Report: Yes, Iraq Had Chemical Weapons -- And The CIA Bought Them

Hundreds of illegal weapons "quietly taken off the market"

A new report by the New York Times revealed that the United States did in fact find large amounts of chemical weapons in Iraq—and not just the ones previously declared to the UN. We know because we repeatedly purchased "hundreds" of illegal nerve-agent weapons from an Iraqi seller in order to “quietly” take them off the market.

The chemical weapon confiscation program, which the NYT calls the “most significant recovery of chemical weapons until that point in the Iraq War,” began in 2005 and continued into 2006, resulting in hundreds of confiscated weapons:

The Central Intelligence Agency, working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, according to current and former American officials.

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 effort was run out of the C.I.A. station in Baghdad in collaboration with the Army’s 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion and teams of chemical-defense and explosive ordnance disposal troops, officials and veterans of the units said. Many rockets were in poor condition and some were empty or held a nonlethal liquid, the officials said. But others contained the nerve agent sarin, which analysis showed to be purer than the intelligence community had expected given the age of the stock.

The report follows a NYT investigation  published in October 2014 which found that the military had “recovered thousands of old chemical warheads and shells in Iraq and that Americans and Iraqis had been wounded by them”—additional WMD information kept secret from the public for the last decade.  The weapons discussed in the October report, however, were remnants of an older Iraqi special weapons program, "abandoned long before the 2003 invasion,” while this newly discovered nerve-agent program includes “hundreds” of newer weapons.

Speaking of the C.I.A.'s chemical weapons confiscation program, retired Army Lt. Gen. Richard P. Zahner—chief American military intelligence officer in Iraq in 2005 and 2006—said he did not know of any other program more successful in removing chemical weapons from the market:

Through the C.I.A.’s purchases, General Zahner said, hundreds of weapons with potential use for terrorists were quietly taken off the market. “This was a timely and effective initiative by our national intelligence partners that negated the use of these unique munitions,” he said.

In his post on the NYT report, Ed Morissey noted that while this “should recast the WMD debate” to at least demonstrate that it's more "nuanced" than has been reported, it probably won’t. "On the other hand," he wrote, "we’ve waited almost a decade to find this out, so it’s impossible to say what else may have been discovered and not declared by the Pentagon and CIA during that period."

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