Iraqi Militants Seize Saddam's Top Chemical Weapons Facility

Al-Muthanna facility used to make materials including sarin captured by ISIS. But U.S. says any weapons found inside are useless.

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Militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) after allegedly seizing an Iraqi army checkpoint, June 11, 2014.
Militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) after allegedly seizing an Iraqi army checkpoint, June 11, 2014.Credit: AFP

Sunni militants in Iraq have seized what once was former dictator Saddam Hussein's top chemical weapons facility, the U.S. State Department said Thursday.

The facility in Al Muthanna is said to still contain a stockpile of old weapons. However, the militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams will have a hard time using them, even if they manage to access them, the Wall Street Journal reported.

According to the U.S., the weapons are old, contaminated and hard to move. "We remain concerned about the seizure of any military site by the ISIL," Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a written statement according to the Journal. "We do not believe that the complex contains CW materials of military value and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials."

The ISIS has been rapidly taking over swathes of land in Iraq's north in recent weeks, raising concerns of destabilization in the region. During the 1980s, Saddam Hussein used the Muthanna facility to make various deadly chemical agents, including sarin, for use in the Iran-Iraq war, the Journal reported.

However, a survey of the site conducted by the Iraq Study Group determined the facility has since been dismantled, and that existing weapons stockpiles was sealed and unusable, the Journal said.

"Two wars, sanctions and Unscom oversight reduced Iraqi's premier production facility to a stockpile of old damaged and contaminated chemical munitions (sealed in bunkers), a wasteland full of destroyed chemical munitions, razed structures, and unusable war-ravaged facilities," the Iraq Study Group's 2004 report said, according to the Journal.

According to U.S. officials, the seizure of the Muthanna complex, though attention grabbing, is meaningless as far as concerns for usage of chemical weapons goes.

"The only people who would likely be harmed by these chemical materials would be the people who tried to use or move them," a military official told the Journal.

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