As I would later learn, the 120th had, for all intents and purposes, become the caretaker of Saddam Hussein's grotesque legacy in western Iraq: a vast, murky labyrinth of bunkers, tunnels and sandpits that contain a staggering menagerie of exotic bombs, bullets, shells, mines, missiles and torpedoes. All told, there are 103 known sites in the 120th's sector, encompassing approximately 100,000 of the estimated 600,000 tons of high-density explosives strewn across Iraq.
...To visit a captured weapons site the likes of which I saw at Taqaddum is to witness the byproducts of unfathomable delusion and malfeasance and to parse the chilling dreams of a lost regime with an unquenchable desire for ever-larger and more grandiose weaponry and death-dealing machinery. Surveying the kaleidoscope of munitions at Taqaddum, I could discern no real rhyme or reason to it at all. There were scores of 6,000-pound anti-ship bombs of Chinese manufacture, for which the Iraqis never possessed aircraft capable of lifting. Strewn throughout the maze of bunkers and sandpits were hundreds of bombs of South African, Chilean, Soviet, West German, Yugoslav, Czech and U.S. origin, almost all of them sitting on wooden pallets, left to the mercy of the elements and the wild dogs that haunt the place.
Much of this ammunition was decades old. Many of the bullets and bombs found at Taqaddum corresponded to weapon systems that have been obsolete for decades. It was as if someone had given their crazy uncle $10 billion and said, "Buy whatever you want, so long as it explodes." The tour guide for this potpourri of death, Capt. Bruner, mentioned that the Russians had probably been dumping untold amounts of obsolete ordnance on the Iraqis for years, exploiting Saddam's compulsive desire for power to obtain cold, hard cash.
...Regarding the general situation of unaccounted-for explosives, physicist and weapons expert Ivan Oelrich, a former consultant for the U.S. Army and now with the Federation of American Scientists, put it this way: "I'll bet if you took all the car bombs that have gone off in Iraq in the past six months and tallied them, [they] would add up to a couple of tons of high explosives. So if they're doing what they're doing with two or three tons, what difference does it make if they have 380 more?"
The Bush administration has a tragi-comic problem with the recent story of ungarded explosives. The real response to the accusations of negligence is to put it in perspective -- it's only a small part of an overall problem that's far worse. Not the answer Rove likes to give.