Recent media reports have said that the Iraqi government has broken up an al-Qaeda cell attempting to manufacture and use chemical weapons. The Long War Journal reported the following:
The Iraqi military announced today that it arrested five members of an al Qaeda cell that was seeking to manufacture chemical weapons, including sarin nerve gas, and plotting to conduct attacks within Iraq, Europe, and North America.The BBC also covered this story.
The veracity of the Iraqi government’s claim of disrupting an al-Qaeda cell attempting to manufacture and use chemical weapons is difficult to determine from solely open-source intelligence (OSINT). Nevertheless, it must be taken seriously—especially since Islamic terrorists have used chemical weapons in Iraq in the past.
Furthermore, The Long War Journal notes the following about this latest news from Iraq (emphasis mine):
The Defense Ministry announced that it arrested the five members of the al Qaeda in Iraq cell and raided two factories in Baghdad that were used to research and manufacture the deadly chemical agents. The arrests were made with the help of undisclosed foreign intelligence services.
It will be interesting to watch the news cycle over the next few weeks to see if any governments verify that claim.
The Long War Journal also notes that this latest news is the second report in two days of al-Qaeda in the Middle East having chemical agents.
But what does all this mean for Syria?
I published, “Did Assad Really Use WMD in Syria?” in late April. I had a lot of questions about our civilian leaders (and others) insisting that there was “proof” that Assad used chemical weapons in Syria.
And if this latest story from Iraq is true, then it shows that Islamic terrorists are capable of employing and manufacturing WMD.
This in turn would make a stronger case that the terrorists fighting in Syria have used chemical weapons. As The Long War Journal noted:
In Syria, the Al Nusrah Front is suspected of launching a chlorine gas attack in March of this year. Twenty-six Syrians, including 16 Syrian soldiers, were killed in the attack.It’s true that the intelligence community (IC) may have more intelligence than what OSINT provides. So it is possible that it has been Assad (and not the terrorists fighting him) using chemical weapons in Syria.
At the same time, there probably are enough intelligence gaps (OSINT and otherwise) that U.S. civilian leaders might want to rethink their certainty that it is the Assad regime (and only the Assad regime) that is guilty of using chemical weapons.
It is possible that the Iraqi government did indeed disrupt an al-Qaeda cell attempting to manufacture and employ chemical weapons. And if true, this would show that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are capable of obtaining/manufacturing WMD (likely with the assistance of terrorist-sponsoring nations), and thus employing WMD as well. (The effectiveness of such WMD remains to be seen.)
Significant intelligence gaps exist in the OSINT environment that would verify the Iraqi government’s claims. However, at least as many OSINT gaps exist for those who allege that Assad regime has used chemical weapons in Syria. Intelligence gaps on Syria likely exist within the IC as well.
Nonetheless, many U.S. civilian leaders likely will continue demanding U.S. intervention in Syria.
And while there are no good guys in Syria, the U.S. likely will end up siding with the Islamic terrorists that have murdered and continue to murder U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world. This will give further legitimacy to them and establish an unmistakable precedent that terrorism is legitimate, and an effective way to achieve goals and gain power.