George W. Bush is squirming to evade questions on why U.S. occupation forces in Iraq allowed 380 tons of high explosives, of the kind used in triggering nuclear explosions, to vanish from the Al Qaqaa weapons depot under U.S. control.

The New York Times and CBS exposed the story Oct. 25, reporting that the Iraqi interim government alerted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the missing explosives in an Oct. 10 letter. IAEA publicly warned about the stockpile before the war and told the White House after the U.S. invasion that the explosives “must be secured.” The Times added, “Administration officials say they cannot explain why the explosives were not safeguarded beyond the fact that the occupation force was overwhelmed by the amount of munitions they found throughout the country.”

The explosives, identified as HMX and RDX, are conventional but are powerful enough to trigger a nuclear blast. The cache could be the source of the explosives used in the devastating series of bombings that has killed and wounded thousands of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis in a rising tide of violence.

“It’s just another sign of the gross incompetence of this administration,” said Scott Lynch, spokesperson for Peace Action. “They can’t even secure explosives that are being used to kill U.S. troops, Iraqi soldiers and civilians. This is certain to lead to more loss of life on both sides.”

Lynch added that it “gives the lie to their claims that security in Iraq is improving, that life is getting better for the people, that freedom and democracy is on the march. It is clear that the insurgents have unlimited supplies of weapons and explosives to continue the insurgency.”

Bush’s rosy picture of Iraq “is divorced from reality. Half the country could blow up and Bush would still say Iraq is on the road to freedom.”

Democrat John Kerry hammered Bush on the issue. “Now we know that our country and our troops are less safe because this president failed to do the basics,” Kerry said. “This is one of the great blunders of this administration. The incredible incompetence of this president and his administration has put our country at greater risk.”

Running mate John Edwards said, “It is reckless and irresponsible to fail to protect and safeguard one of the largest weapons sites in the country … George Bush has failed … as our commander in chief. He has failed as president.”

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