By Caroline Curtis, MIA 2016

Syrian soldier aims an AK-47

It has recently been discovered that the Department of Defense was aware of the presence of chemical weapons in Iraq, and did not inform military personnel of all levels of that fact.  For years, American and trained Iraqi troops have been uncovering caches of chemical weapons while initially intending to search for hidden explosives.  Thousands of warheads, shells and bombs have been found, and many soldiers were exposed and even wounded by these weapons. 

This hits closer to home today, as the United States is currently attempting to contain the Ebola virus that many have said could easily be weaponized.  Abroad, The Islamic State’s militants gained control several months ago of the Muthanna State Establishment, which produced chemical weapons throughout the 1980’s and still has thousands of chemical rockets which are now directly in the hands if ISIS.  The lack of coverage of the discovery of hoards of chemical weapons suggests that ISIS has a stronger control of the region than previously thought, preventing the circulation of new information.

But what explains the behavior of the Department of Defense, and its lack of transparency concerning such dangerous discoveries?  When sergeants joke of “wounds that never happened” from “that stuff that didn’t exist”, we are reminded of widespread intelligence failure and holes in communication, both absolutely necessary for long-term success in such a tumultuous region.  The manner in which chemical weapon discovery has been handled has been called borderline negligent, with soldiers quietly sent home without correct medical care after exposure to toxins.  Many still suffer daily from the potent effects of sarin, mustard gas, blister agents and nerve agents.

The question really comes down to why the Pentagon chose not to openly reveal the existence of these weapons, and why has there not been deep conversation on the severity of possible chemical warfare?  Are the soldiers who were exposed to Iraqi chemicals receiving the care they need and deserve?  What other dangers does the Department of Defense not deem appropriate for its personnel abroad, or even Congress, to be wary of?  The degree to which these chemical dangers have been played down may be telling of the current attitudes towards the Middle East.  Communication is a beautiful thing, and needs to be streamlined through all channels if the United States and its military hope to have success in operations abroad, particularly in the Middle East.