24 June 2006 - Saturday

Another smoking gun

Everybody is talking about Rick Santorum's big announcement: Iraq had WMD after all!

Except if you actually read his press release, it evokes my favorite argument against the invasion, the one that said that invading Iraq would put WMD in the hands of terrorists. Take a look:

* 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.

* Pre-Gulf War Iraqi chemical weapons could be sold on the black market. Use of these weapons by terrorists or insurgent groups would have implications for Coalition forces in Iraq. The possibility of use outside Iraq cannot be ruled out.

* The most likely munitions remaining are sarin and mustard-filled projectiles.

* The purity of the agent inside the munitions depends on many factors, including the manufacturing process, potential additives, and environmental storage conditions. While agents degrade over time, chemical warfare agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal.

* It has been reported in open press that insurgents and Iraqi groups desire to acquire and use chemical weapons.

Now, given the reported deteroriation, this particular kind of weapon is probably not very dangerous in the hands of most terrorists except in large quanitities. In fact, insurgents seem to have found a couple and tried to use them against coalition troops in 2004, with minimal success. A stockpile of Iraqi fertilizer would be about as exciting.

According to the Fox article linked above, furthermore, it looks like we knew about these particular weapons all along. We knew that in its report to the UN, Iraq failed to document 550 old chemical artillery shells and 450 chemical bombs. But we sent in weapons inspectors to do a little digging -- weapons inspectors who were still inside the country, and whose parent organization was asking for more time, shortly before Bush gave the order to start bombing.*

After the war, the Coalition's own Iraq Survey Group (PDF document, page 15) also knew about such weapons by 2005. This is its evaluation:

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.

* All but two of the chemical weapons discovered since OIF were found in southern Iraq where the majority of CW munitions were used against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war.

* As the Coalition destroys the thousands of conventional munitions at depots around the country the possibility exists that pre-1991 vintage chemical rounds could be found mixed in with conventional munitions at these locations.

-- ISG identified 43 bunkers and depots where the Coalition is in the process of destroying conventional munitions and that were suspected of being associated with the pre-1991 WMD programs. 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.

Thus, here's what we know about the munitions described by Senator Santorum. (1) So far, the public has been shown no evidence that Saddam himself knew about these aging weapons at all, nor that they have anything to do with the massive weapons programs that the US alleged to have existed right before the invasion. (2) By the time of the invasion, according to the Coalition's experts, such weapons posed relatively little military danger to anyone. (3) As Santorum's press release might lead us to conclude, even if these weapons were relevant at all, the invasion seems to have made it more likely, not less, that such weapons will be used by our enemies in the war on terror.

How does that show that the invasion was wise?

| Posted by Wilson at 13:30 Central | TrackBack
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