The recent turmoil in Iraq brought on by the rise of the Sunni extremist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has ironically struck a blow to the American Left’s endlessly repeated narrative that there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq prior to the war. The State Department and other U.S. government officials have revealed that ISIS now occupies the Al Muthanna Chemicals Weapons Complex. Al Muthanna was Saddam Hussein’s primary chemical weapons facility, and it is located less than 50 miles from Baghdad.
The Obama administration claims that the weapons in that facility, which include sarin, mustard gas, and nerve agent VX, manufactured to prosecute the war against Iran in the 1980s, do not pose a threat because they are old, contaminated and hard to move. "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,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The administration’s dubious rationale is based on information provided by the Iraq Study Group, which was tasked with finding WMDs in the war’s aftermath. They found the chemical weapons at Al Muthanna, but they determined that both Iraq wars and inspections by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) had successfully dismantled the facility, and that the remaining chemical weapons were rendered useless and sealed in bunkers. The report called the weapons facility "a wasteland full of destroyed chemical munitions, razed structures, and unusable war-ravaged facilities,” the 2004 report stated.
Yet other sections of the same report were hardly reassuring. "Stockpiles of chemical munitions are still stored there,” it stated. "The most dangerous ones have been declared to the UN and are sealed in bunkers. Although declared, the bunkers' contents have yet to be confirmed.” It added, "These areas of the compound pose a hazard to civilians and potential black-marketers.”
Another report paints an even more disturbing picture of the Muthanna facility. It warned that the number and status of Saddam's sarin-filled rockets was unknown because facilities were not able to be inspected, leaving investigators only able to surmise about the weapons' condition. Even in degraded conditions, the report said, these rockets still posed a proliferation risk:
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. ... 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.”
Nonetheless, U.S. officials, who claimed they were well aware of the facility insisted that the United States wouldn’t have left it there if it were a genuine threat. They also continued to stress that the takeover by ISIS doesn’t constitute a military gain by the group because the weapons would prove useless, even if ISIS were able to penetrated the sealed bunkers where they are stored. ISIS has reportedly yet to gain access to the bunkers.
However, there are numerous holes in these assessments. The Obama administration, eager to leave a "sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq” as the president described it in 2011, paid little heed to the prospect of large swaths of that nation being overrun by terrorists who have taken over key cities and military bases, and confiscated sophisticated American military equipment in the process. One defense official conceded as much, telling the Wall Street Journal that had they known the Maliki government would lose control so soon, they might not have left the weapons behind. And Psaki’s contention that the weapons could not be moved safely even by terrorists is hardly reassuring when one considers the reality that ISIS uses suicide bombings as one of it chief military tactics.
A far more critical consideration is the possibility that many of the Iraqi Sunnis who have joined ISIS due in large part to their alienation by the Shi’ite-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki are comprised of former Saddam Hussein loyalists, some of whom may have working knowledge of the chemical weapons stored at Al Muthanna. Former WMD specialist Paul Perrone extrapolated on where such working knowledge might lead. "I'm more concerned with the prospect that these Muslim terrorists have access to formulas or precursors that would enable them to create their own WMD,” he warned.
The latest revelations on the details of Saddam's weapons stockpile, now potentially in the hands of Sunni radicals, affirm the Bush administration's characterization of Iraq as a territory situated in a hotbed of radicalism, flooded with a bevy of highly dangerous weapons and overseen by a criminal rogue regime. Indeed, the WMDs are to say nothing of the Hussein government's nuclear weapons program, also put to a stop by intervention in Iraq. In 2008, American and Iraqi officials had "completed nearly the last chapter in dismantling Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program with the removal of hundreds of tons of natural uranium from the country’s main nuclear site,” the New York Times reported. Approximately 600 tons of “yellowcake” was removed from the Tuwaitha facility, the main site for Iraq's nuclear program. According to global security.org, uranium enrichment levels of 95 percent were achieved at the Tuwaitha facility. That site was also the location of the Osirak nuclear reactor destroyed by Israel in 1981.
And in what sounded like a harbinger of the future, the Times noted that although the yellowcake could not be used in its current form to produce a nuclear device or dirty bomb, the “unstable environment” in Iraq necessitated its removal, lest it fall into the “wrong hands.” In an updated correction to the article, the Times notes that the Osriak nuclear reactor “theoretically produced plutonium, which can fuel an atomic bomb.”
The Left dismissed this reality by claiming the yellowcake had been in Iraq prior to 1991 and thus was not the same yellowcake Bush referred to in his 2003 State of the Union address as part of his justification for invading Iraq. Led by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, the emboldened anti-war Left attempted to turn the claim into a scandal saying that Bush knowingly lied to the American public regarding Iraq’s effort to procure yellowcake from Niger.
Ultimately, Wilson and his story were thoroughly discredited a year later by a Senate Select Committee report, which further noted that President Bush had been fully justified in including the infamous “16 words” regarding that intelligence in his speech. Moreover the left has never bothered to explain why yellowcake procured before 1991 was any less dangerous in terms of its WMD potential, given Saddam Hussein’s regular defiance of international law also enunciated by Bush as one of the primary reasons for deposing him.
In 2010, documents procured by Wikileaks revealed more information on the WMD threat posed by Iraq that was known to the government. The self-described whistleblowers, who could hardly be called pro-war, released 392,000 military reports from Iraq that revealed several instances of American encounters with potential WMDs or their manufacture. These included 1200 gallons of a liquid mustard agent in Samarra that tested positive for a blister agent; tampering by large earth movers thought to be attempting to penetrate the bunkers at Muthanna; the discovery of a chemical lab and a chemical cache in Fallujah; and the discovery of a cache of weapons hidden at an Iraqi Community Watch checkpoint with 155MM rounds that subsequently tested positive for mustard.
Foreign involvement with WMDs in Iraq was documented as well. A war log from January 2006 speaks of 50 neuroparalytic projectiles smuggled into Iraq from Iran via Al Basrah; Syrian chemical weapons specialists who came in to support the “chemical weapons operations of Hizballah Islami” (Hezbollah); and an Al Qaeda chemical weapons expert from Saudi Arabia sent to assist 200 individuals awaiting an opportunity to attack coalition forces with Sarin. As Wired Magazine characterized it, the Wikileaks documents revealed that for several years after the initial invasion, "U.S. troops continued to find chemical weapons labs, encounter insurgent specialists in toxins and uncover weapons of mass destruction.”
Left-wing members in Congress were certainly aware of these threats and more posed by the Hussein regime, which lead them to unanimously authorize war and even vocally champion its necessity. Their assessment was based on nothing less than the very intelligence known to the Bush administration at the time. Secretary of State John Kerry, as a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations before war was authorized, said, "There's no question in my mind that Saddam Hussein has to be toppled one way or another, but the question is how" and that there was likewise "no question" that Hussein "continues to pursue weapons of mass destruction, and his success can threaten both our interests in the region and our security at home."
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intoned in 2002:
In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members ... It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Justifying her well-known position, Clinton said later said in a 2003 interview with Code Pink, "I ended up voting for the resolution after carefully reviewing the information, intelligence that I had available, talking with people whose opinions I trusted ... I would love to agree with [Code Pink], but I can't, based on my own understanding and assessment of the situation."
However, these statements were made in the wake of 9/11 when Democrats sensed hawkishness was the key to their political fortunes. A few short years later, sabotaging the war that they had started and betraying the troops that they had sent to the field was where Democrats' political futures lied. Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and others made this transition through a blatant campaign of deceit that went virtually unchallenged by the media. Clinton, for example, averred on the campaign trail, "[I]f we had known then what we know now there never would have been a vote and I never would have voted to give this President that authority" and claimed that she didn't know that her vote for the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002" was a vote for war.
The con is still on going. In September of last year, Secretary Kerry brazenly asserted that he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had "opposed the president's decision to go into Iraq" and that "evidence was used to persuade all of us that authority ought to be given." Chuck Hagel, in fact, also voted in favor of the war before jumping ship, forsaking the lost lives he squandered in the field and joining with the hard left. As for the "manipulated evidence" canard cited by Kerry, the latest details of Saddam's WMD stockpile -- something there can be no doubt that the Secretary of State was aware of -- exposes yet again the left's great deception on the danger of Hussein and the motivation behind the Iraq war.
And now ISIS, disowned by al Qaeda for being even more ruthless than it is, controls a chemical facility containing contents declared "destroyed" because they couldn’t be recovered safely, along with bunkers containing contents “yet to be confirmed.” And an administration with an unparalleled facility for lying assures us everything will be fine because the chemical weapons have no useful military value and can’t be moved safely. As with the rest of the Left's handling of Iraq, this is an analysis that no one should have faith in.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.