A Tiny Fraction of the Total

by Kieran Healy on October 29, 2004

I know this is late in Blog Time, but this Pentagon response to the debacle of the “looted high-explosives cache”:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/29/politics/29bomb.html?hp&ex=1099108800&en=7b767c25018de326&ei=5094&partner=homepage is too good to pass up:

bq. The Pentagon also notes that it has destroyed 400,000 tons of munitions from thousands of sites across Iraq, and that the explosives at Al Qaqaa account for “one-tenth of 1 percent” of that amount.

Now let’s say I move house next month, pack everything into a trailer and drive to, oh, Florida. I arrive to discover I have left my 9-month-old daughter behind in Tucson. Not to worry! She weighs less than 20lbs and this is but a tiny fraction of the total weight I successfully shipped across the country. A negligible error!



Scott Swank 10.29.04 at 11:03 pm

The last I checked, 400,000 tons of munitions are not the same thing as 370 tons of very, very high explosives. I’m certainly no expert on explosives, but from the wee bit I understand the stuff at Al Qaqaa was not munitions. Comparing it to munitions is patently disingenuous.



Brett Bellmore 10.29.04 at 11:38 pm

Well, not necessarilly the same thing, as very, very high explosives are indeed a subset of “munitions”, which include just about everything that goes “bang” or “boom”.


A.J. 10.29.04 at 11:45 pm

Considering that the amount of explosives stolen can create blasts equal to 75 Oklahoma Cities (or 7500, as I’ve heard one estimate say), I think that .1 of 1% is a margin of error that is well too high.


George 10.30.04 at 12:17 am

I would of course rather than everything at al Qa Qaa had been secured. But the charge is that the loss of those explosives is evidence of either “gross incompetence,” or that we did not have enough troops. Showing the loss as a percentage of what was *not* lost is thus important. I should point out that the amount of explosives “lost” (ie, that amount that is now in the hands of insurgents, whether through the mistakes of Coalition troops or otherwise) is more like tens of thousands of tons. Even so, that implies that something close to 90% of the explosives in the country were secured and destroyed. That doesn’t sound like gross incompetence to me. As for the “we didn’t have enough troops” charge, there is probably some truth to that. But even if we flooded the place with millions of Coalition troops (from somewhere), does anybody think we could have secured 100% of the bad stuff? Especially if obtaining those additional troops would have required delaying the start of war, and thus allowing more time for weapons to be dispersed?


Tom T. 10.30.04 at 12:56 am

I think the Pentagon’s comment may also contain a hint of bafflement that those who are troubled by 400 tons of missing explosives were not similarly concerned by 400,000 tons in the hands of an adversary.


jet 10.30.04 at 2:08 am

This story is the biggest piece of propoganda so far. I would rather have this “skawwwy” stuff under my vehicle than a 155 artillary round. 90% of explosives were controlled and part of the 10% wasn’t even in munition form, just bags and crates of the crap. Maybe Rambo can take some “skawwwy” explosives and blow up the russian army, but explosives unfocused by hard steel lose their energy so fast they have to be in contact with armor to damage it, ie it needs to be slapped onto a tank to blow it up. Going off underneath it will just annoy the crew. On the other hand, a large artillary round just needs to be near a target to damage it.

Screw the retards who fell for this and the monsters who promoted it.


jet 10.30.04 at 2:14 am

This is just so retarded, I can’t get over it. Which is more worrisome, a hunk of high explosive with nails in it or a precision manufactored grenade designed to maximize the kenetic energy of every piece of shrapnel. Conventional muinitions are a much higher priority than this stuff. But when you are herding sheep, yapping dogs are just as effective as the wolves.


Neil 10.30.04 at 2:26 am

There’s an even less reassuring quote from “a senior administration official” here


The quote:

“In the grand scheme — and on a grand scale — there are hundreds of tons of weapons, munitions, artillery, explosives that are unaccounted for in Iraq,” the official said.

Oh, that’s alright then.


Patrick 10.30.04 at 3:10 am

When you lay down with Chalabi, you wake up with you wallet missing, your pants around your ankles, and the troubling question of why your lower GI hurts.

The screwed us on this intel and on most of our intel in general. He was Cheney and Wolfowitz’s pet before he got to be too embarassing.

Yet neither of them have apologized for buying his crap hook, line, and sinker. Which means they are either a)dull or b)malevolent.

As far your your arguments about HDX and RDX being far less important and conventional munitions jet, there’s some truth to that.

But spare me the dodge.

Explosives are explosives, and a nice base (say a trunk-load or so) of precision-quality HDX or RDX in the hands of an experienced bomb maker will do as good or better than a 152mm round or a 122mm rocket round when it’s driven past a police station or stopped at a check point.


lemuel pitkin 10.30.04 at 3:53 am

There’s an element of truth to what Jet, brett, etc. say, but only in support of a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose argument.

Those of us opposed to the Bush administration’s conduct of the war believe that it involved extensive incompetence, mendacity, misfeasance and malfeasance at every stage. This belief is well supported by evidence, but of course much of that evidence is anecdotal, testimony by expert but arguably interested individuals, or lacking in detail.

When absolutely, ironclad, specific, detailed evidence of Bush admin. failure appears, in the nature of things it will apply to only a small part of this larger picture. An ongoing, across the board failure isn’t the sort of thing to which there can be an eyewitness.

So, yes, Qa Qaa is just a small part of the story. but it is a particularly well documented and, there is every reason to beleive, a typical one.

Brett, jet etc. are essentially taking the position that we cannot offer evidence for any particualr failure of the administration until we have equally compelling evidence for every other failure. Which of course means we can’t offer evidence of Bush admin. failure at all. Which is of course the point.


Matt Weiner 10.30.04 at 7:50 pm

It seems to me that Jet is offering a different, much more specific argument: that the explosives which were looted aren’t all that dangerous. I was under the impression that these are used in manufacturing plastic explosives, which are very useful for blowing up planes, and that they’re a special kind of explosive that could be used in making nuclear weapons (that’s why it was under IAEA seal). I would also rather not have explosives of any sort under my vehicle. But this seems like a question that would be worth consulting experts on.


norman normal 10.31.04 at 6:20 am

Brilliant analogy, because we all know that conducting a war has the same level of difficulty as moving one’s family across country.


John 10.31.04 at 10:09 am

I thought they were the same thing.


mary 10.31.04 at 6:15 pm

This is totally understandable; the military was far too busy securing the oil wells to be concerned with munitions.

U.S. says all of Iraq’s oil fields secured from the Houston Chroniclae, April 14, 2003, 8:42AM


jet 10.31.04 at 9:41 pm

Mary has a point. Given the extent of Iraq’s munitions, let’s say all of the US soldiers that guarded locations were used to guard munitions depots. And let’s say that 99% of these depots were secured. Even though that 1% is still probably more than has been used against US soldiers to date, lets just say it was harder to distribute and half as many US soldiers were killed.

But lets say that the undefended oil wells were all looted, ransacked, and wrecked to the point that a total rebuild would be necessary (highly likely in this scenario).

What are the implications? I tend to think Mary is right and that I’d rather have my taxes hiked and have those 500 soldiers alive. But maybe someone here has a good reason on why those oil wells were so important? Maybe some PR with the Iraqis?


jet 10.31.04 at 9:53 pm

Or maybe an insignificant number of soldiers were used to guard the oil wells?


mary 11.01.04 at 6:07 am

It is possible that Iraq contains up to a quarter of all the oil in the world. While the US cried “Weapons of Mass Destruction!” and “Free Iraq,” Poland made no bones about why they were in Iraq:”‘We have never hidden our desire for Polish oil companies to finally have access to sources of commodities,’ the minister told the PAP agency following the inking of a cooperation agreement between U.S. company Kellog Brown and Root (KBR) and Polish company Nafta Polska.

Access to the oil fields ‘is our ultimate objective’, Cimoszewicz admitted.”


John Davies 11.01.04 at 5:51 pm

Anyone remember when Saddam torched the oil fields during Gulf War I and it was going to be a major ecological disaster? Anyone remember driving to work or using something made of plastic, or eating food that had to be shipped in instead of growing it in their back yard?

Anyone remember Turkey not letting half of the coalition troops get to Iraq through Turkey?

I remember all these things.


mary 11.01.04 at 7:06 pm

So, John Davies, do you believe that oil is the main concern in Iraq?


John Davies 11.01.04 at 7:29 pm

One of them. If I can choose something simple like where I’m going to eat lunch based on multiple crtieria, I don’t think it’s too difficult to assume that invading Iraq was based on multiple criteria.

It’s beyond my skills to be able to determine what the main reason was. Probably each person in the administration had different main reasons and those main reasons could have changed on a person by person basis through time.

Off the top of my head, I think I could come up with fifteen reasons to invade Iraq.


mary 11.01.04 at 7:36 pm

How about other countries? Do you have a list of other countries we should invade for similar reasons? Just curious.


John Davies 11.01.04 at 8:38 pm

None for all the reasons that Iraq had. Iraq was unique.

The second tier would include Iran and Syria. Sudan would probably welcome an invasion about now.


ryn 11.02.04 at 1:33 am

John Davies, I’d be curious to hear your 15 reasons to invade Iraq. Why then invade Iran and Syria?


John Davies 11.02.04 at 3:17 pm

OK, I’ll give it a try. (In no particular order)

Iraq –
Human rights violations
Oil for food / sanctions failing
Violating treaty signed after first Gulf War
Harboring terrorists (Abu Nidal)
Support of active terrorists (payments to families of suicide bombers)
Inspections not working (inspections were supposed to verify disposal of weapons not be a treasure hunt)
No hope that time would fix problem (Succeeded by Uday or Qusay)

Well, I guess I’m short of 15. Read _The Threatening Storm_ for more.


John Davies 11.02.04 at 3:33 pm

Iran (in no particular order)
Support for terrorists in Iraq
Human rights
Support of Hamas
Nuclear weapons

Human rights
Support of Hezbollah
Hiding Saddam’s WMDs
Support for terrorists in Iraq


ryn 11.03.04 at 12:18 am

Thanks for the reasons. Human rignts seems to be a rationale given by many on the right to try to justfy a war to the left. Why do you think it takes so long for our country to address human rights abuses when no economic advantage is present?
I find it interesting that in your reasons for going into Iran and Syria you have included support for terrorists in Iraq. If there had been no Iraq would you have included support for terrorists elsewhere?


John Davies 11.03.04 at 3:39 pm

>Why do you think it takes so long for our country to address human rights abuses when no economic advantage is present?

Limited resource. We can’t help everyone at once. Also, it takes more than one reason to devote the necessary money and willpower to the task.

>If there had been no Iraq would you have included support for terrorists elsewhere?

Yeah, probably. But their support of terrorists in Iraq makes it more urgent. And it’s easier to prove – capture a terrorist in Iraq and ask any Arabic speaker what his accent tells about where he is from.

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