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Catfish and Cod
Friday, May 21, 2004
Where did that sarin come from?
(Link path: Hugh Hewitt, Citizen Smash, Castle Argghh!, The Corner on National Review Online)

Newly acquired data indicate that the sarin shell is very interesting indeed.

Joe Frye, a reader on the Corner, notes that the shells were unmarked, and suggests that the conventional and chemical weapons were mixed with each other in the stockpiles. This has the benefit that Iraqi commanders could not refuse the order to use chemical weapons, as they could not distinguish between conventional and chemical shells.

But more importantly, the chemical weapons may have been hidden by the Purloined Letter method, i.e., in plain sight, mixed in with regular munitions.

The problem with this theory is that numerous weapons dumps have already been seized and destroyed. Wouldn't the chemicals have shown up before now?

Smash notes that the sarin shell design indicates a post-1988 design.

There are three possible explanations for the presence of this shell in an Iraq IED, especially one that was not known by the IED's designers to be a chemical weapon.

1) It was Syrian.
Syria is well known to be supplying weapons, personnel, and various other forms of support to the Sunni insurgency. Syria could also be the supplier of the chemical weapons shell. In this scenario, the serial numbers were removed to prevent Syrian complicity -- "it must have been from Saddam's stockpiles" they can say, and disclaim all knowledge.

The problem with this theory is that I don't know whether Syria ever developed a binary sarin shell. I know they have a stockpile of sarin, and some of it is in artillery shells; but whether they developed a time-of-flight binary weapon was not a question amenable to a quick Google search.

The other problem is, if Syria was donating precious chemical weaponry, why didn't they tell the insurgents what it was so they could use it effectively?

2) It was a mistake.
Under the doctrine, "never assume malice when stupidity explains the facts", we can posit that this shell was not meant to be unmarked, and was never intended to be mixed with conventional shells. What does this imply about Saddam's actions with respect to WMD?

At a minimum:

Sometime between 1988-95, Saddam developed and manufactured sophisticated, “mix-in-flight” binary chemical weapons.
He failed to declare these weapons, as required, to UN weapons inspectors.

Under the "mistake" idea, the presence of this one shell doesn't imply that a whole stockpile exists at the present time. It does imply that a stockpile did exist, but whether that stockpile was destroyed, spirited to Syria, or whatever, is not known.

3) The marking and mixing was intentional on Saddam's part.

This is the problem scenario. It implies that the weapons inspectors were fooled by the simple expedient of hiding the weapons they sought in plain sight, disguised as ordinary munitions. If this becomes a standard tactic, it follows that only testing of a large representative set of all munitions will reveal chemical weapons stockpiles. The implications for the effectiveness of weapons inspectors is worrisome.

It also implies that the chemical weapons are still in Iraq. Since they were widely distributed, it follows that they were not moved elsewhere, as gathering them together again would have been a major logistical challenge. Hence, the stockpiles are still in Iraq. Presumably, with this knowledge, the Iraq Survey Group (the current weapons inspection team) will jump hot 'n' heavy on searching through known conventional stockpiles, looking for unmarked weapons that might be disguised chemical munitions. If this scenario is true, we should know in a few weeks or months where the weapons went.

And then we can all breathe a little easier.

Footnote: Hugh Hewitt, stereotypically, sees this as a way to bash the Left. He thus ignores moderates like me, who think the war itself was right but that Bush is too incompetent to be allowed to lead it. I also don't believe (or like) people who claim that Democrats are all Kucinich isolationists. I don't think all Republicans are Richard Perle neocons, either.