Looters stormed the weapons site at Al Qaqaa in the days after
American troops swept through the area in early April 2003 on their way to
Baghdad, gutting office buildings, carrying off munitions and even dismantling
heavy machinery, three Iraqi witnesses and a regional security chief said
The Iraqis described an orgy of theft so extensive that enterprising
residents rented their trucks to looters. But some looting was clearly
indiscriminate, with people grabbing anything they could find and later
heaving unwanted items off the trucks.
Two witnesses were employees of Al Qaqaa -- one a chemical engineer and
the other a mechanic -- and the third was a former employee, a chemist, who
had come back to retrieve his records, determined to keep them out of U.S.
hands. The mechanic, Ahmed Saleh Mezher, said employees asked the Americans to
protect the site, but were told this was not the soldiers' responsibility.
The accounts do not directly address the question of when nearly 400 tons
of powerful conventional explosives vanished from the site sometime after
early March, the last time international inspectors checked the seals on the
bunkers where the material was stored. It is possible that Iraqi forces
removed some explosives before the invasion.
But the accounts make clear that what set off much if not all of the
looting was the arrival and swift departure of U.S. troops, who did not secure
the site after inducing the Iraqi forces to abandon it.
"The looting started after the collapse of the regime," said Wathiq al-
Dulaimi, a regional security chief, who was based nearby in Latifiya. But once
it had begun, he said, the booty streamed toward Baghdad.
On Oct. 10, the directorate of national monitoring at the Ministry of
Science and Technology notified the International Atomic Energy Agency that
the explosives -- which are used in demolition and missiles and are the raw
material for plastic explosives -- were missing. The agency has monitored
the explosives because they also can be used as the initiator of an atomic
Agency officials examined the explosives in January 2003 and noted in
early March that their seals were still in place. On April 3, the 3rd Infantry
Division arrived with the first U.S. troops.
Chris Anderson, a photographer for U.S. News and World Report who was
with the division's 2nd Brigade, recalled that the area was jammed with U.S.
armor on April 3 and 4, which he believed made the removal of the explosives
unlikely. "It would be quite improbable for this amount of weapons to be
looted at that time because of the traffic jam of armor," he said.
The brigade blew up numerous caches of arms throughout the area, he said.
Anderson said he did not enter the munitions compound.
Pentagon officials said Wednesday that analysts were examining
surveillance photographs of the munitions site. But they expressed doubts that
the photographs would be able to show conclusively when the explosives were
Col. David Perkins, who commanded the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry
Division, called it "very highly improbable" that the explosives could have
been trucked out of Al Qaqaa in the weeks after U.S. troops arrived.
He conceded that some looting of the site had taken place. But a chemical
engineer who worked at Al Qaqaa and identified himself only as Khalid said
that once troops left the base itself, people streamed in to steal computers
and anything else of value from the offices. They also took munitions like
artillery shells, he said.
Mezher, the mechanic, said it took the looters about two weeks to
disassemble heavy machinery at the site and carry that off after the smaller
items were gone.
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