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Sarin in Iraq?
by Mina Hamilton
May 24, 2004

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The weapons-of-mass-destruction shoe has been waiting to fall for a long time.

The March 20th invasion of Iraq was propelled by fear. It was launched on the fear created by George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney et al constantly warning about the dire and imminent threat of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

In the intervening 14 months nary a sign of said WMDs -- until Monday, May 17th. On this day American commanders in Iraq state that they have "discovered an Iraqi artillery shell last week containing sarin." (1) According to the New York Times, the shell was made into a homemade bomb and found by an American convoy in Baghdad. It was discovered on Saturday, May 15th.

There's a brief flurry of media coverage. For some the press attention is too meager. The Wall Street Journal complains of the US press corps branding the discovery as "no big deal." (2) Even the normally rabid New York Post doesn't give the story much play. The May 18th issue splits the front page with the top half a heart throb photo of a young woman burying her head in the fur of her dog (an exclusive on "How I Beat Central Park Sex Attack") and the lower half of the page carries huge letters saying "WMD: Nerve-gas Blast in Baghdad." (3)

Then the press runs back to the Abu Ghraib disgrace. The scandal continues to spiral out-of-control.

More and more atrocious photos pour out of various computers. The Seymour Hersh revelations keep climbing up the chain of military authority. His May 24th New Yorker article says that Donald Rumsfeld himself is responsible for the Pentagon's operation known by the code name of Copper Green. (4) The court martial of various enlisted soldiers begins. The Washington Post unveils yet more nasty videos and reports new appalling abuses of prisoners: they're forced to retrieve food from toilets, pork and liquor is jammed down their throats, a teenage boy is raped.

Even the Denver Post gets into the act with the news that Col. Thomas Pappas authorized the use of unmuzzled dogs in interrogations. Pappas is the Commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. This news contradicts previous assertions that only Lt. General Ricardo S. Sanchez could have approved the use of attack dogs. (5)

What about the timing on this first revelation of WMDs in Iraq? Rumsfeld had just made a lightning tour of Abu Ghraib. Smack in the middle of the prison torture scandal and just after Rumsfeld's visit sarin materializes?

The New York Times article tells us that the "shell appears to offer some of the most substantial evidence to date that Mr. Hussein did not destroy all of the banned chemical agent, as he claimed before the war." According to the Times, Rumsfeld is "reacting cautiously" and says more extensive tests are necessary. (6)

Now this writer has absolutely no evidence that the shell was a plant.

It's well known that Saddam Hussein had substantial inventories of biological and chemical weapons, did use them against both the Kurds and Iran, and did lie about their existence to UN inspectors. It's also well known that German, Dutch, Belgium and US corporations supplied Hussein with these same materials and/or abetted their use. (7)

It would not be surprising to find WMDs in Iraq. But, given the now well-documented lies the Bush government told to the American public, the US Congress, the UN and the world regarding Iraq, skepticism is in order.

In the build up to the Iraq War the Bush administration was willing to lie, repeatedly, about WMDs. Bush et al lied about Iraq's alleged attempt to buy uranium from Africa (a claim subsequently shown to be based on forged documents), to lie about aluminum tubes supposedly destined for a gas centrifuge plant, to lie about the imminence of a "mushroom cloud" billowing forth from Hussein's nuclear weapons program.

As Bush's War becomes ever more unpopular and his ratings plummet to an approval rating of 42%, isn't it highly convenient to find sarin in Iraq?

In war-torn Iraq, with the US military in a position to control any and all news about weaponry discovered by US soldiers, how is the media, ABC News, CNN, the New York Times or anybody else able to verify the veracity of such claims?

This particular WMD shoe hit the floor remarkably lightly. The homemade-bomb-with-sarin story hardly got any coverage. Neither did it elicit tough questions.

Any sarin story has the potential to galvanize the American public. A few reminders of how this nerve gas was developed by the Nazis; a description of the disastrous 1995 sarin attack in the Tokyo subway which left 12 dead and thousands wounded; some well-placed graphs and photos showing just how deadly the stuff is - they all could be used to whip Americans into a fever pitch of jingoism.

We may soon learn about more weapons of mass destruction being found in Iraq. It's about the only news that might re-focus the American public on the glories of Bush and the benefits of the Iraq War.

Mina Hamilton is a writer based in New York City. She can be reached at


(1) Filkins, Dexter, "Army Discovers Old Iraqi Shell Holding Sarin, Illicit Weapon," New York Times, May 18, 2004, A-11.

(2) The Editors, "Roadside Sarin," Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2004, A-18

(3) New York Post, May 18, 2004

(4) Hersh, Seymour, "The Gray Zone: How a Secret Pentagon Program Came to Abu Ghraib," the New Yorker, May 24, 2004, p. 38

(5) Jehl, Douglas and Schmitt, Eric, "Dogs and Other Harsh Tactics Linked to Military Intelligence," New York Times, May 22, 2004, p. A-1

(6) Filkina, Dexter, op cit, A-11.

(7) Timmerman, Kenneth R., The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq, Houghton Mifflin, 1991, pgs 133-134, 147, 190, 306.

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