Iraq: ISIS seizes ex-chemical weapons facility
The Muthanna facility, south of the city of Samarra, was Iraq's primary site for the production of chemical weapons agents
The jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken control of a former Iraqi chemical weapons facility, the Iraqi government has told the United Nations, confirming an earlier claim by the United States.
Washington had played down the threat from ISIS’ takeover of the site, saying no intact chemical weapons were there and it is impossible to use the material left there for military purposes.
Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dated July 1 and made public Tuesday, claiming that “armed terrorist groups” entered the Muthanna project site on the night of June 11 after disarming the soldiers guarding it.
The letter said the Iraqi government was thus unable to “fulfill its obligations to destroy chemical weapons,” adding that “remnants of the (country's) former chemical weapons program” are kept at the site.
“The government will resume its efforts with regards to its obligations as soon as the security situation has improved and control of the facility has been regained,” the letter said.
At dawn on June 12, the site's surveillance system, disabled by “the terrorists,” showed there was “looting of some equipment and appliances,” he wrote.
The letter confirms a June 19 claim by Washington that Sunni radicals had taken control of the facility.
The militants have led a month-old crisis that has seen a jihadist-led alliance overrun large swaths of northern and north-central Iraq, displacing hundreds of thousands.
The complex, located just 45 miles (72 kilometers) northwest of the Iraqi capital, began producing mustard gas and other nerve agents, including sarin, in the early 1980s soon after Saddam took power, according to a CIA factsheet, according to AFP.
The program expanded to its height during the Iran-Iraq war later that decade, and produced 209 and 394 tons of sarin in 1987 and 1988 respectively.
But the CIA writes that the facility shut down after the first Gulf war, when U.N. resolutions “proscribed Iraq's ability to produce chemical weapons.”
In the early 1990s, the site was used to oversee efforts to destroy Iraq's chemical weapons stockpile.