ISIS seize nuclear, chemical materials: reports

Iraq's government warned the UN July 10 that ISIS-led Sunni militants have seized 40 kilograms nuclear materials used for research at a university in Mosul. The letter appealed for international help to "stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad." US officials reportedly played down the threat, saying the materials were not believed to include enriched uranium. In a similar letter two days earlier, Iraqi officials said ISIS have taken control of a former chemical weapons facility at Muthanna northwest of Baghdad, where remnants of 2,500 rockets filled decades ago with the nerve agent sarin are stored along with other chemical agents. The US government again played down the threat from the takeover, saying it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to use the seized material for military purposes. (BBC News, July 10; AP, July 8)

  1. US-made chem weapons in hands of ISIS

    The NY Times on Oct. 14 reports that US soldiers reported finding around 5,000 chemical warheads or shells after the invasion of Iraq in 2003—and some of the soliders were exposed to the chemical agents, suffering burns and other ailments. Between 2004 and 2011 at least 17 US soldiers and seven Iraqi police officers were exposed to nerve agents or mustard gas, but were encouraged by the Pentagon to downplay or under-report any injuries, the Times reported. The details of the incidents have only emerged now, from US and Iraqi officials, redacted intelligence documents and interviews with soldiers.

    Yet all the found chemical weapons were manufactured before 1991. They consisted largely of 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets—produced in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war. In five of the six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been "designed in the US, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies." 

    Disturbingly, many of the chemical warheads were kept near where they were built in compounds at the Muthanna State Establishment—now held by ISIS. But the revelations do not vindicate Bush administration claims that Iraq had an active chemical weapons program. Muthanna was the site where the UN ordered Saddam Hussein to dispose of his declared chemical munitions, as Mother Jones notes. The site was neither "active" nor "clandestine"—it was a declared munitions dump being used to hold the corroded weapons which Western powers themselves had in most cases helped Saddam procure.