The successful assault on the northern city of Tal Afar brought the prospect of chemical warfare in Iraq to the fore. Two al Qaeda linked groups claimed to have conducted successful attacks using chemical weapons last week. The Army of the Victorious Sect stated they attacked the Interior Ministry with rockets equipped with chemical weapons, while the Islamic Army of Iraq also took credit for firing a chemical mortar round. No proof of a successful chemical attack was found nor were any unusual injuries reported.
Shortly after the purported attacks, an al Qaeda linked web forum praised the attacks and discussed the prospects of the terrorist group being in possession of chemical weapons. The discussion shifted to al Qaeda’s capabilities, and their future plans; “The author questions if events in Tal Afar provoked the use of chemical weapons, and then asks if al Qaeda in Iraq is preparing such weapon for use outside of Iraq, possibly against “underground railways in America.” Members respond that al Qaeda in Iraq has always possessed such capabilities ”
Al Qaeda subsequently denied any involvement, and also distanced itself from The Army of the Victorious Sect.
While it is clear the two reported incidents are false, a curious find turned up in Tal Afar. Col. McMaster reports on the discovery made by U.S. troops when conducting door-to-door searches:
In terms of specialized weapons, some crude attempts, I think, in the western part of the city. We’ve been able to put this picture together now. The enemy had rigged a lot of buildings for destruction, and they wanted to time the destruction of these buildings with the entry of our forces. In one of these buildings the enemy had big barrels of chemicals that had explosives implanted in the chemicals, wires running around, and the whole house was rigged for demolition.
Around this house a lot of families were living. Our soldiers were conducting an area reconnaissance operation. They went into this house. Immediately their eyes began burning, their throat began burning, so they withdrew out of the house immediately and then we conducted reconnaissance with some chemical protective gear and with a remote reconnaissance capability into the house and we could tell that the thing was rigged with chemicals.
And on the sort of jihadist and extremist websites, they’ve been saying, you know, that coalition forces are using chemical weapons. I think what they had hoped to do was detonate this building, kill innocent civilians in this neighborhood and then blame it on coalition forces. But we preempted their ability to do that by evacuating the civilians from that building
We found some manuals that describe how they could make sort of these kind of chemical dirty bombs and so forth. But, you know, if the enemy had the capability to use it, I mean, this enemy is absolutely unscrupulous and I have no doubt that they would use it against innocent civilians and armed forces. So all the more important reason to make sure they don’t have a place to develop these kind of plans, to conduct this kind of training. And that’s, I think, one of the greatest success of this operation, is the safe haven is gone for them.
Al Qaeda has been very interested in augmenting their arsenal with chemical and biological weapons. After Afghanistan fell to U.S. forces, a treasure trove of data on al Qaeda’s programs was discovered, including video tapes of experiments on animals.
There are also two well documented cases of attempted attacks, both were uncovered beforehand – a ricin attack against France and Britain, and a chemical attack against Jordan. The foiled attack on Jordan could have killed thousands of people. Zarqawi was implicated in both plots, and al Qaeda’s WMD mastermind Abu Khabab was involved with the ricin plot. The find in Tal Afar should come as no shock, as al Qaeda has been attempting to create, obtain and use these weapons for quite some time.