|Map Courtesy of The World Factbook|
The “War Is Boring” blog downplayed the significance of the Islamic State (IS) seizing a storage area holding old chemical weapons in a post titled, “No, Iraqi Terrorists Aren’t About to Gas Us – ISIS captured a stockpile of useless chemical weapons.” The author of the blog post tried to dismiss fears that terrorists could use these weapons even as he acknowledged they still are dangerous:
Between June 11 and 12, ISIS ejected Al Muthanna’s guards and began “looting” the site, Iraqi officials informed the U.N. two sealed bunkers at the site reportedly hold sarin-filled 122-millimeter warheads, empty 155-millimeter mustard gas warheads and decontaminated sodium cyanide solution. One of these two bunkers also contains unexploded ordnance from a U.S. air raid during 1991 Gulf War.
But the militants will not find thousands of ready-to-use chemical weapons.
The short shelf life of Iraqi gas munitions precludes this nightmare scenario. Iraq never learned how to manufacture in bulk the stabilizers needed to extend the shelf-lives of nerve agents, according to the U.N.’s 2007 compendium on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. . . .
This does not mean that leftover Iraqi chemical weapons have turned into harmless gels. Since 2003, authorities have found still-lethal mustard gas shells in desert dumps. And although Iraqi sarin quickly degraded, it could still kill for years after it ceased to be effective by military standards.
However, the gas-filled artillery rounds are so rusty that it would be suicidal for a crew to load and fire them.
Yet terrorists are often willing to be suicidal and the degraded chemical weapons are far from useless even if they no longer are able to be used as originally intended. The U.S. learned this early while it was in Iraq. A Fox News article in 2004 reported that, “Tests Confirm Sarin in Iraqi Artillery Shell”:
The artillery shell was being used as an improvised roadside bomb, the U.S. military said Monday. The 155-mm shell exploded before it could be rendered inoperable, and two U.S. soldiers were treated for minor exposure to the nerve agent. . . .
The soldiers displayed “classic” symptoms of sarin exposure, most notably dilated pupils and nausea, officials said. The symptoms ran their course fairly quickly, however, and as of Tuesday the two had returned to duty. . . .
Another shell filled with mustard gas (search), possibly also part of an improvised explosive device (IED) was discovered on May 2, Defense Dept. officials said.
It’s impossible to say if the IS or other terrorists will be able to employ any of the chemical weapons that are or were in the storage area that the IS captured. But it is foolish to imply that there is no danger from them doing so.