Bomb Squad's 2003 Find Possibly Western Chemical Weapons - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Bomb Squad’s 2003 Find Possibly Western Chemical Weapons

Published October 21, 2014

Dated chemical weapons found in Iraq kept secret due to US/European origins

Dated chemical weapons found in Iraq kept secret due to US/European origins

A team of Icelandic bomb squad technicians may have found US-produced mustard gas in Iraq, during the 2003-invasion. This was reported by RÚV’s Kastljós, following last week’s coverage in the New York Times, of chemical weapons actually found during the invasion, but treated as classified due to their origins on the one hand, and relative harmlessness, compared with the hypothetical weapons declared to be in the hands of dictator Saddam Hussein in the advent of the invasion.

“Old chemical munitions”

In 2003, the Icelandic bomb squad’s discovery of potential chemical weapon warheads was covered on the front page of newspaper Morgunblaðið, which supported the invasion, as did the Icelandic government. Halldór Ásgrímsson, Foreign Minister at the time, stated that he had “known all along” that such weapons would be found. When US authorities claimed that the weapons found by the Icelandic squad had not held chemical agents, the supposed discovery and its front page sigh-of-relief-treatment dissipated in awkward obscurity. As it gradually became clear that the chemical weapons cited as one of the main reasons for an invasion were nowhere to be found, the Foreign Ministry’s proud press release of the discovery disappeared from its website.

According to the New York Times’ report, during the occupation of Iraq, soldiers and army staff encountered “old chemical munitions” and roadside bombs, “remnants of an arms program Iraq had rushed into production in the 1980s”. All the weapons had, according the the NYT’s sources, been manufactured before 1991, and were “filthy, rusty or corroded”, not easily identifiable as chemical weapons at all. “First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.”

Three squads measured high levels, then US said no

The U.S. government does not consider the weapons a threat, but remnants of mustard gas and other agents proved harmful to a number of soldiers, according to the report. The great majority of wounds caused by these chemical agents came, says the report, from weapons designed in the US, produced in Europe and filled with the aid of Western companies. That was, according to the New York Times, the main reason that the discovery of some 5,000 weapons was kept secret.

According to Jónas Þorvaldsson, member of the bomb squad, according to measurements made by his team, by a Danish team of specialists and by the third squad on the site, from the UK military, mustard gas levels were evident and high. A US squad then arrived with different equipment, according to Jónas, and declared that the objects found included no chemical agents. Nonetheless, Jónas says, they were dismantled according to protocols for chemical weapons.

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