Speed Reads

Crisis in Iraq

ISIS may have gotten its hands on Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons

In a blockbuster investigative report for The New York Times, C.J. Chivers reports that U.S. forces in post-invasion Iraq came across large caches of chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein's regime had developed — with the help of the U.S. and Europe — during its war against Iran in the 1980s. The report raises a host of important questions: Why didn't the U.S. government report these findings before? Why were U.S. soldiers exposed to toxic chemical agents told to keep quiet? Why didn't they receive the appropriate medical treatment?

And of immediate concern, it appears that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is in control of areas of Iraq where chemical weapons are known to be rusting away. While U.S. officials insist that the aging weapons pose no threat, Chivers reports that they could be repurposed into crude chemical munitions:

Many chemical weapons incidents clustered around the ruins of the Muthanna State Establishment, the center of Iraqi chemical agent production in the 1980s.

Since June, the compound has been held by the Islamic State, the world's most radical and violent jihadist group. In a letter sent to the United Nations this summer, the Iraqi government said that about 2,500 corroded chemical rockets remained on the grounds, and that Iraqi officials had witnessed intruders looting equipment before militants shut down the surveillance cameras. [The New York Times]

(N.B., these weapons of mass destruction were not the ones the Bush administration claimed Hussein was developing prior to the invasion.)