"I hope I am not responsible for Armageddon"


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Mark Follman
October 28, 2004 12:07AM (UTC)

While the Bush administration scrambles to do damage control over the nearly 380 tons of missing high-tech explosives in Iraq, an Op-Ed today in the Boston Globe from arms control and non-proliferation expert Peter W. Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, reveals more evidence of a long pattern of negligence by Team Bush in the war. There's little doubt now among military and security experts that the Rumsfeld doctrine of minimal-boots-on-the-ground resulted in poor capability for U.S. forces to control violence and looting after the fall of Baghdad -- but we're not just talking about a disregard for Iraqi museums here. The administration's failure to secure large amounts of potentially deadly materiel of all sorts, as described by Galbraith, is utterly frightening.

"In 2003 I went to tell Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz what I had seen in Baghdad in the days following Saddam Hussein's overthrow. For nearly an hour, I described the catastrophic aftermath of the invasion -- the unchecked looting of every public institution in Baghdad, the devastation of Iraq's cultural heritage, the anger of ordinary Iraqis who couldn't understand why the world's only superpower was letting this happen.

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"I also described two particularly disturbing incidents -- one I had witnessed and the other I had heard about. On April 16, 2003, a mob attacked and looted the Iraqi equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control, taking live HIV and black fever virus among other potentially lethal materials. US troops were stationed across the street but did not intervene because they didn't know the building was important.

"When he found out, the young American lieutenant was devastated. He shook his head and said, 'I hope I am not responsible for Armageddon.' About the same time, looters entered the warehouses at Iraq's sprawling nuclear facilities at Tuwaitha on Baghdad's outskirts. They took barrels of yellowcake (raw uranium), apparently dumping the uranium and using the barrels to hold water. US troops were at Tuwaitha but did not interfere.

"There was nothing secret about the Disease Center or the Tuwaitha warehouses. Inspectors had repeatedly visited the center looking for evidence of a biological weapons program. The Tuwaitha warehouses included materials from Iraq's nuclear program, which had been dismantled after the 1991 Gulf War. The United Nations had sealed the materials, and they remained untouched until the US troops arrived."

And while Wolfowitz and other fervent war hawks behind Bush believed that Baghdad would be but one stop on the road to transforming the greater Middle East -- including removing the dangerous mullahs of Tehran -- Galbraith shows how their arrogance and negligence in Iraq may have in fact strengthened America's number-two enemy in the so-called Axis of Evil:

"Some of the looting continued for many months -- possibly into 2004. Using heavy machinery, organized gangs took apart, according to [an] IAEA [report this month], 'entire buildings that housed high-precision equipment.' This equipment could be anywhere. But one good bet is Iran, which has had allies and agents in Iraq since shortly after the US-led forces arrived.

"This was a preventable disaster. Iraq's nuclear weapons-related materials were stored in only a few locations, and these were known before the war began. As even L. Paul Bremer III, the US administrator in Iraq, now admits, the United States had far too few troops to secure the country following the fall of Saddam Hussein. But even with the troops we had, the United States could have protected the known nuclear sites. It appears that troops did not receive relevant intelligence about Iraq's WMD facilities, nor was there any plan to secure them. Even after my briefing, the Pentagon leaders did nothing to safeguard Iraq's nuclear sites."

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Galbraith is careful to point out that he supported the Bush administration's decision to overthrow Saddam, and that he himself, "at Wolfowitz's request," helped advance the case for war. But, he concludes, "without having planned or provided enough troops, we would be a lot safer if we hadn't gone to war."


Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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