The recent turmoil in Iraq brought on by the rise of the Sunni extremist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has ironically struck a blow to the American Left’s endlessly repeated narrative that there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq prior to the war. The State Department and other U.S. government officials have revealed that ISIS now occupies the Al Muthanna Chemicals Weapons Complex. Al Muthanna was Saddam Hussein’s primary chemical weapons facility, and it is located less than 50 miles from Baghdad.
The Obama administration claims that the weapons in that facility, which include sarin, mustard gas, and nerve agent VX, manufactured to prosecute the war against Iran in the 1980s, do not pose a threat because they are old, contaminated and hard to move. “We do not believe that the complex contains CW materials of military value and it would be very difficult, if not impossible to safely move the materials,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The administration’s dubious rationale is based on information provided by the Iraq Study Group, which was tasked with finding WMDs in the war’s aftermath. They found the chemical weapons at Al Muthanna, but they determined that both Iraq wars and inspections by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) had successfully dismantled the facility, and that the remaining chemical weapons were rendered useless and sealed in bunkers. The report called the weapons facility “a wasteland full of destroyed chemical munitions, razed structures, and unusable war-ravaged facilities,” the 2004 report stated.
Yet other sections of the same report were hardly reassuring. “Stockpiles of chemical munitions are still stored there,” it stated. “The most dangerous ones have been declared to the UN and are sealed in bunkers. Although declared, the bunkers’ contents have yet to be confirmed.” It added, “These areas of the compound pose a hazard to civilians and potential black-marketers.”
Another report paints an even more disturbing picture of the Muthanna facility. It warned that the number and status of Saddam’s sarin-filled rockets was unknown because facilities were not able to be inspected, leaving investigators only able to surmise about the weapons’ condition. Even in degraded conditions, the report said, these rockets still posed a proliferation risk:
Although the damaged Bunker 13 at Muthanna contained thousands of sarin-filled rockets, the presence of leaking munitions and unstable propellant and explosive charges made it too hazardous for UNSCOM inspectors to enter. Because the rockets could not be recovered safely, Iraq declared the munitions in Bunker 13 as ‘destroyed in the Gulf War’ and they were not included in the inventory of chemical weapons eliminated under UNSCOM supervision.
Because of the hazardous conditions in Bunker 13, UNSCOM inspectors were unable to make an accurate inventory of its contents before sealing the entrances in 1994. As a result, no record exists of the exact number or status of the sarin-filled rockets remaining in the bunker. … In the worst-case scenario, the munitions could contain as much as 15,000 liters of sarin. Although it is likely that the nerve agent has degraded substantially after nearly two decades of storage under suboptimal conditions, UNMOVIC cautioned that ‘the levels of degradation of the sarin fill in the rockets cannot be determined without exploring the bunker and taking samples from intact warheads.’ If the sarin remains highly toxic and many of the rockets are still intact, they could pose a proliferation risk.”
Nonetheless, U.S. officials, who claimed they were well aware of the facility insisted that the United States wouldn’t have left it there if it were a genuine threat. They also continued to stress that the takeover by ISIS doesn’t constitute a military gain by the group because the weapons would prove useless, even if ISIS were able to penetrated the sealed bunkers where they are stored. ISIS has reportedly yet to gain access to the bunkers.
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