Al-Qaqa’a: ‘Benign’ Neglect by a Malign Power By William Bowles

28 October 2004

The latest ‘revelations’ to emerge from the annals of the US occupation of Iraq concerns the ‘loss’ of over 350 tons of high explosives that the US was meant to be guarding at the military base of al-Qaqa’a. According to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the stockpile went ‘missing’ some time after January 2004. So either, the US didn’t bother to check that it was still there over the past nine months (complete with its IAEA seals that had been intact since being installed in 2002) or, they knew it was missing and didn’t tell anybody. It was left for the IAEA to discover that dozens of truckloads of highly explosive matériel had gone missing.

Under international law, the US as the occupying force is legally liable for the consequences (or lack thereof) of its actions, which includes its obligation to protect the civilian population. And this after having already destroyed most of the country’s civil infrastructure, and stood by and watched what remained get demolished, leaving the populace completely defenceless even from common or garden thieves. The actions of the occupying forces in not protecting the civilian population is a war crime of the gravest kind, yet where was the headline? Instead it’s all just a ‘blunder’, ‘incompetence’ or an ’embarrassment’.

Press coverage of the al-Qaqa’a fiasco is disingenuous to say the least, firstly by emphasising the ‘nuclear’ aspect of the missing explosives although the source of this speculation is not identified except by the association with the IAEA. The front page story by the Independent on 26/10/04 tells us that the explosives could be used to “trigger nuclear weapons” but falls short of explaining where exactly the nuclear weapons will come from. This is nothing less than sleazy innuendo that has no connection in reality to the issue of why or how the explosives went missing but plants in the mind of the reading public the ‘threat’ of nuclear annihilation simply by association. Moreover, it diverts attention away from the central issue namely, why was this stockpile not guarded if it’s so dangerous?

At least the story on page 6 of the same edition of the Independent is titled ”Secure’ arms dump that may have armed enemy” (my emph) but then blows it by telling us that the missing explosives make the:

“…car bombs, the deadly daily diet for the people of Iraq”

Without comparing it to the ‘deadly daily diet’ of US and UK explosives that rain down on the unfortunate inhabitants of the cities and towns of Iraq, a ‘rain’ whose death toll outstrips by several orders of magnitude deaths from car bombs. And, as far as the Independent is concerned, who is the ‘enemy’ it refers to in its headlline, the Independent?

The same piece also plays semantics with the lies about al-Qaqaa being used for the production of WMD when it says:

“We now know…that this [the production of WMD at al-Qaqaa] was false [my emph. WB]”

But we knew this back as far as September 2002, yet the piece leaves us with the impression that this is new information. Indeed the author of the piece was taken around the facility in September 2002 after the publication of the September ‘dossier’ and knew all too well what the facility was used for.

As to why it wasn’t guarded we are told that:

“Astonishingly, after the invasion, US forces did not bother to guard al-Qaqaa” [1]

Though we are not told why this is ‘astonishing” as ‘astonishingly’ it didn’t bother to guard Iraq’s nuclear facility either. In fact, aside from the ministry of oil and the oil fields, ‘astonishingly’ it didn’t bother to guard anything.

Secondly, press coverage tells us that the missing explosives is merely an “embarrassment” for the occupation forces and bases this on the statement by John Kerry who calls it “one of the greatest blunders of the war” yet by any measure, the greatest blunder was the invasion and its consequences. Two other ‘astonishing blunders’ come to mind.

One, the complete disregard for the health and safety of the Iraqi people over the even more disastrous ‘blunder’ that occurred when Iraq’s nuclear facility was left unprotected and subsequently looted, exposing the local population to disastrous health hazards from the ensuing radiation, yet where are the headlines on this real nuclear disaster?

And two, the same goes for the relative lack of press coverage of the hundreds of tons of depleted uranium that have poisoned great swathes of the country, in yet another nuclear disaster as a result of the malign neglect by the colonisers.

Taken collectively, this latest ‘loss’ is clear proof of the utter disdain and total disregard the occupation forces have for the lives of the Iraqi people. Moreover, given that this specific munitions site figured highly in Blair’s September 2002 ‘dossier’ on WMD, with allegations (shown to be a complete fabrication) that the al-Qaqaa site was being used to manufacture phosgene just reinforces the view that every aspect of the ‘threat’ we were allegedly under, was not taken seriously by the USUK in spite of all its protestations to the contrary.

The occupation forces were repeatedly warned by the IAEA of the need to protect the al-Qaqaa site yet failed to do so. Why? Given the hysteria that has been whipped up over ‘rogue’ this and ‘rogue’ that getting hold of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons following the occupation of Iraq and the subsequent breakdown of order, one would think that some kind of ‘watch list’ of sites would have been compiled? But then remember what happened to the nuclear facility supposedly guarded by the US occupation forces.

Is this all just incompetence on the part of the occupation forces and if not, what does it tell us about how seriously the USUK takes the idea of a ‘global terrorist network’? Much of the rationale for the removal of our civil and legal rights is predicated on combating this alleged global network of terror. Much has been made of the threat of the spread of WMD yet every action of the occupation forces and their respective governments gives the lie to this. One would be forgiven for thinking that if anything, the occupiers would like to see such lethal matériel distributed globally thus giving them the rationale for the ‘war on terror’ and it wouldn’t be the first time such ‘benign collusion’ between terrorists and the imperium has occurred.

We have been blitzed with hysterical tales of ‘bomb factories’ for the past three years, yet when the opportunity presents itself to cut off an obvious supply of lethal matériel, no action is taken.

But just as importantly, we need to return to the role of media is spreading this mountain of malicious disinformation about the ‘threat’. So the al-Qaqaa story appears for one day then conveniently disappears (nothing in Wednesday’s or Thursday’s edition of the Independent in the way of a follow-up). Why? For surely the nuclear threat posed by the missing mountain of explosives, whether real or imagined, warrants further investigation from our sure-footed ‘investigative’ reporters? Yet one searches in vain for any kind of follow-up even on the lies put out by the US government over the circumstances surrounding its ‘disappearance’ (some US officials have suggested that the explosives disappeared before the invasion, an allegation that has been categorically refuted by the IAEA).

As with virtually every other story that has emerged from the ruins of Iraq, we get half-truths and supposition in the corporate press about the real causes of events of which the coverage of the 350-380 tons of ‘missing’ explosives is typical firstly through hyping the nuclear ‘connection’ and then ‘disappearing’ story entirely.

In every important respect, the way the events of al-Qaqaa have been ‘reported’ by the corporate and state media represents an approach that downplays causes and history, leaving the reader or the viewer with a disjointed and decontextualized version of events, whereby catastrophes are not made, they merely ‘happen’ through individual actions or ‘blunders’. Any suggestion that such things might actually be policy are completely ignored for do so would call into the question the legitimacy not only of our governments’ actions but their right to act in the way they do.

1. See News Video Is at Center of Storm Over Iraq Explosives

Feel pissed off with the media over this and other so-called news then why not drop them a line?

Here’s a few email addresses that I suggest you keep handy for the next time you see some outrageous piece of ‘news’:

Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday

Tristan Davies, editor of the Independent on Sunday

Michael Williams, deputy editor of the Independent on Sunday

Andrew Gowers, editor of the Financial Times

Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Roger Alton, editor of the Observer:

Roger Mosey, head of BBC television news

Director of BBC news, Helen Boaden:

David Mannion, head of ITN

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