Investigating Abandoned Chemical Weapons in Iraq

Investigating Abandoned Chemical Weapons in Iraq

An investigation by The New York Times found that during the Iraq War, American troops encountered aging chemical weapons abandoned years earlier, and that some servicemen injured by these munitions received inadequate care. Readers submitted a range of questions for the journalists who wrote the story, including why the United States government kept the discovery of these munitions largely secret. C.J. Chivers, a Times reporter, and John Ismay, a contributor, responded to selected readers’ questions

Why Such Secrecy?

Q. Wonder why the U.S. government would have wanted it kept secret? Would seem to me to have bolstered their argument for intervention.

— Erik LaPresta via Facebook

A. As far as we know, and what every source involved — from those who were exposed to those involved in planning and assessing the recovery and destruction of the aged shells and warheads — has said, the weapons that were recovered were all manufactured before 1991.

Further, there were indications again and again that the weapons could not have been used as designed. They were rusty or pitted, and often missing features necessary for them to be fired, such as rotating bands on the artillery shells or rocket motors for the rockets. Many had been buried and damaged, and no longer were true to size and shape after rough handling, corrosion or other damage.

They were, in short, the discarded remnants of a program that had been destroyed and dismantled by a combination of the 1991 Gulf War, unilateral Iraqi destruction or burial, and the United Nations inspections and demilitarization programs.

They were certainly dangerous as caches that could be breached by handling or hasty destruction, or when repurposed into makeshift bombs. But they were not weapons that posed the risks they might have posed had they been fired and still functioned as intended long ago.

It has baffled us, as it baffles you, why the United States did not disclose its findings.

The effects are many, but among them have been that veterans seeking care for their exposures, or their suspected exposures, to chemical weapons have been told by care providers that there were no chemical weapons in Iraq.

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