According to a Reuters news story from 17 May 2004, a "... small amount of the nerve agent sarin was found in a shell..." in Iraq. According to another story, the shell was `binary'. It held two chemicals that were intended to mix after the shell was fired, producing the sarin in flight.
The weapon did not kill anyone, although it injured two. Perhaps its contents were not known by whomever converted the shell into a roadside bomb. In any event, no US enemy has used chemical weapons on a large scale in the recent past. This suggests either that there are few, which is the current US position, or that the forces who oppose the US plan to use them only in a politically effective manner. The latter possibility reminds us that the goal of the fighting is to persuade those not sure to back one side or the other.
From what I have heard, chemical warheads leak. The Germans, US, and Soviets all found this out. Presumably, the rounds do not leak immediately or hugely; otherwise, leaks would halt production. But leakage was, I am told, one of the reasons that the US and USSR developed binary munitions. Also, perhaps more important to military leaders, after a time nerve gases change into a chemical that does not kill. In contrast, binary munitions can be stored for years and years.
Another way to deal with leaks and with warheads that do not kill is to load the warheads shortly before use rather than load them at the factory. When this is done, the poison spends most of its time in large tanks that are less likely to leak than warheads. It is handled by people with more expertise. And it is easier to make sure the poison is newly made.
If I remember rightly, United Nations inspectors said that the Iraqi military first made old fashioned munitions. As expected they leaked. Then it created systems to load warheads shortly before use. In the fall of 2002, United Nations inspectors in Iraq found some empty missile warheads that appeared to be designed for such loading.
Also, I am told that in the mid 1990s, after initially claiming it did not do any such work, the Iraqi government said that it had developed binary shells.
I can well believe that some liquid filled warheads leak and that those filled with nerve gas are especially dangerous since so little poison injures or kills someone. I can also believe that the Iraqi military worked to create long lasting weapons which also protected its own people.
The United Nations inspectors have also said that sometimes the Iraqi military buried banned weapons in sand. This destroyed fighter jets but did not necessarily damage artillery rounds. (As far as I know, all this has been common knowledge for six or eight years; I cannot remember where I learned it. Doubtless, if you have a faster and more reliable Internet connection that I, you will want to check.)
I do not know what the Iraqi military or other portion of the Iraqi government did with its chemical weapons. The then Iraqi government claims that it secretly destroyed them, a position the US government now also holds.
We do know that, according to the BBC on 31 May 2003 the United States military said it had not visited approximately 700 suspected sites that it feared contained chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological weapons or the makings of such.
As far as I can see, this was a major failing of the United States. At that time, the US government argued that chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological weapons, or their makings, were a danger to the United States.
In the latter part of April 2003 and in May 2003, after the fall of Baghdad, the United States could have sent 20000 or more troops to look at those sites. (At that time about 466000 coalition troops were involved in the war.)
Clearly, the troops would not have been able to do much except to tell us that most sites looked harmless and guard those sites that appeared dangerous to ordinary soldiers.
Most likely, most of those 700 locations would have appeared empty. But suppose one of those unvisited, but suspected sites contained old chemical weapons? Anyone who opposed the United States could have taken them.Please bear in mind, I am not talking about sites the US did not suspect; I am talking about sites that the US military thought were dangerous. As far as I can see, the Bush Administration failed when it did not investigate them.
If the then Iraqi government lied, as it did before, or if the United States government is wrong, as it has been, then people may suffer from this failure.
As I said, I am not considering `unknown' sites. However, if the stories I have heard about effective methods of interrogation are true, the US could have obtained information about the `unknown' sites by October or November of 2003. (These methods are not the known-to-fail methods the US used in Iraq and which many find wrong.)All in all, the existence of the sarin suggests that the US government's failings provide a way for it to `snatch defeat from the jaws of victory', to invert an old saying.
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