The New York Times has published a story that reports the exposure of 17 American soldiers and seven Iraqi police officers to chemical and nerve agents in Iraq since 2003. The story is important for a number of reasons. Through the investigation it is clear that the weapons of mass destruction programs that the West went to war for in 2003 had been dormant since 1991; none of the shells or weapons found had been built after the First Gulf War. There is also a lesson in the fact that much of the infrastructure and technology that allowed Iraq to make the weapons was provided by the West during the Iran-Iraq War. Perhaps more alarming, many of the areas in which these shells and canisters were found by US military units from 2003 to 2011 are now under the control of Islamic State.
There is also a piece of disheartening history:
In 1988, late in the war against Iran, Iraq had tested a batch of prototype 152-millimeter shells containing segregated containers for sarin precursors, according to its confidential declarations.
Very few were thought to have been assembled, fewer still to have survived. But this one found its way into a makeshift bomb. Sergeant Burns and Private Yandell mistook it for an illumination round in part, several techs said, because it was so rare it was not in the military’s standard ordnance recognition guides.
Its canisters had ruptured during the roadside bomb’s detonation, mixing precursors to create sarin with a purity of 43 percent — more than enough to be lethal.
Private Yandell had handled the shell without gloves. Both men inhaled sarin vapors. Their cases, said Col. Jonathan Newmark, a retired Army neurologist, became “the only documented battlefield exposure to nerve agent in the history of the United States.”