Even when a war ends, the remnants of its presence lingers for years and even decades, still injuring countless nameless victims and presenting irreversible consequences.
The New York Times conducted extensive research and interviews on the dilemma of abandoned chemical weapons in Iraq and those who still do and potentially may suffer from their wrath.
According to secret findings, interviews with Iraqi and American officials and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the Times reported thousands of chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs have been encountered by American or American-trained troops from 2002 to 2011.
According to the Times, the scale of the United States’ encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military. What adds greater concern to the situation is that the Islamic State now controls much of the territory in the area surrounding the weapon site.
The U.S. government withheld the information about the abandoned weaponry and sent troops into the area. Victims and participants have said the government’s secrecy prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.
In correspondence dated in January 2014 from Brett Dorris, Director of the Freedom of Information/Privacy Office to the New York Times, Dorris responded by writing that the documents the Times had requested had been found and provided after the information had been sanitized and properly classified SECRET. In doing so, 52 pages of documentation were denied in their entirety.
An U.S. Army National Ground Intelligence document dated September 14, 2006 provided an overview of chemical munitions recovered in Iraq in early 2004. It stated, “Since May 2004, coalition forces have recovered at least 501 pre-1991 Gulf War Iraqi chemical weapons including 448 122-mm Borak rocket warheads which contains the nerve gas agent sarin.”
In the same document’s summary of chemical weapons recovered in Iraq since May 2004, it said, “the chemical munitions recovered were composed of cannon projectiles and rocket warheads designed to be filled with mustard or sarin.”
Another document dated in June 2009 stated, “Coalition forces have recovered 4,574 filled and unfilled pre-1991 Gulf War Iraqi chemical munitions, including 966 recovered between January 2008 and March 2008.”
According to the Times article, Congress was only partly informed. Troops and officers were instructed to be silent or give illusive reports on their findings. “’Nothing of significance’ is what I was ordered to say,” said Jarrod Lampier, a recently retired Army Major. Lampier was present at the largest chemical weapons discovery of the war, which included more than 2,400 nerve-agent rockets unearthed in 2006 at a former Republican Guard compound.
Many chemical weapons incidents are grounded around the ruins of the Muthanna State Establishment, in the heart of Iraqi chemical agent production in the 1980s. Finding, safeguarding and destroying these weapons was to be the responsibility of Iraq’s government. It took initial steps to satisfy its obligations but the Iraqi troops who stood at that entrance are no longer there. The compound, never entombed, has been controlled by the Islamic State since June.