Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bin Laden and, separately, weapons in Iraq

It is interesting and informative to see how Al Jazeera translates Bin Laden's words into english as compared to how Reuter's (re-published in the NY Times) did. Subtle differences, but as anyone who has read Hofstadter's book on the topic, differences in translation can make all the difference in the world.

On the other hot foreign policy topic of the week, the missing explosives in Iraq, (yes, they are still one can say definitively what happened to them according to the Pentagon), Jon Lee Anderson writes in the LA Times that those explosives were not unique. Rather, it was pretty normal and easy following the war to find weapons in Iraq.

Inexplicably, the looting in Baghdad was not halted after a few days, but went on for weeks. Hospitals, museums, ministries and even some of Saddam Hussein's palaces were looted and, in some cases, burned.

The U.S. inaction was bewildering and a source of great anger and frustration to most of the Iraqis I knew. There have been few public explanations from U.S. officials about this, but, off the record, senior U.S. military officers have told me they did not intervene because they had insufficient numbers of troops.

Today, most also acknowledge that this period of anarchy helped lay the foundation for the Iraqi insurgency by souring the perceptions of many Iraqis toward the occupation troops while simultaneously revealing the extent of U.S. intelligence weaknesses to the members of Iraq's fallen regime, who had melted away to watch and wait. It was not long before they began attacking Americans.

And at least some of the weaponry they have been using comes from unguarded arms caches like Al Qaqaa's.

In June 2003, two months after the invasion that toppled Hussein, I visited a vast dumping ground for war detritus on the southern outskirts of Baghdad — just up the road from Al Qaqaa, in fact. There, I found live rocket warheads, howitzer shells and large quantities of live ammunition lying around, being picked over by scavengers and looters. There were no Iraqi sentries or U.S. soldiers in sight.

Whenever I have mentioned my visit to this place to U.S. officials — and the dangers it seemed to pose to U.S. soldiers — the reaction has always been the same: They grimace, acknowledge the problem and, once again, cite the lack of troops to guard such sites.

Recall, if you will, dear reader, Secretary Rumsfeld's remarks about the looting in Iraq:

"Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," Rumsfeld said. "They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here."

Looting, he added, was not uncommon for countries that experience significant social upheaval. "Stuff happens," Rumsfeld said...

And, from the UPI report at the time, Mr. Rumsfeld said:

"And for suddenly the biggest problem in the world to be looting is really notable."

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