Aaron SteinScrewing up in Iraq

The Iraq Survey Group did a poor job. How did the ISG miss so many pre-1991 chemical weapons? Did Donald Rumsfeld do anything right? Why did US soldiers receive poor medical care in Iraq and then after they came home? Why wasn’t the Pentagon prepared to find poorly disposed of chemical weapons in Iraq? And, finally, what should the US do about it?

Today, Aaron and Jeffrey discuss C.J. Chivers’ latest piece in the New York Times, The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons.

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  1. George William Herbert (History)

    I think everyone “in the field” knew this stuff was there; a lot of it was cataloged by the inspections and people were aware more was probably buried or at the back of bunkers etc.

    The naive responses to the article in the press and friends are roughly “ZOMG WMD!!!>!>”, which I have been carefully rebutting and explaining.

    The *actual* tragedies, as you two point out, were that the inventory was not complete enough, the troops disposing of stuff weren’t always aware of what was in the inventory (but seem to have been professional and aware once a breach occurred), and most particularly that the healthcare was for whatever reason grossly incompetent afterwards.

    I agree with your neocon friend and the bar conversation; regardless of what mistakes each of us made in assessing intelligence before the invasion, planning for it and for cleaning up at least the minimum 1980s vintage leftovers everyone thought were there should be minimum bars for considering whether the war was competent or not.

    Defeating Saddam was a foregone conclusion. Not being responsible with the WMD residues, our troops’ health, and so forth was gross incompetence or malign coverup.

  2. Philipp (History)

    Haven’t had a chance to listen to this, but the NYT piece is an odd mix of great reporting and overblown conclusions on the basis of it. For example, the US reported to the CWC states parties in November 2010:

    “From 2003 to February 12, 2009, United States forces in Iraq recovered and destroyed 4,530 pre-1991 munitions suspected of being designed as a chemical weapon or suspected of containing a chemical agent. The United States determined that, in light of the security situation, immediate disposal of the recovered items was necessary and that the safest and most effective method would be prompt destruction by explosive detonation within the vicinity of the recovery location. Destruction was accomplished by the use of explosives in a ratio of 5:1 (explosives to estimated quantity of agent) which was sufficient to ensure the complete incineration of any possible chemical agent present and the protection of personnel conducting the activity, the local population and the environment.”

  3. J_kies (History)

    Recognition that you have been ‘Screwing up in Iraq’ is very high bar; its doubtful you can even find the ISG failed outputs on a scale that includes the CPA. Seriously, ‘modest oversights with unfortunate consequences’ is a much more accurate moniker.

  4. SQ (History)

    Fascinating. Link?

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