In March 2003, President George W. Bush authorized Operation Iraqi Freedom for the purposes of removing Saddam Hussein from power. The main justification was that Iraq possessed and sought to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Even now, the claim that Bush lied about Iraqi WMD comes up on occasion.
In 2002, Bush began to push for military action against Iraq for violating United Nations Security Council Resolutions 686 and 687. The push for this military action paved the way for Resolution 1441 which allowed for new inspections for WMD in Iraq and was Iraq’s last chance to comply. Bush’s claim was that Iraq had active programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and that it was hiding weapons from prior to the Gulf War.
Weapons of mass destruction is a category of weapons that are biological, chemical, and nuclear in nature. During the 1980s, Iraq and Iran were at war. To prevent a victory by Iran, a number of countries, including the United States, assisted Iraq in the process of developing WMD programs. There was programs for developing biological weapons as well as a nuclear program. It was known that Iraq possessed chemical weapons as it had previously deployed them against Iran.
After the Persian Gulf War in 1991, Iraq agreed to destroy its WMD and to no longer pursue their development. Iraq was the subject of inspections to ensure their compliance. The inspections ended in 1998 and Iraq did not allow inspectors back until 2002. In Resolution 1441, the burden of proof was placed on Iraq to prove compliance. In January 2003, weapons inspectors reported that they had found no indication of an active nuclear program or nuclear weapons. Some experts argued that if Iraq had retained WMD from before 1990, they would have long decayed as they have a shelf life of roughly five years.
After the main operation of the war was over, there were some discoveries made. In general, weapons of mass destruction that were found fall into one of two categories: those that were known to be possessed by UN or similar agency and those that dated from the Iran-Iraq war that Iraqi military lost track of.
For example, there were weapon stored at Al Muthanna because it was not safe to move them. The United Nations and the United States knew of this cache of weapons. The United States military failed to secure this facility which resulted in some of it being looted.
- In April 2003, US Marines found several drums of yellowcake. These containers were known by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1991.
- In May 2004, a shell containing mustard gas was discovered in Baghdad. The gas had decayed to the point that it was not effective. In a separate incident, an artillery shell that was used as an improvised bomb contained a nerve agent. It was not believed that it was from a stockpile there was the possibility.
- In 2004, hundreds of chemical warheads were recovered from the desert near the Iran-Iraq border. These warheads were hidden there during the Iran-Iraq war.
- The House Intelligence committee released key points from a classified report in June of 2006. It was reported that approximately 500 weapons with degraded mustard or sarin gas were recovered. These weapons were manufactured in the 1980 during the war with Iran.
Additionally, from 2004-2011, American and Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered and were wounded by chemical weapons from before the Persian Gulf War. In all, troops found roughly 5000 chemical warheads, shells, or bombs. There was secrecy surrounding these encounters. This secrecy extended to the troops and military doctors which resulted in troops from receiving proper medical care and recognition.
In 2015, an operation known as Operation Avarice was declassified. The operation started in 2005. The military was contacting an unnamed Iraqi individual who had knowledge and possession of WMD stockpiles and munitions. It was not know how the individual came to possess the weapons or from where they originated. The weapons were in a variety of conditions. Some weapons were higher quality that what was expected.
References and Further Reading
- President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat
- Iraq and weapons of mass destruction
- Iraq Weapons Inspections Fast Facts
- The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons
- TWELVE YEARS LATER, US MEDIA STILL CAN’T GET IRAQI WMD STORY RIGHT