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Chemical Weapons and Iraq

Peter Suderman summarizes the findings of a New York Timesreport on old chemical weapons stocks in Iraq:

These were not products of the active, ongoing chemical weapons program that the Bush administration claimed existed and had to be stopped when it first made the case for war in Iraq. All the weapons were all more than a decade old by the time they were discovered. Most were made in the 1980s, and every single one of them had been created before 1991.

The Times says flatly that “the discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale.” [bold mine-DL]

Not only was there no desire on the part of the government to publicize these findings, but the government made a point of keeping secret the existence of these weapons even when American soldiers had been exposed to them:

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.

“I felt more like a guinea pig than a wounded soldier,” said a former Army sergeant who suffered mustard burns in 2007 and was denied hospital treatment and medical evacuation to the United States despite requests from his commander.

Congress, too, was only partly informed, while troops and officers were instructed to be silent or give deceptive accounts of what they had found.

The discoveries proved embarrassing to the government for a number of reasons. For one thing, they didn’t support the administration’s pre-war claims about Iraq’s WMD programs, but rather underscored just how wrong those claims had been:

Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong. “They needed something to say that after Sept. 11 Saddam used chemical rounds,” Mr. Lampier said. “And all of this was from the pre-1991 era.”

In addition to that, many of the weapons were produced in the West:

In five of six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.

The real story here is that the government mistreated American soldiers that were exposed to chemical agents, neglected to secure some of the weapons it found, mishandled many of the weapons that it did destroy, and all the while did its best to keep the public from learning about this outrageous behavior. As Suderman put it, “it looks like the revelation of another colossal failure in what is already widely recognized as a colossal failure of a war.”

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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