russia during the winter, that would be a fuckup. When you invade a country for the cost of a few hundred infantry, that would not be a fuckup. Leader who got you into the war commits suicide in his bunker with in girlfriend, fuckup. Leader gets re-eleceted by a popular majority, not a fuckup. You accomplish all objectives with the lowest casualty rate in the history of the military – not a fuckup. You do that working with ridiculously bad intel – really not a fuckup. But of course had the critics been in charge, I’m sure Saddam would have been reasoned into retiring to taking up gardening, after revealing that Jung Il and himself were “just fooling”, and any war that needed to be fought would be done in a precise, orderly manner. Not only would their bombs be smart, but tidy, noiseless and rose scented as well.

  22. OK, tp, let’s hear hear the Bush whore theory of why troops were assigned to guard the Oil Minstry, and not the known explosives caches or nuke plants. We’re waiting.

    “Betcha there weren’t enough troops were on the boats to prevent France from getting looted on D Day. Because they weren’t there to do police work, they were there to kick the Germans off the beach.”

    Thank you for so thoughtfully volunteering to dramatize the thinking behind the screw up. It’s going to be a liberation! Just like France! They’re going to throw flowers and, there are plenty of friendly troops to establish order!

    Eh, not so much.

  23. Shit happens at Al Caca.

  24. Trainwreck, I was in the military and yes, “no es me trebajo” (not my job) are words to live by.

    I also understand the fear of doing something wrong and consequently doing nothing while watching the explosives go by by.

    Me? I would have lit the place up like a fire in a match factory. I then would have denied doing it because you know that if those guys had acted to stop the looting by shooting or blowing the place up they would have been court-martialed by proxy from the base golf course by the same brass who didn’t respond to their pleas for soldiers to help guard El CaCa in the first place.

    Another rule of military life is that Shit Rolls Down Hill.

  25. Well, joe, for starters, you might ask yourself how many troops were assigned to the oil ministry, and just how many ammo dumps (or fractions of an ammo dump) they could have guarded.

    The opportunity cost of guarding the oil ministry was nearly zero, would be my guess. In other words, refusing to guard the oil ministry would have meant that it was looted, too, in addition to everything else.

    You see, the whole oil ministry thing makes a nice sound bite, but when you analyze it just a little, it shows how unserious you are about the Iraqi situation.

    Was there looting? Sure. Could some if it have been prevented? Maybe. The best way to prevent it would have been for the 4th to come down from Turkey. Why didn’t they? Well, you’ll have ask the ones cashing Saddam’s oil vouchers (the French, the UN, etc.) about that.

    How much was looted to use against us, compared to how much Saddam pre-positioned in the Triangle as part of his “Somalia” strategy? Probably not much. Again, while we were yakking with the UN and the French, he was emptying ammo bunkers and burying the goods in the Sunni triangle for later use.

    You see, joe, the more you pick at the problem of the supplies used by the insurgents, the more you find that it can be traced, not to the actions of our troops in Iraq, but rather to the actions of those being paid by Saddam to obstruct the US diplomatically, They’re the ones who bought him the time to get his insurgents in place and well-stocked.

  26. FWIW-

    Both HMX and RDX aren’t good for shit unless they’re mixed up right with a bonding agent, and triggered just so. They’re not like plastic explosives. They’re powder, like flour, and are inert until they’re mixed up.

    The people who carted this stuff off (whether it’s looters or spetznatz) could have beat the stuff with hammers and smoked a big fatty while they were doing it on not set the stuff off. So blowing up the warehouse would have required some pretty specific know how and material. That material was probably not part of an advance unit’s kit.

    Also, this single site is one of about 8000 in Iraq that we knew of before going in. The number of boots required to get to and secure 8000 ammo dumps from God knows how many insurgents would be way more than we had the capacity to field.

    I don’t blame the military for this fuckup (if it happened at all which we still don’t completely know). I blame a war plan that was devised solely to get to Baghdad as fast as possible and minimize casualties and the potential for WMDs to be used (which we thought he had). I lay the blame for poor war planning on Rumsfeld relying too much on whiz bang technology to get us over, and an over confidence inspired by kicking ass in Afghanistan.

  27. Looters put 380 tons of explosives into pickup trucks? Color me unconvinced.

    So the quoted soldiers are lying? Why do you hate your troops?

  28. “Well, joe, for starters, you might ask yourself how many troops were assigned to the oil ministry,” A company, if I recall correctly. Let’s be conservative, and say it was a platoon.

    “and just how many ammo dumps (or fractions of an ammo dump) they could have guarded.” 1? More than 1?

    I guess that question makes me unserious, too.

    Let’s say the choice was one of the 8000 weapons site we knew about. Why were they put at the Oil Minstry instead? I’d trade a looted oil ministry for a looted nuke plant, wouldn’t you? Or is that not serious enough?

    If there was a serious danger of the weapons being looted if an invasion was carried out without the 4th, why was the invasion started without them? Or, why were they kept in ships off Turkey for weeks when it became clear they might not be allowed to pass through?

    Not serious. Not serious at all.

    “They’re the ones who bought him the time to get his insurgents in place and well-stocked.” The looting was done after the war, unless you’re accusing the troops of lying. Seriously.

    What is serious, however, is your problem with finding someone to blame for any mistake that makes your political allies look bad. The Turks, French, Germans, Russians, and Democrats didn’t create the conditions where arms depots were left open to looting – the military’s civilian leadership did that.

    I have trouble taking you seriously.

  29. joe,

    Your argument that not guarding the oil ministry, to guard .0125% more of the weapons depots is exactly what RC means by “not serious.”

    Do you not grasp that? You need to work on your quantitative skills.

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