Skip to comments.Wishful Thinking on Sarin
Posted on 11/15/2005 10:50:33 AM PST by conservativecorner
We still don't know where the sarin shell came from--and whether or not there are more of them out there. "Yet more than a year later, American troops still have not found any weapons of mass destruction (unless a single artillery shell, produced in the 1980s, that possibly contained sarin nerve gas, counts)."
SO SAID Ivo Daalder and James M. Lindsay in the Los Angeles Times, on May 31, 2004. Such statements are fairly typical of the media's disdain for the mere suggestion that significant caches of weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq at the time of the U.S.-led invasion in March of 2003. Within the pages of the New York Times, self-flagellation over the paper's credulous position on the subject during the run up to war continues. This as penance for having printed allegations that were, at the time, strongly supported by most intelligence agencies, including those of France and Germany. Now that the Pentagon has confirmed the detonation in Baghdad of an improvised explosive device containing the nerve agent sarin, the press has been eager to show that it has learned from its mistakes. Editorialists and pundits have discounted the possibility that this shell is evidence of a larger Iraqi subterfuge in its dealings with the U.N. inspection regime.
There are exceptions. In THE WEEKLY STANDARD William Kristol), asked a number of questions regarding the discovery of sarin in Baghdad--obvious questions, which have, for some reason, been given short-shrift in the nation's "paper of record." Most prominently: "[W]here did the sarin come from?" The Times contentedly concludes that "The dwindling band of die-hards who remain convinced that
Mr. Hussein squirreled away stockpiles of illicit weapons worry that insurgents may use them against American forces. But finding some residual weapons that had escaped a large-scale destruction program would be no great surprise--and if the chemicals had degraded, no major threat."
There are a number of assumptions made in this statement. First, that this shell is merely a "residual weapon." Second, that Saddam, ever true to his word, had actually engaged in a "large-scale destruction program." Third, that Saddam's chemical weapons likely had a short shelf-life, and thus would pose "no major threat."
This best-case scenario goes something like this: The Iraqis had at one time mass produced such shells, and subsequently employed them in their war with Iran. Or, alternatively, the Iraqis destroyed these shells--"in a large-scale destruction program"--after their defeat in the Gulf War. If this shell had survived, it would be "residual," perhaps one of 10 or 20 laying around Iraq and picked up, accidentally, by insurgents or thugs or terrorists. Assuming that less than desirable storage conditions had rendered the contents of these 10 or 20 shells inert, it is safe to conclude that occupation forces have nothing to fear and Bush had no reason to make war.
Unfortunately, the best-case scenario does not match up well with the facts. According to UNMOVIC's Working Document of March 6, 2003:
Iraq primarily filled 155-mm projectiles [the same caliber as the IED in question] with high purity Mustard that remained stable during long-term storage. However, Iraq also provided some information and documents on the development and tests of 155-mm binary nerve agent (Sarin and Cycolosarin) projectiles. UNSCOM found several examples of these munitions at the Muthanna State Establishment. Iraq stated that, despite positive test results, no industrial-scale production of binary 155-mm projectiles occurred. . . . Iraq has provided a number of explanations regarding the disposition of approximately 550 unaccounted for Mustard filled 155-mm projectiles. UNSCOM, having determined that the Mustard . . . was likely to remain stable for a long period treated this issue as a serious matter.
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The UNMOVIC document makes clear that Iraq had provided no evidence to support its claim that its binary nerve agent projectile--the exact type detonated in Baghdad--had not been moved to large-scale production. If UNMOVIC suspected the Iraqis of lying about moving their binary projectiles into large-scale production, should we simply assume these shells, and at least 550 high purity Mustard shells, were merely lost in the process of a preemptive large-scale destruction? Furthermore, besides UNMOVIC's clear concern for the potency and long shelf-life of Iraq's Mustard gas, the only purpose of designing a binary projectile is to improve shelf-life by separating the nerve agent into two stable precursors. After consulting with U.N. experts, Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for UNMOVIC, was not comfortable speculating on the shelf-life of such shells--shouldn't the Times be uncomfortable as well?
STILL, the foolishness at the Times pales in comparison to that displayed by everyone's favorite arms inspector, Scott Ritter (for background on "Saddam Hussein's American Apologist," see Stephen F. Hayes's cover story in the November 19, 2001 issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD). Ritter has his own theory on the source of the sarin shell, which he outlined in the Christian Science Monitor on May 21, 2004:
Iraq declared that it had produced 170 of these base-bleed [binary] sarin artillery shells as part of a research and development program that never led to production. Ten of these shells were tested using inert fill--oil and colored water. Ten others were tested in simulated firing using the sarin precursors.
And 150 of these shells, filled with Sarin precursors, were live-fired at an artillery range south of Baghdad. A 10 percent dud rate among artillery shells isn't unheard of--and even greater percentages can occur. So there is a good possibility that at least 15 of these sarin artillery shells failed and lie forgotten in the Iraq desert, waiting to be picked up by any unsuspecting insurgent looking for raw material from which to construct an IED [improvised explosive device].
Ritter's theory is as bizarre as it is illogical. For one thing, it is contingent upon absolute faith in the word of the Iraqis. In other words, if they said they only produced 170 shells, then they only produced 170. On matters of national security, as President Reagan famously said, trust, but verify. UNMOVIC and UNSCOM were never able to verify these numbers. Ritter treats them as if they had the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Ritter then claims that a likely 10 percent dud rate would leave approximately 15 unexploded shells in the desert. This scenario seems implausible for two reasons. Out of 15 duds, most would surely penetrate the soft sand and dirt of the desert, the impact craters covered over by the winds of time so that they would not be "waiting to be picked up." But say a few were not immediately swallowed by the desert. If the assumption is that these 150 shells were being tested, surely the scientists and technicians would be curious as to why the duds had malfunctioned. Would they have not ventured out to discover the outcome of their tests? A well-placed source with the U.S. military in Iraq confirmed that the shell had, in fact, not been fired, but was almost certainly removed from one of the dozens of unsecured arms caches that dot the country. If the shell wasn't fired, then it wasn't a dud. Ritter's theory, based in his unwavering faith in the Iraqi military and the off-chance that insurgents, combing the desert for duds rather than harvesting the country's overflowing arms caches, stumbled upon this magic shell, is suspect.
The detonation of the sarin shell should not be dismissed. It may yet be proved that Saddam's biological and chemical weapons programs were, in 2003, too diminished to be considered a major threat to national security. But, at present, such conclusions are based on nothing more than wishful thinking. If this shell really was the only WMD in Iraq, it will be a welcome blessing.
Michael Goldfarb is a staff assistant at The Weekly Standard.
On page 98 of Disinformation by Richard Miniter, Polish General Marek Dukaczewski, Poland's military intelligence chief, said that his troops had received tips that chemical weapons were sold to terrorists on the black market. The weapons had been buried to avoid detection. Polish military bought "seventeen" chemical-weapons warheads from Iraqis for $5,000 each to keep them from terrorists. Tests confirmed that some of the warheads contained cyclosarin, a nerve agent five times more powerful than sarin. These were supposed to have been destroyed during the 1991-1998 U.N. inspection regime.
If the terrorists found WMD weapons in Iraq, they would smuggle them out for use elsewhere on soft targets in Europe and the U.S. Trying to use such weapons on coalition and Iraqi forces in Iraq would undermine their position and strengthen support for the allied forces.
However, if the weapons were smuggled out and used in populated areas in Europe and the U.S., the terrorists and their Liberal allies could blame U.S. incompetence for the terrorist success at gaining access to WMD weapons. Liberals would say that such a thing wouldn't have happened if we hadn't invaded Iraq, except that history shows that the terrorists have been escalating their war on civilization, and that use of WMD weapons was a logical next step.
So we have to be careful in assuming that if the terrorists found WMDs in Iraq, that they would use them in Iraq. I think the smaller terrorist organizations might, but Al Qaeda in Iraq would definitely smuggle the weapons out for use in its global war.
Zarqawi hatched the AL-QAEDA plan in IRAQ in 1999 according to those arrested. That seems to tie Iraq to Al-Qaeda before 9/11.... imagine that....planning the attack in Iraq.... Iraq had sarin that they used against the Kurds.... just thinking aloud...
Zarqawi was tried in absentia and was found guilty and sentenced to death. I wonder why the media never covered this?
Thanks for the post.
I haven't forgotten the Sarin IED (which I estimated had about 200,000 lethal doses of Sarin). This is a great update.
I forget - do I have to excerpt Newsmax or can I post their articles in entirety?
(I have a 4/27/o4 article about the Jordan chem plot I like to keep handy...)
p.s. here's the link I was referring to:
With Carl Limbacher and NewsMax.com Staff
For the story behind the story...
Tuesday, April 27, 2004 4:40 p.m. EDT
Jordan WMD Plotter Confesses to Iraqi Involvement
Excerpts from the WMD conspirator's confession broadcast by ABC's "Nightline" late Monday show that the WMD plot was planned and trained for in Iraq more than a year before the U.S. invasion, with the terror suspect admitting, "After the fall of Afghanistan, I met Zarqawi again in Iraq."
The ensuing cloud of poison gas could have killed 80,000 people, Jordanian officials said, an estimate that was revised upward from an anticipated death toll of 20,000 last week.
In film footage broadcast by "Nightline," Jordanian television showed hundreds of plastic containers that had been removed from the trucks that Jordanian officials said were filled with chemical weapons.
Jordan's King Abdullah said last week that the five trucks originated from Syria and were intercepted just 75 miles from the Syrian border. Syria has long been suspected as a repository of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
Thanks for the link, I know the story, but I never had a reference to it. Now I can blabber it to all the libs I know and source it for support.
My pleasure. Enjoy it - heh-heh-heh....
Back to the future.