JERUSALEM – Amid reports Islamist insurgents seized a former chemical weapons facility in Iraq, it may be instructive to recall that numerous major news media accounts previously documented the U.S. trained Mideast rebels on how to move chemical agents and even provided them with protective gear for the task.
Jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) reportedly captured the Muthanna former chemical weapons complex, which the State Department says contains stockpiles of chemical munitions that are not considered militarily usable.
“We remain concerned about the seizure of any military site” by ISIS, said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “We do not believe that the complex contains CW [chemical weapons] materials of military value and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.”
The Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel that assessed the situation in Iraq following the war there, determined that Saddam Hussein used the Muthanna facility to produce such chemical weapons as sarin, mustard gas, and the VX nerve agent.
The Wall Street Journal reported that any remaining chemical stocks at the Mathanna complex were both militarily useless and sealed in bunkers.
“The only people who would likely be harmed by these chemical materials would be the people who tried to use or move them,” one military official told the Journal.
However, some rebels fighting in Iraq might be able to safely transport chemical munitions, thanks in part to previous U.S. training.
ISIS members have also been fighting the insurgency targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
In December 2012, CNN quoted a senior U.S. official and several senior diplomats saying the U.S. and some European countries were using defense contractors at sites in Jordan and Turkey to train Syrian rebels on how to secure Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
Last September, the Daily Beast also reported on the plan to aid rebels in securing Assad’s chemical weapons.
In September 2013, President Obama issued a memorandum to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for the U.S. to assist the rebels, including by providing gear to protect against chemical weapons.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the new aid might include “defensive chemical weapons-related training and personal protective equipment to select vetted members of the Syrian opposition, including the Supreme Military Council, to protect against the use of chemical weapons.”
While such gear could be used to protect against chemical weapons attacks, the equipment could technically be utilized to transport chemical munitions.
Indeed, a senior Obama administration official told Yahoo News of the gear being given to the rebels: “Possible items could include personal protective equipment, decontamination supplies, medical countermeasures and general site security equipment, as well as associated training.”
It was not clear whether any gear or chemical weapons transport training was provided directly to ISIS, which may not be the only former Syrian insurgents fighting in Iraq.
Earlier this week, WND broke the story that members of ISIS were trained in 2012 by U.S. instructors working at a secret base in Jordan, according to informed Jordanian officials.
The officials said dozens of ISIS members were trained at the time as part of covert aid to the insurgents targeting the Assad regime in Syria. The officials said the training was not meant to be used for any future campaign in Iraq.
The Jordanian officials said all ISIS members who received U.S. training to fight in Syria were first vetted for any links to extremist groups like al-Qaida.
In February 2012, WND was first to report the U.S., Turkey and Jordan were running a training base for the Syrian rebels in the Jordanian town of Safawi in the country’s northern desert region.
That report has since been corroborated by numerous other media accounts.
Last March, the German weekly Der Spiegel reported Americans were training Syrian rebels in Jordan.
Quoting what it said were training participants and organizers, Der Spiegel reported it was not clear whether the Americans worked for private firms or were with the U.S. Army, but the magazine said some organizers wore uniforms. The training in Jordan reportedly focused on use of anti-tank weaponry.
The German magazine reported some 200 men received the training over the previous three months amid U.S. plans to train a total of 1,200 members of the Free Syrian Army in two camps in the south and the east of Jordan.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper also reported last March that U.S. trainers were aiding Syrian rebels in Jordan along with British and French instructors.
Reuters reported a spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department declined immediate comment on the German magazine’s report. The French foreign ministry and Britain’s foreign and defense ministries also would not comment to Reuters.
But WND also reported just this week that ISIS now may have access not only to a secret sarin poison gas production facility in northeast Iraq, but also access to a man who’s known for his expertise in that activity.
The access comes through Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who was a top military commander and vice president to the deposed Saddam Hussein. He’s now heading the Naqshbani Army, which is a coalition of Sunni groups in Mosul, a city which recently was overrun by ISIS.
The Naqshbandi Army is a resistance group of underground Baathists and Islamist militant insurgency groups in Iraq. It emerged in December 2006 following the execution of Hussein. It recently has aligned with ISIS, giving ISIS access to a facility that produces sarin nerve gas under the direction of former Iraqi Military Industries Brig. Gen. Adnan al-Dulaimi.
Dulaimi was a major player in Saddam’s chemical weapons production projects. He has been working in the Sunni-controlled region of northwestern Iraq where the outlawed Baath party is located and produces the sarin.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.