The New York Times’ blockbuster story about how U.S. forces discovered chemical weapons in Iraq and suffered injuries due to chemical exposure — unbeknownst to the public — is almost sure to provoke congressional overseers of the armed forces and veterans’ affairs. But the story also contains some worrying information that has implications for future U.S. action against the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State or ISIL.
American troops found thousands of warheads after the 2003 invasion, and a large number remain in Iraq — in easy reach of ISIL, the Times reports. Many of the chemical incidents and discoveries took place around a chemical weapons plant known as the Muthanna State Establishment, which was operational in the 1980s.
“Since June, the compound has been held by the Islamic State, the world’s most radical and violent jihadist group,” the Times reported. “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 military contends those weapons are old and pose no threat, but the story notes that Iraqi chemical munitions have a habit of staying dangerous after their expiration dates.
The reporting could prove to be another black mark for the government of Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister until this year, that gave ISIL an advantage. The al-Maliki government was also in charge of maintaining the Iraqi armed forces that collapsed as ISIL advanced.
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