Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Sarin Update

Further testing has confirmed the sarin artillary shell. Two troops exposed to the gas showed symptoms of nerve gas but are not seriously hurt and are back on duty. The Command Post has a good definition of this kind of binary shell. The reason these men aren't dead is that the shell was not fired by artllery. When fired from artillery the shell spins and heats up causing the two chemicals (the binary part) to mix and form sarin. When the shell exploded by the side of the road not enough of the chemicals mixed to cause a lethal dose.

But the interesting news is here: AlterNet: Iraq's Weapons Are Past Expiration Date Alternet, a leftist ant-war website, had this to say about Iraqi chemical weapons on May 8, 2003: According to Ritter, the chemical weapons which Iraq has been known to possess – nerve agents like sarin and tabun – have a shelf life of five years, VX just a bit longer. But the truth of the matter is that Iraq’s WMD may have even less of a shelf life than Ritter now claims – and the U.S. government knows it.

That would place this shell in the 1999-2003 range (assuming it was not manufactured in the past year). It gets even more interesting. The US didn't even think Iraq had binary weapons like this. Ever. The Iraqis had a small number of bastardized binary munitions in which some unfortunate individual was to pour one ingredient into the other from a Jerry can prior to use. These guys are against the war. They have no reason to exaggerate.

The website CBWinfo.com had this to say about Iraqis use of sarin.
While they had not mastered the art of manufacturing binary munitions in which the mixing of the precursors occured on firing at the time of the invasion of Kuwait, they had developed a simple process for generating the agent immediately before use: a warhead or shell would be given a partial fill of isopropanal (and often cyclohexanol, a precursor for the related nerve agent GF, sometimes known as cyclosarin) and stored along with plastic containers of methylphosphonic difluoride (DF). Shortly before the munition was to be used an Iraqi soldier would be provided with a gas mask and would pour an appropriate amount of the DF into the munition.

So no one thought the Iraqis possessed binary chemical artillery technology. Either this is the first evidence of a more advanced Iraqi chemical weapons program that previously imagined or, more ominously, this shell is not Iraqi. Which would be worse?

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