With all eyes firmly focused on what really matters (the oil refineries), The Telegraph reports that ISIS has over-run a Saddam Hussein-era chemical weapons (CW) complex. The al-Muhanna 'mega-facility', about 60 miles south of Baghdad, gives the jihadists access to disused stores of hundreds of tonnes of potentially deadly poisons including mustard gas and sarin. The US state department is 'concerned' but "do not believe that the complex contains CW materials of military value." However, as a former commander of Britain's chemical weapons regiment warned, "we have seen that ISIS has used chemicals in explosions in Iraq before and has carried out experiments in Syria." This is likely great for ISIS 2014 Annual Report; but, of course, the other awkward question is: does this mean Saddam did have WMDs (and ISIS found them) after all?
As The Telegraph reports, the jihadist group bringing terror to Iraq overran a Saddam Hussein chemical weapons complex on Thursday...
Isis invaded the al-Muthanna mega-facility 60 miles north of Baghdad in a rapid takeover that the US government said was a matter of concern.
The facility was notorious in the 1980s and 1990s as the locus of Saddam’s industrial scale efforts to develop a chemical weapons development programme.
During its peak in the late 1980s to early 1990s, Iraq produced bunkers full of chemical munitions.
A CIA report on the facility said that 150 tons of mustard were produced each year at the peak from 1983 and pilot-scale production of Sarin began in 1984.
Its most recent description of al-Muthanna in 2007 paints a disturbing picture of chemicals strewn throughout the area.
“Two wars, sanctions and UN oversight reduced Iraqi’s premier production facility to a stockpile of old damaged and contaminated chemical munitions (sealed in bunkers), a wasteland full of destroyed chemical munitions, razed structures, and unusable war-ravaged facilities,” it said.
“Some of the bunkers contained large quantities of unfilled chemical munitions, conventional munitions, one-ton shipping containers, old disabled production equipment and other hazardous industrial chemicals.”
Britain has previously acknowledgeded that the nature of the material contained in the two bunkers would make the destruction process difficult and technically challenging.
Should we be worried?
US officials revealed that the group had occupied the sprawling site which has two bunkers encased in a concrete seal. Much of the sarin is believed to be redundant.
“We remain concerned about the seizure of any military site by the [Isis],” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said. “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.”
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of Britain’s chemical weapons regiment, said that al-Muthanna has large stores of weaponized and bulk mustard gas and sarin, most of which has been put beyond ready use in concrete stores.
“It is doubtful that Isis have the expertise to use a fully functioning chemical munition but there are materials on site that could be used in an improvised explosive device,” he told the Telegraph.
“We have seen that Isis has used chemicals in explosions in Iraq before and has carried out experiments in Syria.”
One US official told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that Isis fighters could be contaminated by the chemicals at the site.
“The only people who would likely be harmed by these chemical materials would be the people who tried to use or move them,” the military officer said.