I have warned for years that the Syrian Rebels and now ISIL have chemical weapons. However, that notion was dismissed repeatedly by the mainstream media until the State Department inadvertently admitted that ISIL used chemical weapons on the Kurds. Of course that major revelation caused at least a few people to raise the question of the origin of these said chemical weapons. Realizing a major scandal was about to erupt, the White House went into full damage control mode and immediately set about working with the New York Times to put out a story to redirect and mislead the public. The Times story claims ISIL’s chemical weapons came from undestroyed Iraqi stockpiles, which as I will show, is a patently false claim of historical revisionism. After all, the White House has repeatedly denied all accounts of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is almost indistinguishable from ISIL, having and using chemical weapons. Using this “new” admission, any serious inquiry or basic logic would show US intelligence as bad and bolster arguments that we shouldn’t support the FSA. In fact, the false narrative, Syrian President Assad was the only one in possession of chemical weapons, was critical to blaming Assad for all chemical attacks in Syria, which was then manufactured into a false justification for a war with Syria. The can of worms that the admission opened had to be closed and fast. As such, the NY Times’ came to the rescue of their political master. The NY Times’ propaganda piece can be read at: (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/10/14/world/middleeast/us-casualties-of-iraq-chemical-weapons.html?_r=0).
In response to this article, let me clear up the misleading information this hatchet piece purveyed. First of all, yes, we did find chemical weapons in Iraq. Second, yes, residual chemicals in recovered ordnance on various, but rare occasions, injured a small number of our servicemen and they deserve to be taken care of properly (this is the one point I give the article credit for highlighting). However, these weapons were mainly old, inoperable artillery and mortar rounds that never, ever posed any real or existential threat to the US or anyone beyond the poor bastard that might have had to bury or dispose of them. Many of these nearly useless rounds were not even filled with an agent. Those that were, were simply not usable in any legitimate military application due to their level of corrosion and deterioration and the chemical compounds had long since lost most of their potency. More to the point of debunking the claims of the State Department and the New York Times, the abandoned Iraqi chemical weapons were neither the same weapons used by ISIL nor in a serviceable condition so it would have been impossible for ISIL to use them.
It is worth noting that although highly degraded and leaking, both blister and nerve agents did still remain in some shells with enough potency to wound ordnance disposal technicians. Nonetheless, the abandoned munitions posed a far greater risk to those trying to handle them than anyone they could potentially be used on. Further, the chemical munitions that did find their way into improvised roadside bombs were either so degraded they were ineffective or the heat of the explosive blast rendered any chemical agent inert. In fact, the chemical weapons the US did recover were used during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s (in part provided by the US) and had been left to deteriorate or were buried for over a decade when recovered. The second key take away from all of this is that abandoned, deteriorated, and totally unusable ordnance did not represent an on-going, large scale chemical weapons program that posed any kind of threat to the US. The New York Times article was dishonest in implying that these weapons somehow did support the existence of an Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) program. Any suggestion of an Iraqi WMD program at the time of the US invasion is revisionist history of the worst kind.
Although the Times article doesn’t really mention it, there was also a significant quantity of uranium yellow cake found in Iraq. This fact must be addressed and any spin dispelled up front. Something like 500 metric tons of yellow cake were recovered and eventually shipped out of Iraq. On the surface, the yellow cake find could be spun to sound menacing and to defend the arguments for an Iraqi WMD program, but falls short under closer examination. The yellow cake did not pose any threat whatsoever and was residual from Iraq’s nuclear program that was destroyed in 1981 by the Israelis. In fact, the “dirt” was completely useless unless it could be processed and highly enriched. This would have required large scale, high tech industrial processing that could have been easily identified and tracked. It would have also required highly sensitive and controlled technological items that Iraq did not possess. Iraq simply did not have that capability to process the yellow cake into anything other than another pile of dirt. Further, it was clear Iraq never tried to rebuild that capability after it was destroyed by Israel in 1981. As such, only a brief mention of the find appeared in the press because it was something of a nonissue by that point in the war.
After the Times article was published, many on the conservative talk radio scene were livid. They were screaming this was proof Bush was right all along and that he had betrayed their cause. Although many of these hosts often have valid points and pursue important issues, they were completely off base on this issue. First of all, they totally missed the reason the article was published and fell blindly into the trap the White House set. Instead of asking the hard questions about Obama using bogus intelligence to start another illegitimate war in Syria, they instead turned to partisan politics. Bush was still totally wrong and the intelligence was still just as fabricated no matter how much Mark Levin and others tried to spin the existence of the relatively few pieces of unusable ordnance recovered that probably Saddam Hussein didn’t even know still existed. The Bush Administration did know of the abandoned chemical ordnance and rightly chose to keep it quiet contrary to what Sean Hannity thought Bush should have done. In fact, Bush did have good reason for this contrary to what political talk show hosts with zero credentials to comment on the matter thought. For starters, it was true we did not want insurgents to know about these residual chemical munitions. In fact, we didn’t want the insurgents to know about any weapons stockpiles. Second, we didn’t want to deal with the risks and costs of cleaning up old and leaky chemical weapons so kept it quiet, blew up what we could, and reburied the rest often in concrete. We did not leave usable chemical weapons behind for insurgents or anyone else for that matter. Finally, and most important to the “WMD in Iraq” narrative, if President Bush had come out to the press and announced the corroded, inoperable, chemical ordnance from the 80’s represented an existential “WMD threat” and “program” as he had claimed in his war justification, he would have been rightly laughed out of the Oval Office.
So, in conclusion, some junk munitions still laying around from the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s doesn’t justify the war in Iraq or vindicate George W. Bush. Further, and more important for our contemporary context, these old, unusable munitions don’t explain how ISIL got their hands on chemical weapons that were in such good condition that they could be launched and effectively used against Syrians and Kurds. Along this line of logic, one should also recognize that the few chemical sites that did fall into areas that ISIL had captured in Iraq no longer (if ever) contained the type and quality chemical munitions ISIL was employing. The answers to where and how ISIL obtained their chemical weapons and employment knowhow is far darker and the much more pressing. If an independent journalist capable of real investigation still exists, he or she should be doggedly pursuing this lead, but sadly the days of true journalism and real stories have passed. In the meantime, you are just going to have to recognize that ISIL is acquiring military grade chemical weapons from covert sources that are capable of being used tactically. Plan and prepare for them to turn up in the worst places.
By Guiles Hendrik
October 31, 2014