Revelation that US found WMDs in Iraq sparks new controversy

In a bombshell report published in The New York Times, journalist C.J. Chivers revealed that the United States found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. After over a decade of political arguments concerning WMDs and the justification for the war, it looked as though Chivers found the answer.

But instead of ending the argument, he opened it up to even more controversy.

“In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs,” Chivers said in the article that has set off yet another firestorm of debate between conservatives and liberals on the Iraq war. A headline on The Conservative Post’s website announced, “George Bush Vindicated: NY Times Reveals WMDs Found in Iraq.” In contrast, Daniel Bier’s headline for his column on Mediaite countered, “NY Times WMD Report Does Not Vindicate Iraq Wars.”

In an interview on The Colbert Report, Chivers gave a brief statement about the chemical weapons found in Iraq:  “These weren’t the WMDs you’re talking about,” Chivers said. “These weapons were old, discarded junk from about two wars before.”

Instead of finding active WMD artillery being produced in Iraq, U.S. troops found old and leaky chemical shells built before 1991 and not by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

“In five of six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies,” said Chivers in the article.

Along with the question of where the weapons came from, the issue of present danger also arose.

“In a schizophrenic episode, The New York Times simultaneously asserts that chemical weapons found in Iraq since 2003 are not WMDs, and are, in fact, militarily insignificant; and that the weapons did not deteriorate and are still capable of causing havoc,” Steve Berman said in an article for Red State.

In his article, Chivers addressed this concern by elaborating on the danger of the chemical weapons.

“The United States government says the abandoned weapons no longer pose a threat,” Chivers said. “But nearly a decade of wartime experience showed that old Iraqi chemical munitions often remained dangerous when repurposed for local attacks in makeshift bombs, as insurgents did starting by 2004.”

With these dangers, the question of who has control of the weapons becomes key. The U.S. destroyed many of the chemical weapons produced prior to 1991 but handed the responsibilities to the Iraqi government starting in 2009. These responsibilities included sealing one of the primary sources of the weapons: the Al Muthanna State Establishment.

“Iraq took initial steps to fulfill its obligations,” said Chivers in the article. “It drafted a plan to entomb the contaminated bunkers on Al Muthanna, which still held remnant chemical stocks, in concrete … The compound, never entombed, is now controlled by the Islamic State.”

Now that Islamic State militants control old stockpiles of chemical weapons, the controversy turns to the potential of the materials.  While sarin nerve gas loses its efficacy with time, mustard gas retains a fair amount of strength as it ages.

With all of the questions surrounding the chemical weapons in Iraq, it seems that all sides can agree on one point: this problem will not disappear anytime soon.