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May 17, 2004
Sarin Artillery Shell Discovered In Iraq

It looks like the death of the WMD justification has been somewhat exaggerated:

A roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent exploded near a U.S. military convoy, the U.S. military said Monday. Two people were treated for "minor exposure," but no serious injuries were reported. "The Iraqi Survey Group confirmed today that a 155-millimeter artillery round containing sarin nerve agent had been found," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman in Iraq. "The round had been rigged as an IED (improvised explosive device) which was discovered by a U.S. force convoy.

Jon at QandO (one of my favorite blogs) points out that only one shell has been found, and it's likely of older manufacture -- so, he argues, it's insufficient to re-energize the WMD argument all by itself. Fair enough, and after numerous false alarms, rhetorical caution should be the order of the day anyway. However, as the AP report notes, Saddam Hussein's regime was supposed to have accounted for all of its WMD of prior manufacture after the first Gulf War, and his failure to comply with repeated UN resolutions demanding that also was one of the justifications for military action. This find certainly demonstrates that rather than the "phantom WMD" argument made earlier -- where Saddam's scientists just lied to him about having them -- is almost certainly false.

Interestingly, John Kerry attacked the Bush argument just three weeks ago on Hardball by arguing contradictorily that WMD had not been found, but even if it is found, it wouldn't be in artillery shells:

It appears, as they peel away the weapons of mass destruction issue, and --we may yet find them, Chris. Look, I want to make it clear: Who knows if a month from now, two months from now, you find some weapons. You may. But you certainly didn't find them where they said they were, and you certainly didn't find them in the quantities that they said they were. And they weren't found, and I have talked to some soldiers who have come back who trained against the potential of artillery delivery, because artillery was the way they had previously delivered and it was the only way they knew they could deliver. Now we found nothing that is evidence of that kind of delivery, so the fact is that as you peel it away I think it comes down to this larger ideological and neocon concept of fundamental change in the region and who knows whether there are other motives with respect to Saddam Hussein, but they did it because they thought they could, and because they misjudged exactly what the reaction would be and what they could get away with.

It appears that Kerry has some backpedaling to do -- as well as other leading opponents of the war.

While I agree with Jon that one shell does not represent a massive weapons program, one shell is enough to know that Iraq had produced WMD as stated before, since no one manufactures a single, unique shell for one use, especially one as complex as a binary-mixture shell. Since we never received any data on their destruction, we are back again to the reasonable conclusion that none of them were destroyed -- which definitely supports the military action we took to depose Saddam.

I'm curious to see how the media treat this revelation. Anyone believe that CBS will use it as its lead story tonight?

UPDATE: The BBC also carries the story, and notes:

Gen Kimmitt said the dispersal of the nerve agent from a device such as the homemade bomb was "limited".

"The former regime had declared all such rounds destroyed before the 1991 Gulf War," he said.

However, a senior coalition source has told the BBC the round does not signal the discovery of weapons of mass destruction or the escalation of insurgent activity. He said the round dated back to the Iran-Iraq war and coalition officials were not sure whether the fighters even knew what it contained.

If ignorance was at play here, then it means that the shell was plundered from a weapons cache somewhere, probably local to that area. CNN says that this is not the first chemical-weapon shell discovered, either:

The general said the Iraqi Survey Group, headed by Charles Duelfer, would determine if the shell's discovery indicated Saddam possessed chemical weapons before the U.S. invasion last year. Officials in Washington said another shell -- this one containing mustard gas -- was found 10 days ago in Iraq.

It appears that the WMD question is still very much on the table. As our inspections (and the insurgents) deplete the standing weapons stocks in Iraq, likely we will find much more. Even if the material turns out to be old, it still demonstrates that the UN inspection process was about as reliable as their administration of the Oil-For-Food Program.

UPDATE II: From Fox News:

"Everybody knew Saddam had chemical weapons, the question was, where did they go. Unfortunately, everybody jumped on the offramp and said 'well, because we didn't find them, he didn't have them,'" said Fox News military analyst Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney.

"I doubt if it's the tip of the iceberg but it does confirm what we've known ... that he [Saddam Hussein] had weapons of mad destruction that he used on his own people," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told Fox News. "This does show that the fear we had is very real. Now whether there is much more of this we don't know, Iraq is the size of the state of California." ...

Gazi George, a former Iraqi nuclear scientist under Saddam's regime, told Fox News that he believes many similar weapons stockpiled by the former regime were either buried underground or transported to Syria. He noted that the airport where the device was detonated is on the way to Baghdad from the Syrian border.

George said the finding likely will just be the first in a series of discoveries of such weapons. ...

Saddam, when he was in power, had declared that he did in fact possess mustard-gas filled artilleries but none that included sarin. "I think what we found today, the sarin in some ways, although it's a nerve gas, it's a lucky situation sarin detonated in the way it did ... it's not as dangerous as the cocktails Saddam used to make, mixing blister" agents with other gases and substances," George said.

The shell was built for a 155-mm howitzer, the biggest artillery piece in Iraq's arsenal. A 155 can toss shells as far as fourteen miles, and the shell itself can contain as much as five litres of sarin -- enough to kill thousands of people.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 17, 2004 10:40 AM

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Reuters.... The U.S. military says it has found the nerve agent sarin in an artillery shell in Iraq, the first announcement of the discovery of any of the weapons on which Washington made its case for war. Brigadier General Mark... [Read More]

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BREAKING NEWS FROM BAGHDAD: The US military has discovered an Iraqi artillery round loaded with the deadly nerve agent Sarin,... [Read More]

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