By the time the US invaded Iraq in 2003, the nation had long abandoned its chemical weapons, under UN lock and key. During the ensuing occupation, however, the remnants of the program that were looted ended up all over the place, and we’re just starting to learn how much occupation troops were accidentally exposed to.
There was so much looted chemical weaponry kicking around Iraq during the years that followed, that it is now revealed the CIA created a whole program, dubbed Operation Avarice, to buy up the weaponry.
Over late 2005 and early 2006, the CIA bought over 400 missiles associated with the Iraqi chemical weapons program, with officials saying they had to buy up the arms to prevent them falling into the hands of terrorists.
The rockets acquired by the CIA in the program were Borak rockets designed to disperse nerve agents. The weapons were commonly fielded during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and were never accounted for when Iraq turned all of its arsenal over to the UN after 1991.
Decades-old weapons long past their expiration date, most of the chemical arms recovered in Iraq were not close to usable in the traditional sense. Officials did say they were surprised, however, at the potency of some of the chemicals despite many years in storage.
That was bad news for the ground troops carrying out the bulk of the occupation, as they were repeatedly exposed to far more chemicals than anyone expected, and doctors were slow to handle the exposures, again underestimating the seriousness.