The New York Times has a detailed report today on chemical weapons stockpiles in Iraq, some of which have fallen into the hands of ISIS forces. The takeaway: the United States discovered the weapons after invading Iraq but covered up evidence thereof in part because the stockpiles were left over from a manufacturing program that had long been abandoned—which contradicted the Bush administration’s pre-war claims that Saddam Hussein was actively developing weapons of mass destruction.
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.
“Troops and officers were instructed to be silent or give deceptive accounts of what they had found,” Times reporter C.J. Chivers writes. All of the weapons found, which contained sarin or mustard gas, had been manufactured before 1991, the year that the United States first invaded Iraq. Some were even made from United States designs. (The U.S. supported Iraq during its ‘80s war with Iran, and was complicit in helping Saddam Hussein use chemical agents against Iranian forces.)
The secrecy surrounding the weapons had real consequences for troops. Information on the presence and dangers of chemical agents was not shared inside the armed forces, which left supervising officers and medical personnel unprepared to deal with their discovery. The Times documents a number of incidents in which Americans were made ill by chemical agents, given inadequate treatment, and told not to discuss their experiences. And now, with the military never having systematically accounted for—or planned for the complete destruction of—the discovered stockpiles, at least one large stash of the weapons has come into the control of ISIS forces. Read the whole piece here.