This story is disturbing on multiple levels. It has been revealed that stockpiles of expired or degraded chemical munitions were discovered in Iraq during the initial years of the war and both American and Iraqi forces were exposed to them in more than twenty instances. This information was never revealed to the public.
American troops were exposed to chemical weapons multiple times in the years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, while the Pentagon kept their discoveries of the expired or degraded weapons secret from investigators, fellow soldiers, and military doctors, according to a published report.
The New York Times reported late Tuesday that American troops reported finding approximately 5,000 chemical warheads, shells, or aviation bombs in the years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On at least six occasions, soldiers were wounded by those weapons, which had been manufactured before 1991. In all, the paper reported that 17 U.S. soldiers and seven Iraqi police officers were exposed to chemical agents during the war. The U.S. government said its number was slightly higher, but did not release a specific figure.
And if that isn’t bad enough news for you on a Wednesday morning, the material is apparently now in the hands of precisely who you wouldn’t want to have it.
The paper reported that most of the agents were discovered around the Muthanna State Establishment northwest of Baghdad, which had been a center of chemical weapons production in the 1980s. The complex has been held by Islamic State militants since June.
The details provided thus far indicate that these were certainly not a potential source for the mushroom cloud on the horizon or state of the art mobile biological weapons laboratories which were so frequently discussed in the run up to the war, but they are still WMDs by definition and a nasty piece of business. Manufactured during the 1980s, the weapons were apparently decaying and compromised, but still contained dangerous compounds which resulted in injuries to those investigating them.
The ISIS side of the question may not be as bad as it could have been from the sound of things. The weapons stored at Muthanna are apparently so old and degraded that even getting close to them may well prove more disastrous to any terrorists trying to use them than they would be to the intended targets. But the chemicals are still too dangerous to ignore and provide yet another reason to take ISIS more seriously.
Possibly more disturbing, though, is the fallout from the secrecy surrounding these discoveries. When injured veterans were returning home, might there have been more effective treatment made available if medical professionals knew that such exposure was a consideration? While it’s possible that VA doctors were provided with this information on a need to know basis in cases where soldiers were known to have been exposed, both the military and the VA owe us some answers on that. Once the immediate series of crisis scenarios calm down, I expect we’ll be seeing calls for some congressional hearings to shine more light on this situation.