Islamist militants bear down on Iraqi forces; seize former chemical weapons facility

20140111_MAP001_0The Washington Post (June 23) — Islamist insurgents continued to bear down on Iraqi forces Friday, seizing a former chemical weapons facility once part of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein’s arsenal and battling for control of the country’s largest oil refinery and an airport in the north. The al-Qaeda-inspired militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who launched a lightning offensive across northern Iraq last week, seized the facility, which contains stockpiles of chemical munitions that are not considered usable, a State Department spokeswoman said. “We are aware that [ISIS] has occupied the Al Muthanna complex,”spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “We remain concerned about the seizure of any military site” by the group. “We do not believe that the complex contains CW [chemical weapons] materials of military value and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.”

According to the CIA, the facility about 36 miles northwest of Baghdad was bombed extensively during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, ending its ability to produce chemical weapons. U.N. weapons inspectors subsequently destroyed equipment and stockpiles there, most of the complex was razed by the Iraqis, and the remainder was extensively looted, the agency said in a 2007 report. However, the CIA report said: “Stockpiles of chemical munitions are still stored there. The most dangerous ones have been declared to the UN and are sealed in bunkers. Although declared, the bunkers contents have yet to be confirmed. These areas of the compound pose a hazard to civilians and potential blackmarketers.” Among the chemical agents once produced at Al Muthanna were mustard gas, sarin and VX, it said.

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