U.S. Found Chemical Weapons In Iraq, All Right (The Ones We Gave Saddam)

The New York Times has a huge Pulitzer-bait story by C.J. Chivers about injuries to U.S. military forces from old, unstable chemical weapons in Iraq, and how the Bush administration and the Pentagon covered it all up. It's big, it's a jaw-dropping exposé of shoddy treatment of soldiers, and you should read it.

The one thing that it does not do is vindicate George W. Bush's brilliant decision to invade Iraq to put an end to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's supposedly active program to manufacture chemical and biological weapons. All the chemical weapons that U.S. forces found were old and deteriorating, leftovers from the Iran-Iraq war:

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

You're going to hear a lot of conservatives -- like the nine paid staffers of Twitchy, for instance -- saying, "See? Bush was right, so shut up, libs!" We especially loved Dead Breitbart's take on the story, which leaves out a few somewhat important details. They say only that the Times story "details U.S. forces in Iraq finding thousands of chemical weapons during the Iraq war."

"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," Chivers wrote. "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."

See? Bush was right! Saddam had WMDs! USA! USA! USA! Suck it, libs!

Funny, though, what U.S. troops found was not those mobile chemical weapons labs that the Bush administration insisted were there but a lot of munitions left over from the 1980s:

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush insisted that Mr. Hussein was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of international will and at the world’s risk. United Nations inspectors said they could not find evidence for these claims.

Then, during the long occupation, American troops began encountering old chemical munitions in hidden caches and roadside bombs. Typically 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets, they were remnants of an arms program Iraq had rushed into production in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.

All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area, according to those who collected the majority of them.

In case after case, participants said, analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.

In a pretty brilliant bit of revisionism, the ever-thoughtful American Thinker blog proclaims "NY Times admits Saddam had WMDs" in its headline, and then accuses Chivers and the Times of revisionism:

Chivers, of course, can't very well say that Bush was right all along: His readers wouldn't stand for it. So he tosses a bone to them, claiming the Bush administration's goal in Iraq wasn't merely to disarm Saddam of his WMDs -- but to destroy “an active weapons of mass destruction program.” Instead he claims that American troops only found “remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West." Yet the fact remains that these chemical agents still had military value -- a fact that Chivers concedes

Yep, they had "military value": They could be wired together to create roadside bombs. Remember how Colin Powell went to the UN to warn the world that Saddam had rotting remnants of a weapons stockpile that could be used as components of roadside bombs? They were truly a terrifying international security threat.

The main thing we take away from the story is that the Bush administration did everything it could to not call attention to these old chemical weapons. They were an embarrassment. The were the wrong weapons. They were actually not the droids we were looking for. Worse, they would have raised awkward questions about where they came from:

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.

To have announced that we were finding these suckers would have required Bush to say that he'd discovered where Saddam got his chemical weapons, and then, presumably, we'd have to bomb some American and European defense contractors. Even when the Pentagon did announce that some weapons had been found, it scrupulously avoided talking about where they came from:

The publicly released information also skirted the fact that most of the chemical artillery shells were traceable to the West, some tied to the United States.

These shells, which the American military calls M110s, had been developed decades ago in the United States. Roughly two feet long and weighing more than 90 pounds, each is an aerodynamic steel vessel with a burster tube in its center ...

The United States also exported the shells and the technology behind them. When Iraq went arms shopping in the 1980s, it found manufacturers in Italy and Spain willing to deal their copies. By 1988, these two countries alone had sold Iraq 85,000 empty M110-type shells, according to confidential United Nations documents. Iraq also obtained shells from Belgium.

Strangely, these details aren't getting mentioned so much in the rightwing media. Saddam had some WMDs, all right, and they were top-notch American military technology.

Getting beyond the question of whether Bush is vindicated -- say, we mentioned that he isn't, didn't we? -- the story is just amazing. The Pentagon was not about to expose the existence of these old weapons that were injuring soldiers, so the soldiers got inadequate preparation before being sent out to dismantle what they expected to be conventional shells that might be used in IEDs. And then, after they were injured, they were given a gag order, because what they found was TOP SECRET. But at least they got Purple Hearts for their trouble.

At every step, the military leadership did whatever it could to downplay just how many of these old embarrassing weapons were still floating around Iraq. By 2004 the mission had shifted to fighting insurgents, and documenting old chemical weapons and reporting them just slowed things down.

Go read this thing. It's important, and lord knows the conversation needs to be about the incompetent handling of the chemical weapons that were found, and the shoddy treatment of those who found them, not merely dragging out the "Bush was right!" claims again. Because, as we may have mentioned, he wasn't.

[New York Times / Breitbart / American Thinker]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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