The Times hastens to assure us that these chemical weapons do not constitute a vindication of the Bush Administration’s claims regarding Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and that is probably true: if these weapons really did validate the Bush claims, then it would have been suicidal for the Bush Administration to have kept them a secret. On the other hand, policymakers in Washington seem bent on doing so many stupid things these days, you never know.
“The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons,” by C. J. Chivers, New York Times, October 14, 2014:
…From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule.
In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Andrew T. Goldman in North Topsail Beach, N.C. In August 2008, Mr. Goldman was part of a team near Taji, Iraq, that was trying to destroy munitions that could be used in makeshift bombs. While holding a cracked shell, he noticed a strange smell.
The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.
The New York Times found 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003. American officials said that the actual tally of exposed troops was slightly higher, but that the government’s official count was classified.
The secrecy fit a pattern. Since the outset of the war, the scale of the United States’ encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military. These encounters carry worrisome implications now that the Islamic State, a Qaeda splinter group, controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.
The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds….
Congress, too, was only partly informed, while troops and officers were instructed to be silent or give deceptive accounts of what they had found. “ ’Nothing of significance’ is what I was ordered to say,” said Jarrod Lampier, a recently retired Army major who was present for the largest chemical weapons discovery of the war: more than 2,400 nerve-agent rockets unearthed in 2006 at a former Republican Guard compound.
Jarrod L. Taylor, a former Army sergeant on hand for the destruction of mustard shells that burned two soldiers in his infantry company, joked of “wounds that never happened” from “that stuff that didn’t exist.” The public, he said, was misled for a decade. “I love it when I hear, ‘Oh there weren’t any chemical weapons in Iraq,’ ” he said. “There were plenty.”
Between 2004 and 2011, American forces in Iraq encountered thousands of chemical munitions. In several cases, troops were exposed to chemical agents….
The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush insisted that Mr. Hussein was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of international will and at the world’s risk. United Nations inspectors said they could not find evidence for these claims.
Then, during the long occupation, American troops began encountering old chemical munitions in hidden caches and roadside bombs. Typically 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets, they were remnants of an arms program Iraq had rushed into production in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.
All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area, according to those who collected the majority of them.
In case after case, participants said, analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.
As Iraq has been shaken anew by violence, and past security gains have collapsed amid Sunni-Shiite bloodletting and the rise of the Islamic State, this long-hidden chronicle illuminates the persistent risks of the country’s abandoned chemical weapons.
Many chemical weapons incidents clustered around the ruins of the Muthanna State Establishment, the center of Iraqi chemical agent production in the 1980s.
Since June, the compound has been held by the Islamic State, the world’s most radical and violent jihadist group. In a letter sent to the United Nations this summer, the Iraqi government said that about 2,500 corroded chemical rockets remained on the grounds, and that Iraqi officials had witnessed intruders looting equipment before militants shut down the surveillance cameras.
Soldiers in chemical protection gear, including Sgt. Eric J. Duling and Specialist Andrew T. Goldman, examining suspected chemical munitions at a site near Camp Taji, Iraq, on Aug. 16, 2008. The New York Times
The United States government says the abandoned weapons no longer pose a threat. But nearly a decade of wartime experience showed that old Iraqi chemical munitions often remained dangerous when repurposed for local attacks in makeshift bombs, as insurgents did starting by 2004….