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Yes we have no WMD: Iraq in 2014

Ah, the undying spectre of Iraqi WMD. It cannot be found. It cannot be killed. It cannot be destroyed. It cannot be stopped. It will sail forever, like the Marie Celeste, a phantom ship that docks at no port, a tale that is told whenever there is something to be gained by the telling. It was a legend, a myth, a neocon narrative that was years in the making: for thirteen years, from 1990 to 2003, hawks, hacks and liberals alike spent money and lives building it into something that would shape the destiny of nations. Lies like that do not disappear overnight, even with deserts scoured and palaces in ruins, even with a million dead. They drift like ghosts, cropping up here and there, revenants of what may be the biggest disinformation effort in human history. So guess who’s telling the Iraqi WMD story now? Iraq.

With ISIS in the ascendancy, Nouri al-Maliki’s government is now telling the world that these encroaching Islamist rebels have seized WMD sites in Muthanna and Mosul, and so they are now in possession of deadly WMD-related materials. Except, of course, they aren’t.

The Al Muthanna State Establishment (MSE) is 45 miles north west of Baghdad. It developed binary CW burster charges for R-400 “dumb” bombs in the eighties. Production was cancelled in 1988, after which it concentrated on research, although apparently there was still enough material around in the summer of 1990 to refill a stock of R-400s. But that was the last time there was ever any WMD at Al Muthanna. Still, the BBC have dutifully reported Baghdad’s claim that ISIS are now in control of facility where some 2,500 “degraded” rockets filled with nerve agent payloads.

It’s the usual nonsense. UNSCOM went there, UNMOVIC went there, the ISG went there, several times each, and god knows who else. UNSCOM spent about two years there in the early nineties, demolishing buildings and destroying material. According to the CIA:

“Between 1992 and 1994 and again in 1996, the Chemical Destruction Group oversaw destruction of 30,000 pieces of ordnance, 480,000 litres of chemical agents, and more than 2 million litres of chemical precursors. Eventually, most of the facilities at the complex the Iraqi’s destroyed and sold for scrap.”

Want to know what these “degraded rockets” look like? Here’s what they looked like in 2004:

Al Muthanna 1Al Muthanna 2That place is like the armoury of Ozymandias. Charles Duelfer described it a year later as “a wasteland full of destroyed chemical munitions, razed structures, and unusable war-ravaged facilities.” And sampling performed during the ISG revealed no traces of CW agents – unsurprisingly. Perhaps, in the areas that UNSCOM deemed unsafe to exploit, there may have been some spare explosive or usable munition left in some forgotten corner, which were lifted by looters and used as IEDS in the post-invasion insurgency, and indeed one or two seem to have cropped up, but nothing CW-related. Iraq had declared or destroyed its WMD arsenal, in its totality, by the summer of 1991.

So what does Maliki want? The same thing politicians have always wanted when they complain of WMDs in the Middle East: American airstrikes. There is no such thing as irony when it comes to issues of survival. But considering Obama wants to plough $500m into funding “moderate” Syrian rebels, who are at the very least ISIS-affiliated, I doubt he will be in a big hurry to offer the Iraqis any truly decisive help. I am reminded of US foreign policy during the Iran-Iraq war, when it armed both sides. Or when Washington first funded the Kurdish Peshmerga of Mustafa Barzani to rise up against Saddam in 1972, even though it knew they would fail and die in their tens of thousands.

“Covert action should not be confused with missionary work,” was how Kissinger put it, when later hauled up before the 40 Committee.

Indeed. It is only through the assumption that some sort of self-interested covert agenda is in place that US foreign policy in the Middle East begins to make any sense at all. No wonder that Arabs are such vociferous conspiracy theorists (or so we are told). In the absence of any genuine national sovereignty, vortexes of conspiracy prevail.

I wonder how long it will be before the next Middle East WMD story. Days, hours?

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