The mystery of the secret discovery of chemical WMD in Iraq which poses more questions than answers

Sir John Chilcot

Sir John Chiilcot: Pic Credit: BBC


It could be from the pages of a novel. But my colleague and co author Nick Kochan has an extraordinary story on the Exaro website this week just as the damning Chilcot report on the Iraq War has been published.

The essence of the story is a large cache of  chemical weapons  shells containing the nerve gas sarin were discovered and destroyed  by the Americans and British in a remote British area of Iraq in 2005 and 2006 long after the UN weapons inspectors had disappeared.

The source for the story has told Exaro about how the CIA using a front company purchased thousands of shells many containing the nerve gas sarin from an Iraqi war lord and then destroyed all the weapons.

Incredible as this may seem this story is stood up by information released in the United States under the US Freedom of Information Act and in the UK  to a lesser extent by the Ministry of Defence.

The US info which named the clandestine operation as Avarice  and the British operations were known as  Bedouin 1 and 2..

In 2015, the New York Times reported details of covert operations that involved the CIA, US military intelligence and the British Army.

The International Business Times, a US-based website, later revealed details of the British-led Bedouin missions.

What is curious is that neither  revelation made much of a stir at the time – even though it meant that chemical WMD had been discovered.

And this week’s Chilcot report makes no mention of the clandestine operations though it does reveal that later discoveries of chemical weapons was reported to the Joint Intelligence Committee.

This  raises loads of unanswered questions. The discovery in 2006 would have been very useful to Tony Blair’s case that  Iraq still possessed chemical weapons and you would have expected Alistair Campbell to have shouted it from the rooftops. But this information was either never used or never reached either of them.

The other question is more sinister. What was the use made by the warlords of the CIA money?

For soon after many British and US troops were killed by IED’s planted by war lords to get the UK and US out of Iraq. Exaro’s source is fearful that the money paid by the CIA may have been used to buy these weapons and to kill British and American soldiers.

Given Chilcot’s strong criticism of the inadequacy of equipment for the troops including snatch landrovers this is a highly damaging allegation.

“It is possible that western forces were killed by Mahdi army funded by the CIA. Nobody ever identified what happened to the [US] money and what it was used for,” the source claimed.

“The only people who could have moved those sorts of things around that area were involved in many nefarious activities.”

So far  even with Chilcot we are none the wiser.


As Coalition Forces respond to a car bombing in South Baghdad, Iraq (IRQ), a second car bomb is detonated, targeting those responding to the initial incident. The attack, aimed at the Iraqi police force, resulted in 18 casualties, two of which were police officers, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. pic credit:bbc

How Chilcot cheated the public: A tale of two Iraq inquiries

Chilcot " pact with the devil" picture courtesy Daily Telegraph

In all the  media hype, hubris and drama  which reached fever pitch with Tony Blair’s evidence to the Iraq inquiry, there is one big  group in this high profile event that has been cheated of getting access to the facts,  the British public.

While all the main witnesses  and the inquiry team under Sir John Chilcot have  unfettered access to the key classified information inside the 40,000 documents so far made available, the public is being rationed with limited fare released only with the agreement of the main Whitehall departments involved.

The situation has arisen because Sir John, foolishly in my view, has signed a protocol with the Cabinet Office which effectively gives Whitehall the last word on what documents the public are allowed to see. The document on the Cabinet Office website was signed I believe with honourable intentions  to give a framework, based on the government’s own interpretation of the freedom of information act, to which documents should be released.

 But in doing this Chilcot has given away his independence by allowing the Cabinet Secretariat the final say in any dispute between the inquiry and the foreign office, ministry of defence, attorney general’s department and the Cabinet Office itself over which documents can be released.

This pact with the devil is actually highlighted by an entirely different route  being taken by a  less publicised, official inquiry into Iraq running in tandem with Chilcot, the Baha Mousa inquiry taking place in a venue in the City of London.

This official inquiry set up by former defence secretery and Chilcot witness, Des Browne, is trying to get to the bottom of the savage death of Iraqi citizen, Baha Mousa, in Basra while in the custody of British troops. This inquiry is headed by Sir William Gage, a retired appeal judge.

Both inquiries are independent, official,and exempt from the freedom of information act. Both state that they are not trying to assign blame and are not putting their witnesses on trial. But there the similarity ends. Faced with same dilemma over documents, Sir William, has  taken two ground breaking decisions. He has waived his government exemption from FOI and said his inquiry will run as though it is subject to the Act, allowing the public to put in requests  for information that will answered in 20 working days. His website states: ” we will operate in as transparent and open a manner as possible in keeping with the interests of justice.” There is no such provision for the Chilcot inquiry.

Second, Sir William has made no pact with the devil. The protocol  he signed with the government gives him, not Whitehall, the final say in whether documents can be published.  I am told he has said if there is a dispute between his inquiry and the ministry of defence over the publication of documents, the MOD will have to go to court to stop him releasing the information.

So we have two very different approaches. One process is secret – as the Chilcot inquiry will not say what documents they  are in dispute over their release. The other process will become very public -because the ministry of defence will have to apply to the courts to keep documents out of the public domain.

There is also an extraordinary by-product of this decision. The Iraqi family of the dead  man are rightly  getting real  British justice  that is being seen to be done.

The families of dead soldiers who fought  for Queen and country in Iraq  and the general public are getting inferior treatment – no right to ask for information under FOI and allowing a cosy  secret Whitehall club to decide what they should be allowed to see.

 The only conclusion is that the independent judiciary are a  better champion of the public’s right to know than eminent senior civil servants.  Sir John is an  honourable man but he has sold the British public a pup in his subservience to  Whitehall.

This post is also on Comment is Free on the  website.