The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 under the pretense that Saddam Hussein's government was actively developing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Soon after the invasion, it became apparent that there was no WMDs program.
The Bush administration had been adamant that Saddam Hussein was deliberately hiding an active WMDs program, but UN inspectors found absolutely no evidence to substantiate these claims. In essence, the justification for the invasion of an entire country turned out to be completely unfounded.
Yet, a recent New York Times report has revealed that US troops discovered and were exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq during the war (2003-2011), but the US government actively attempted to keep it a secret.
US Troops Were Wounded By Chemical Weapons In Iraq
Between 2004 and 2011, US troops found roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs in Iraq. They were sent out to dispose of explosives, but discovered something much more alarming.
In the process, at least 17 American soldiers and seven Iraqi police officers were exposed to nerve or mustard agents. The government's official count is still classified.
Exposure to these materials can lead to massive blisters, difficulty breathing, vision problems, infertility and increased risk of cancer.
Some of the soldiers who were exposed didn't receive adequate medical care and are still experiencing residual health effects. Not to mention, while some were nominated for the Purple Heart, the army denied the awards.
Obviously, the government wanted to hide something.
Moreover, the government never told the public about these discoveries, and the information wasn't even widely shared within the military. Even Congress wasn't told the whole story.
In the process, US troops were placed in greater danger as they were sent off to unwittingly dispose of chemical weapons.
Simply put, the government deliberately kept these chemical weapons discoveries a secret for political reasons. Here's why:
The Chemical Weapons Found Didn't Justify The 2003 Iraq Invasion
Chemical weapons are considered weapons of mass destruction. Thus, one might be confused as to why the government would try to hide this. After all, wouldn't the discovery of such weapons vindicate the entire war?
The problem is, however, that these weapons were produced years before the 2003 invasion, and weren't part of an active WMDs program. Likewise, as the New York Times report notes:
The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale. ... All [the weapons] had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all.
What's more, the United States played a crucial role in helping Iraq procure the materials needed to develop these weapons.
America Helped Iraq Produce Chemical Weapons In The 1980s
Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the relationship between Iran and the United States has been decidedly contentious. Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq the very same year.
In the 1980s, Iraq and Iran went to war. Throughout the war, Saddam Hussein's regime actively developed chemical and biological weapons, which it then used on both Iranians and its own people.
As relations between Iran and the United States were tense at that time, American companies supported Iraq in this endeavor by helping it build chemical weapons.
CIA files also show that the United States provided Iraq with information surrounding the location of Iranian troops, with full knowledge that Iraq's military would attack with chemical weapons. The use of chemical and biological weapons is illegal by international law, but the United States still condoned this.
Thus, to admit that US troops found chemical weapons in Iraq would not only mean that they had invaded for the wrong reasons, it would also mean acknowledging that the United States had helped Hussein acquire and use these munitions.
ISIS Controls The Area Where Iraq Made Chemical Weapons
Iraq depleted the majority of its chemical weapon supply during the Iran-Iraq War, which ended in 1988.
Subsequently, Saddam Hussein was ordered to destroy his stockpile of chemical weapons following the 1991 Gulf War. Obviously, this task was never completed.
Furthermore, the NYT report revealed that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) now controls an Iraqi facility that still contains chemical materials from the Hussein-era. There is speculation as to the condition of these materials and whether or not ISIS could actually use them, but this is disconcerting nonetheless.
Moreover, it's important to recognize that due to a cover-up by the US government, the most formidable terrorist organization in the world might now have access to chemical weapons.
In fact, there is evidence that ISIS already used chemical weapons against Kurdish fighters back in July.
The biggest tragedy here is that if the US government had admitted that it had discovered chemical weapons, it could have prevented all of this. This would have allowed military personnel to locate and dispose of these materials properly.
Instead, American soldiers were wounded by chemical weapons because they were never warned about their existence. Moreover, we now have to worry about ISIS utilizing chemical weapons against both civilians and allies of the United States.
You can't build a better future if you don't accept and learn from the mistakes of the past. When you make a mess, you have to clean it up.