David J. Morris, Salon: The threat posed by stockpiles like those I saw at Taqaddum is disconcerting, but what makes the situation infinitely worse is the realization that of the 103 weapon sites that the United States is aware of in western Iraq, only a handful are ever guarded on a regular basis, which means that insurgents bent on killing Americans have easily accessible and free material with which to make bombs of all sorts. Understandably, Bruner wouldn't give me an exact figure on how many of the sites are monitored at any given time, but it was abundantly clear that he and all of the soldiers of the 120th Engineer Battalion were doing the best they could with the limited resources that they had. (Most of the Marines' engineers have been tasked with locating and defusing roadside bombs that are found by infantrymen operating in the cities, a duty that saves countless American lives but still leaves the lion's share of the work to the 120th.)Update, 10/28/04, 7:25 PM EST: Knight Ridder, in a larger piece on improvised explosive devices (IEDs):
The plight of the 120th is emblematic of the U.S. military's larger problem: There simply aren't enough American soldiers in Iraq to guard and dispose of all of the weapons stockpiles we know of, and even if there were they would have to be in place for decades to ensure that the country was picked clean of weapons. This is, arguably, one of the foremost drawbacks of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's transformational strategy for conquering Iraq: When the initial combat phase was concluded there weren't enough troops to saturate and pacify the entire country.
For all the military's efforts to tame the threat, IEDs kill coalition soldiers at a steady clip, 10 in some months, 20 or more in others. And while the Iraqi government keeps no statistics on civilians killed by IEDs, news accounts of the blasts almost always include bystanders.
The devices are too easy to build, and the explosives that power them too readily available, for them to go away anytime soon, said Brig. Abdul Kadir Moniem Said, the director of the Iraqi police unit that defuses and investigates IEDs.
"One of the coalition's fatal mistakes was to allow the terrorists into army storerooms," he said, citing the postwar looting of ammunition depots across Iraq. "The terrorists took all the explosives they would ever need."