19 November 2014, NYT: Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons: Reports of the Technical Secretariat for the Purpose of Reviewing Documentation Related to the Recovery and Destruction of Iraqi Chemical Weapons (PDF)
14 October 2014, NYT: Chemical Secrets of the Iraq War
14 October 2014, NYT: The Secret Casualties of Iraq's Abandoned Chemical Weapons
30 September 2004, GPO: Iraq Survey Group: Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD (Duelfer Report): Vol. III (PDF)
NOV. 22, 2014
Thousands of Iraq Chemical Weapons Destroyed in Open Air, Watchdog Says
By C. J. CHIVERS
The United States recovered thousands of old chemical weapons in Iraq from 2004 to 2009 and destroyed almost all of them in secret and via open-air detonation, according to a written summary of its activities prepared by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body that monitors implementation of the global chemical weapons treaty.
The 30-page summary,  prepared after quietly held meetings between the organization's technical staff and American officials in Washington in 2009, was provided to The New York Times by the Pentagon on Friday.
It included a table disclosing limited details on 95 separate recoveries and destructions of chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, for a total of 4,530 munitions from May 2004 through February 2009 -- a period of often intense fighting in Iraq.
The United States later recovered more Iraqi chemical weapons, pushing its tally to 4,996 by early 2011, according to redacted intelligence documents  obtained by The Times via the Freedom of Information Act.
The weapons destroyed through early 2009, the newly released report said, included some that contained chemical agents, others that were corroded and degraded, and some that appeared to have been previously demilitarized but that the United States destroyed "to err on the side of safety and security."
Its authors noted that none of the weapons had been recently manufactured. All were legacy items from Iraq's chemical weapons program in the 1980s and early 1990s. That program had been rushed into production during the Iran-Iraq War and then destroyed in the 1991 Gulf War and the period of United Nations inspections that followed.
"All munitions found were left over from pre-1991 Iraqi program," the report said.
The report by the organization, which has its headquarters in The Hague and is often referred to as an international watchdog on chemical weapons and treaty compliance, was a result of an unusual moment in the American occupation.
In early 2009, at American prodding, Iraq's fledgling government joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international treaty that has largely banned chemical weapons worldwide. With that, Iraq assumed obligations to declare and ultimately destroy under the organization's supervision any chemical weapons remaining from Saddam Hussein's rule.
Until that point, American forces had been quietly finding and destroying old chemical weapons in the country; at times, the weapons were being used by militants in improvised bombs.
As American forces took possession of the weapons, the United States government had kept the bulk of these activities and their complications secret, including chemical wounds,  especially from sulfur mustard blister agent, sustained by American troops.
Once Iraq joined the convention, however, the United States shifted its stance and proposed a more thorough disclosure. It invited the organization's specialists to review, in private, records of the military's activities.
The report, prepared by the organization's Technical Secretariat, recounted elements of that review, which was held in summer 2009.
Its authors appeared to choose words carefully, relating information and positions that the American government had shared with them without passing judgment on their contents.
The report explicitly noted that in many cases the American records were scarce, and that "this activity was not a verification measure" and "was not conducted in accordance with rules contained in the Verification Annex" -- the part of the treaty that delineates procedures for destroying chemical weapons and confirming compliance.
The report's purpose, the authors noted, was "to allow the U.S. to provide assurance that it acted in the spirit of the Convention."
A spokesman for the organization, reached late Friday, said he had not seen the document.
The Pentagon's release of the report was a partial departure from its nearly decade-long posture of secrecy.
In 2004, Charles A. Duelfer, who led the Iraq Survey Group, a task force established by the C.I.A. after the American-led invasion, published a lengthy compendium  on the state of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, which included sections describing the American recovery and destruction of a small number of chemical warheads and shells that year. An early 2005 addendum updated the information.
The United States then fell nearly silent as troops encountered more chemical shells, publicly releasing only snippets in 2006. By then, the number of encounters with chemical weapons in improvised bombs had increased. Soon more troops were wounded by them, as secrecy prevailed.
The Technical Secretariat noted, for instance, that even when the United States sent a letter in 2006 to The Hague disclosing that it had encountered chemical munitions and expected to encounter more, it guarded the details and asserted that "efforts to recover and destroy chemical munitions remained an extremely sensitive matter."
The contents of the newly released report suggest that there were limits to American information-sharing in 2009, even with the watchdogs.
Almost no reference is made to people wounded while handling the chemical weapons.  And the list of incidents is not complete; it is missing, for instance, the September 2006 recovery of a repurposed mustard shell from an improvised bomb that wounded two Navy ordnance disposal techs -- Chief Petty Officer Ted Pickett and Petty Officer Third Class Jeremiah Foxwell.
Further, the United States declined to share precise locations for the recoveries of chemical munitions. "U.S. representatives indicated that the exact locations are considered sensitive," the report said.
Jeffrey Lewis, a nonproliferation analyst at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, upon reviewing the newly released document on Friday, also said that what the report described of American actions appeared to be unsafe to American troops and Iraqis alike.
"The thing I take away from this is, 'God, they blew all of this up in open pits?' " he said. "There is a reason that is arguably incompatible with our treaty obligations. There is no universe where this is a safe and ecologically appropriate way to dispose of chemical weapons."
The Pentagon has said the exigencies of war required that the weapons be destroyed hastily and in the open.
Mr. Lewis said he understood that troops who assumed disposal missions, typically while on missions to counter improvised bombs, lacked the equipment and time to handle chemical weapons more deliberately and with less risk. He suggested the Pentagon had failed them by being unprepared and careless.
"When you step back to look at the broader responsibilities we have as a country, we rolled into Iraq, we had no plan, we were not very focused, and so we stumbled onto this stuff," he said. "I am totally sympathetic to the guys on the ground who had to deal with this, but I just can't get away from the fiasco that put them in this situation in the first place."
The released documents also included six pages on a similar visit by the organization's technical staff to England, where they reviewed records provided by the British government of a far smaller set of destructions disclosed by British forces -- 21 Borak rockets containing sarin nerve agent in early 2006.
The British government, in contrast to the United States government, had in 2010 publicly released details of the Borak destructions after Iran complained to the watchdog group of the "clear violation of the United States and the United Kingdom obligations under the Convention."