A New York Times investigation revealed that US military service members were exposed to chemical weapons like sarin gas during the Iraq war. The knowledge of Iraq having chemical weapons in their possession was never made known to the public but, to make matters worse, the investigation is showing that many of the military victims of the chemical weapons in Iraq did not receive proper treatment.
The detailed report by the New York Times notes that from 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein's rule. In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The New York Times found 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003. American officials said that the actual tally of exposed troops was slightly higher, but that the government's official count was classified. During the interviews with these individuals it became clear that the chemical weapons were not something that the government wanted these service people to discuss.
In fact, it was the secrecy of the whole ordeal that led to improper care and troops unknowingly entering harm's way. The American government withheld the chemical discoveries from its own troops and from military doctors treating the troops. The Times notes that "the government's secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war's most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds."
One former Army sergeant who suffered mustard burns in 2007 was interviewed and noted that he was denied hospital treatment and medical evacuation to the United States despite requests from his commander.
It wasn't just the public, troops and doctors who were being lied to. It appears even Congress was in the dark. " 'Nothing of significance' is what I was ordered to say," said Jarrod Lampier, a recently retired Army major who was present for the largest chemical weapons discovery of the war: more than 2,400 nerve-agent rockets unearthed in 2006 at a former Republican Guard compound. He said that though the media was reporting that "nothing significant" was found in regards to chemical weapons, he saw first hand that was not the case.
"I love it when I hear, 'Oh there weren't any chemical weapons in Iraq.' There were plenty."However, the weapons found were not new. In fact, they were old and most could not be used as intended. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, former-President Bush insisted that Mr. Hussein was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program in defiance of international will and at the world's risk. United Nations inspectors said they could not find evidence for these claims. Eventually they were found, but not in the capacity that President Bush had thought. In fact, not a single weapon was manufactured after 1991.
American troops began encountering old chemical weapons located in hidden caches. Typically 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets, they were remnants of an arms program Iraq had rushed into production in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.
In case after case, participants of the uncovering of the chemical weapons said that analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war's outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.
Chemical weapons are again in the media regarding Iraq. ISIS raids on Iraqi chemical weapons depot leaves some fearing they may now possess sarin gas. But it may be unwarranted if the stash consists of the old, eroding weapons of the 1980s. What do you think? Is there a real threat of chemical warfare in Iraq?