By Alison Barnett
The NYT has reported that US troops have discovered chemical weapons in Iraq left over from the pre-Gulf War era. 5,000 of these weapons were discovered between 2004-2011. Instead of finding the WMDs Saddam Hussein was supposedly hiding, the troops found, and were injured by, abandoned weapons from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s.
Because of the age of these weapons, some of which were more than twenty years old at the time, they were harder to identify and mislabeled, leading to improper handling. Some of the old weapons were leaking mustard or sarin gas.
The US government covered up these incidents, impart because American companies were involved in the development of these weapons.
The coverup resulted in troops not getting the medical care they needed after encountering these weapons. Two soldiers who had been tasked with destroying what they thought was an less dangerous shell, found themselves nauseous and struggling with breathing. The military put a gag order on everyone involved, because their case was classified. Two Navy technicians, after discovering three damaged shells which contained sulfur mustard, suffered from their experience.
Many of the weapons that were involved in the reported injuries of US troops were designed in the US, and built in Europe, then sent to Iraq to be filled with chemical agents. Many of these weapons were either used by the Iraqi military or destroyed after the Gulf War in 1991.
The Pentagon is accused of improperly disposing of and even losing track of some of these thousands of very dangerous weapons. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has asked the military and service branch chiefs to investigate the allegations that troops who encountered and were injured by chemical weapons did not get adequate medical treatment.
One dangerous possibility is some of these weapons falling into the hands of ISIS. While many of the weapons are now unusable for their original purpose due to age, they would still have access to whatever can be salvaged from the ruins. The Muthanna State Compound, where many of the chemical agents were produced is now held by the terrorist group, and the Iraqi government reported to the United Nations that 2500 chemical rockets remain in the compound.
ISIS militants in Iraq have allegedly used chlorine gas against Iraqi forces, which while not as deadly as the mustard or sarin gas found in some of the abandoned weapons, can cause damage to the lungs. While there is no evidence that ISIS has obtained more dangerous chemical weapons, the danger is still there.