"Urgent Warning on Iraqi Cache Issued in 1995
BY ELI LAKE - Staff Reporter of the Sun
October 27, 2004
WASHINGTON - Nine years ago, U.N. weapons inspectors urgently called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to demolish powerful plastic explosives in a facility that Iraq's interim government said this month was looted due to poor security.
The chief American weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, told The New York Sun yesterday that in 1995, when he was a member of the U.N. inspections team in Iraq, he urged the United Nations' atomic watchdog to remove tons of explosives that have since been declared missing.
Mr. Duelfer said he was rebuffed at the time by the Vienna-based agency because its officials were not convinced the presence of the HMX, RDX, and PETN explosives was directly related to Saddam Hussein's programs to amass weapons of mass destruction.
Instead of accepting recommendations to destroy the stocks, Mr. Duelfer said, the atomic-energy agency opted to continue to monitor them.
By e-mail, Mr. Duelfer wrote the Sun, "The policy was if acquired for the WMD program and used for it, it should be subject for destruction. The HMX was just that. Nevertheless the IAEA decided to let Iraq keep the stuff, like they needed more explosives."
On Monday a spokesman for the U.N. agency said its director general, Mohammed ElBaradei, was preparing a report on the missing material for the Security Council, concerned lest the explosives, which can be used to detonate a nuclear weapon, fall into the wrong hands. HMX, RDX, and PETN are more commonly used to create C4, an explosive that has both industrial and military uses. Libyan terrorists used a pound of similar plastic explosives in 1988 to destroy the commercial airliner Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
In 1995, Mr. ElBaradei was an assistant director of the the atomic-energy agency for external relations. His boss, Hans Blix, eventually took over the U.N. inspections team that was on the ground in Iraq before the war. Mr. Blix argued, in a book published after his retirement, that Iraq lacked the weapons programs American and European intelligence said it had kept concealed. Mr. Duelfer came to a similar conclusion, although he stressed in his report that Mr. Hussein had the intent to restart those programs.
Until this week, the Kerry campaign had used the assessments of the weapons inspectors to bludgeon the Bush administration for failing to substantiate the assertions it presented in March 2003 to justify the war. But yesterday the Kerry campaign launched an advertisement touting the failure to account for the explosives at Al Qaqaa as evidence of the president's incompetence.
The vice president of the American Enterprise Institute for foreign and defense policy studies, Danielle Pletka, told the Sun yesterday, "What is odd to me is that the Kerry campaign is suddenly concerned about WMD in Iraq and Mohammed ElBaradei after years of indifference, is suddenly concerned about conventional explosives in the Middle East." Ms. Pletka is a supporter of Mr. Bush's re-election.
The Bush campaign touted an NBC News report Monday that said the explosives were missing from Al Qaqaa when troops arrived at the facility April 10, 2003. U.N. weapons inspectors visited the facility on March 15 of that year and verified that the seals on the facility protecting the explosives were intact, according to agency's spokeswoman. The absence of the explosives less than four weeks later could suggest that they were gone before coalition troops had a chance to guard them.
NBC issued a corrective report last evening, however, saying the troops who visited the facility on April 10, 2003, did not look for the explosives. The reporter, Lai Ling Jew, who was embedded in the unit that arrived at the scene, said, "There wasn't a search."
"The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad," she said. "That was more of a pit stop there for us. And, you know, the searching, I mean, certainly some of the soldiers headed off on their own, looked through the bunkers just to look at the vast amount of ordnance lying around. But as far as we could tell, there was no move to secure the weapons, nothing to keep looters away."
On Monday, a spokesman for the American mission at the United Nations questioned the timing of the release of the material on the part of Mr. ElBaradei. Rick Grenell told the Sun's Benny Avni the "timing seems puzzling."
After a behind-the-scenes battle inside the State Department this summer, the Bush administration opted to reject Mr. ElBaradei's bid for a third term as director general of the atomic energy agency.
At the time, Washington was collecting intelligence - disputed by some agencies - that Mr. ElBaradei was providing advice to Iran on how to avoid sanction from his organization for its previously undisclosed uranium enrichment programs.
Mr. al-Baradei has publicly urged the Iranians to heed an earlier pledge to suspend enrichment, but he has also opposed America's policy of taking Iranian violations to the U.N. Security Council. Mr. al-Baradei has announced he will nonetheless seek a third term. Nominations for the director general position close on December 31.