June 23, 2006

Keith Olbermann on O'Reilly

If it was like this all the time, I might still watch TV current affairs. Positively Murrow-esque.

Posted by BruceR at 06:53 PM

Chemical weapons and Iraq in the news again

The recent Santorum publicity stunt deserves a more thorough parsing than it's gotten.

The precise and entire quote, from the summary provided by John Negroponte, that has caused all the fuss is:

"Since 2003 Coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent... Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq’s pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist." (emphasis mine)

The rest is just motherhood "could be sold, could still be dangerous, could be used by terrorists" hypotheticals.

The Negroponte statement needs to be compared with the Duelfer report's conclusion on the same question, from the addendum to their 2004 WMD report:

"ISG assesses that Iraq and Coalition Forces will continue to discover small numbers of degraded chemical weapons, which the former Regime mislaid or improperly destroyed prior to 1991. ISG believes the bulk of these weapons were likely abandoned, forgotten and lost during the Iran-Iraq war because
tens of thousands of CW munitions were forward deployed along frequently and rapidly shifting battlefronts."

"However, ISG believes that any remaining chemical munitions in Iraq do not pose a militarily significant threat to Coalition Forces because the agent and
munitions are degraded and there are not enough extant weapons to cause mass casualties."

To put the number found in context, it might also be worthwhile referring to Iraq's own statement that it used c.100,500 chemical munitions during the Iran-Iraq war, with substantial stockpiles left at war's end in 1988. Through their work in the 1990s, UNSCOM eventually elicited from the Iraqis that they had another 128,000 munitions at the start of the 1991 Gulf War, filled and unfilled. When UNSCOM left, they documented that they had with varying degrees of confidence, accounted for over 100,000 of those weapons, but there was an outstanding shortfall of approximately 24,000 munitions for which there was still no effective accounting (the Iraqis said they couldn't account for them either). The UNMOVIC work in 2002-2003 did not subtract significantly from that shortfall.

The Iraq Survey Group documented the recovery of dozens of Iran-Iraq War vintage chemical munitions, up to July 2004, in its report:

*11 155mm sulfur-mustard shells;
*1 152mm binary sarin shell;
*41 122mm sulfur-mustard artillery rockets (not all filled);
*8 Buraq CW artillery rockets

Two of these munitions were found after having been used in IEDs (ineffectively). All these weapons would presumably have been included in the Negroponte 500 total.

Flit's prediction: with just another 23,000 odd unaccounted-for munitions still to find yet, the 500 number will continue to grow. On the other hand, when the relevant documents are declassified, a significant number, probably the large majority of these weapons will be found to have been unfilled shells, despite Negroponte's statement, above... that was the UNMOVIC and UNSCOM experience. A smaller number will be duds and other weapons abandoned on battlefields in the south of the country. None will be any more dangerous from a military perspective than the World War One equivalents that still show up in French fields from time to time.

There is no reason to doubt the Duelfer conclusion, that given the vast quantities of these weapons floating around, and the hell that three separate wars will play on anyone's paperwork, not to mention the years of active hiding from the world of some of their stockpiles by the Iraqi government through the 1990s, that these were all simply lost at some point. The number found to have been created or even functional after 1991 will be near-zero.

Just a note: you know where Iraq obtained most of the 40,000+ munitions it purchased abroad in the mid-1980s, right? Egypt, which sold 28,500 tons of chemical-carrying munitions to them (most of the rest of the munitions, as opposed to their chem-bio contents, either came from Spain or were produced in Iraq). Egypt, of course, is not only one of the largest recipients of American military aid (then as now), but is also one of the eight UN nations that have refused to sign or accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The others are, for the record, Angola, North Korea, Lebanon, Somalia, and Syria (and Barbados, where they just seem to have forgotten to get around to it). Oh yes, and of course, Iraq, who you'd think might have wanted to put a priority on it at some point over the last couple years, given as the Americans had been so keen about getting Libya in the club only recently.

Posted by BruceR at 09:51 AM