A report that the CIA bought hundreds of weapons of mass destruction while U.S. forces were fighting the war in Iraq is raising questions about whether former President George W. Bush’s assertions were correct.
The premise for going to war against Saddam Hussein was that he had weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the U.S. and its allies. After much controversy, it was determined that no such weapons existed and it had all been a fabrication, or was it?
According to a report in the New York Times, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) — working with American troops during the Iraq war — regularly purchased nerve-agent rockets from an anonymous Iraqi seller. This was allegedly part of a previously unknown project to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups.
“The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation Avarice, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the American military deemed it a nonproliferation success. It led to the United States’ acquiring and destroying at least 400 Borak rockets, one of the internationally condemned chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein’s Baathist government manufactured in the 1980s but that were not accounted for by United Nations inspections mandated after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.”
The weapons of mass destruction buyout program was conducted by the CIA in conjunction with the Army’s 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion and other experts. These munitions were not in the best condition and some were even empty.
In October, the publication released information stating U.S. forces and the CIA had recovered thousands of old chemical weapons and shells. Additionally, it was revealed that American and Iraqi personnel had been wounded by the weapons of mass destruction.
The Bush administration allegedly kept much of the information from the media and the military. At the beginning of the war in Iraq, troops were forced to wear protective gear, as there was uncertainty to whether Iraqi forces were using nerve gas, such as sarin, in the battlefield.
Some military officials have complained that not enough was done to protect U.S. forces who came into contact with potential weapons of mass destruction, which were found in random caches across the country. All the sources making the claims about the weapons’ purchase are revealing this information anonymously, but the Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby issued a statement.
“Without speaking to any specific programs, it is fair to say that together with our coalition partners in Iraq, the U.S. military worked diligently to find and remove weapons that could be used against our troops and the Iraqi people.”
The report also claims that U.S. personnel exposed to weapons of mass destruction during Operation Avarice, were forbidden from reporting on their medical condition and consequences from the nerve gas. The Pentagon now says hundreds of other veterans reported on health-screening forms that they believed they too had been exposed during the war, according to the NYT.
One of the reasons for the secrecy of the weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq was the fragile nature of the relationship the CIA had with their informant. The Americans were trying to find out where the weapons were coming from — they suspected Iran to be the provider — but military sources say that because the man was a CIA contact, they didn’t know either his name or whether he was a smuggler.
“They were pushing to see where did it originate from, was there a mother lode?” retired Army Lt. Gen. Richard P. Zahner, the top American military intelligence officer in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, said about the operation, but “the guy was getting a little cocky” at the end and selling empty warheads.
The relationship between the mysterious weapons of mass destruction source and the CIA went south when the Iraqi man went to Baghdad and threatened to reveal all. He “called the intel guys to tell them he was going to turn them over to the insurgents unless they picked them up.” Zahner says.