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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Iraq Confirms ISIS Seized Chemical Weapons

More on those troublesome WMDs that never existed. From BBC News:
Isis-led Sunni rebels are in control of a disused chemical weapons factory, Iraqi officials have confirmed. 
In a letter to the UN, Iraq said it would be unable to keep to obligations to destroy its chemical weapons. 
The Muthanna complex northwest of Baghdad houses remnants of rockets filled with sarin and other deadly nerve agents. 
The UN and US say the munitions are degraded and the rebels will be unable to make usable chemical arms from them. 
In the letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Iraq's UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said the rebels took over the complex on 11 June, after disarming soldiers who guarded the site. 
The document stated that Muthanna's surveillance system showed that there was "looting of some equipment and appliances" at the factory, about 70km (45 miles) north-west of the Iraqi capital. 
As a result of the takeover, the letter stated that Iraq was unable "to fulfil its obligations to destroy chemical weapons". 
However, it added that the government would resume its commitments "as soon as the security situation has improved and control of the facility has been regained". 
It is believed that some 2,500 rockets filled with nerve agents - including sarin and mustard gas - are stored at Muthanna. 
The US said nearly three weeks ago that the militants had taken the chemical factory,...
Notwithstanding the assurance that the chemical weapons are harmless, this 2004 AP report indicates that even the degraded chemical weapons could be dangerous:
 Nerve agents like sarin can cause convulsions, paralysis and respiratory failure. Their potency degrades over time, but "even with degradation, the weapons may be dangerous even if there's half as much nerve agent now as before," said British chemical weapons expert Richard Guthrie. 
Guthrie, of Sweden's Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said weakened sarin might be useless against military units in the field, but still be a threat to unprotected civilians in confined spaces.
Testimony from Gen. Michael Maples (then-director of the Defense Intelligence Agency) also indicated that the chemical weapons, although degraded, remained dangerous and potentially deadly. Maples colleague, Col. John Chu, also testified that the degraded chemicals would still be deadly.

While that's reassuring, the agent remaining in the weapons would be very valuable to terrorists and insurgents, Maples said. "We're talking chemical agents here that could be packaged in a different format and have a great effect," he said, referencing the sarin-gas attack on a Japanese subway in the mid-1990s. 
This is true even considering any degradation of the chemical agents that may have occurred, Chu said. It's not known exactly how sarin breaks down, but no matter how degraded the agent is, it's still toxic. 
"Regardless of (how much material in the weapon is actually chemical agent), any remaining agent is toxic," he said. "Anything above zero (percent agent) would prove to be toxic, and if you were exposed to it long enough, lethal."

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