Al Qaqaa story continues to explode


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Mark Follman
October 28, 2004 6:46pm (UTC)

An ABC affiliate in Minneapolis is reporting today that it may have evidence of the hundreds of tons of powerful explosives missing from Al Qaqaa in Iraq, in footage taken at the site by one of the station's news crews well after U.S. troops invaded Iraq.

"Using GPS technology and talking with members of the 101st Airborne Division, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has determined the crew embedded with the troops may have been on the southern edge of the Al Qaqaa installation, where the ammunition disappeared. The news crew was based just south of Al Qaqaa, and drove two or three miles north of there with soldiers on April 18, 2003. ...

"In one bunker, there were boxes marked with the name 'Al Qaqaa'... Once the doors to the bunkers were opened, they weren't secured. They were left open when the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS crew and the military went back to their base.

"'We weren't quite sure what were looking at, but we saw so much of it and it didn't appear that this was being secured in any way,' said photojournalist Joe Caffrey. 'It was several miles away from where military people were staying in their tents'.

"Officers with the 101st Airborne told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that the bunkers were within the U.S. military perimeter and protected. But Caffrey and former 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Reporter Dean Staley, who spent three months together in Iraq, said Iraqis were coming and going freely.

"'At one point there was a group of Iraqis driving around in a pick-up truck,' Staley said. 'Three or four guys we kept an eye on, worried they might come near us.'"

Several still images from the KSTP footage taken during the war can be viewed on their site; the station says the footage is now in the hands of "security experts" who will determine if the stockpiles they filmed contained the same kind of sophisticated conventional explosives, HMX and RDX, that went missing.

Meanwhile, as the Bush campaign scrambles to do damage control -- essentially by deflecting the issue with character attacks on John Kerry -- the ultra-conservative Washington Times is reporting that the Russians, having conspired with Syria, are to blame:

"John A. Shaw, the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, said in an interview that he believes the Russian troops, working with Iraqi intelligence, 'almost certainly' removed the high-explosive material that went missing from the Al-Qaqaa facility, south of Baghdad. ...

"Al-Qaqaa, a known Iraqi weapons site, was monitored closely, Mr. Shaw said. 'That was such a pivotal location, Number 1, that the mere fact of [special explosives] disappearing was impossible,' Mr. Shaw said. 'And Number 2, if the stuff disappeared, it had to have gone before we got there.'"

So let's see if we have this straight: The top-priority site was closely monitored, so the explosives never could've disappeared -- but if they did, it's not the administration's fault. Sure inspires confidence in the U.S. commander in chief, now doesn't it.

"Defense officials," the Washington Times piece concludes, "said the Russians can provide information on what happened to the Iraqi weapons and explosives that were transported out of the country. Officials believe the Russians also can explain what happened to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs."

So maybe the president wants to give his friend Vladimir a call to clear this whole thing up?


Mark Follman

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

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