But don’t worry, Obama has announced he’s dispatching Kerry to talk to people in the Middle East so it’s a race between which set of poison gasses will be emitted first.
Sunni extremists in Iraq have occupied what was once Saddam Hussein’s premier chemical-weapons production facility, a complex that still contains a stockpile of old weapons, State Department and other U.S. government officials said.
U.S. officials don’t believe the Sunni militants will be able to create a functional chemical weapon from the material. The weapons stockpiled at the Al Muthanna complex are old, contaminated and hard to move, officials said.
“We remain concerned about the seizure of any military site by the ISIL,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a written statement. “We do not believe that the complex contains CW materials of military value and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.”
But what if ISIS, a group whose lead tactic involved suicide bombings, doesn’t care about safely moving that material?
Numerous bunkers, including eleven cruciform shaped bunkers were exploited. Some of the bunkers were empty. Some of the bunkers contained large quantities of unfilled chemical munitions, conventional munitions, one-ton shipping containers, old disabled production equipment (presumed disabled under UNSCOM supervision), and other hazardous industrial chemicals.
Although the damaged Bunker 13 at Muthanna contained thousands of sarin-filled rockets, the presence of leaking munitions and unstable propellant and explosive charges made it too hazardous for UNSCOM inspectors to enter. Because the rockets could not be recovered safely, Iraq declared the munitions in Bunker 13 as “destroyed in the Gulf War” and they were not included in the inventory of chemical weapons eliminated under UNSCOM supervision.
Because of the hazardous conditions in Bunker 13, UNSCOM inspectors were unable to make an accurate inventory of its contents before sealing the entrances in 1994. As a result, no record exists of the exact number or status of the sarin-filled rockets remaining in the bunker. According to the UNMOVIC final report in 2007, the rockets “may be both filled and unfilled, armed or unarmed, in good condition or deteriorated.” In the worst-case scenario, the munitions could contain as much as 15,000 liters of sarin. Although it is likely that the nerve agent has degraded substantially after nearly two decades of storage under suboptimal conditions, UNMOVIC cautioned that “the levels of degradation of the sarin fill in the rockets cannot be determined without exploring the bunker and taking samples from intact warheads.” If the sarin remains highly toxic and many of the rockets are still intact, they could pose a proliferation risk.
ISIS was allegedly already working on sarin in Iraq and Turkey. It also lacks the concern about safety precautions. It’s not going to have the same problems inventorying Bunker 13.
It’s not clear what if anything usable it will find there, but it’s best to be cautious when taking the words of experts that there’s nothing to worry about.