"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it..."

Burn Pits: The "Agent Orange" of the Iraq War



Iraq's Journey of Chemical Weapons and the Poisoning of its own Land


In 1978, 52 American Diplomats were held hostage for 444 days in Tehran, Iran - after the failed rescue attempt "Operation Eagle Claw" in April 1980, eight Americans' had died. Once the conflict was resolved, tensions between Iraq and Iran began to rise, thus leading Iraq and America to have a common enemy.

Saddam Hussein had two failed chemical weapon project attempts in 1970 and 1974 before succeeding in 1979 - "Project 922". At this point, Hussein had pursued one of the most extensive chemical weapons programs and American intelligence and logistical support played a crucial role in arming Iraq in supporting their offensive in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).

After the Iran-sponsored terrorist group "Hezbollah" conducted bombings in Lebanon that killed over 248 Americans, the United States pushed closer to a partnership with a common enemy. In addition to providing weaponry; the United States government went as far as to remove Saddam Hussein and Iraq from the United States list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism" in 1984.

According to the "American Senate Banking Committee", both the Regan and Bush Administrations authorized the sale of dual-use weapons to Iraq including poisonous chemicals and deadly viruses such as anthrax and the bubonic plague. At this point, the country of Iraq began to wage war on its enemy and continued to massively expand their chemical weapons program "Project 922".

In 1988, Saddam Hussein began the "Al-Anfal Campaign" in which he appointed Ali-Hassan al Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali" (pictured right with Saddam Hussein) due to his careless use of chemicals to kill thousands. Those chemical weapons were used against Iraq's own civilian Kurdish population, killing and maiming over approximately 182,000 Kurds (noted in the Yale research text "Iraq's Crime of Genocide").

It was noted that 52% of Iraq's weaponry (shell casings, mortars etc.) were supplied by the German government; Iraq claimed their Mustard Gas was 90-95% in purity, Tabun was 50-60% purity and their Sarin was 45-60% in purity.

American Involvement

Prior to American invasion and occupation of Iraq in March of 2003, the Iraqi government had "disposed of" their chemical weapons within the base walls of five of the six "Project 922" military instillations:
  • Balad
  • Bucca
  • Taji
  • Tallil
  • Tikrit
  • Mosul

The military base in Balad was considered by the Iraqi Military as the “hub” of the Iraqi Chemical Corps Directorate and the Iraqi Ministry of Defense (Hickman, 2016). Prior to the American occupation, Balad stored numerous aerial bombs that contained chemical agents as well as their supporting aircrafts. During the invasion, Balad was targeted by the United States for bombardment within the first few days – leaving the former-Iraqi military base abandoned and free for capture. The military gained control of the Balad base and in April of 2003, Joint-Base Balad (JBB) was established. Impressively housing over 28,000 United States Army and Air Force military personnel and roughly 8,000 civilian contractors (Halliburton Company and subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root [KBR]). Joint-Base Balad became the second largest base in Iraq and the American government stated Joint-Base Balad was considered a “vital hub for operations throughout Iraq” due to its two 11,000-foot runways, massive trauma center and locality 15 miles from major combat operations in Baghdad (Drummond, 2013).

By May 2003, Halliburton Co. and KBR had constructed and operated 250 burn pits to be used for waste disposal on Joint-Base Balad and burning operations ran 24 hours, 7 days a week to keep up with accumulating trash on base. Once American forces took control of these war-torn bases, they found the areas littered with old caches of chemical weapons above and buried below ground and swamps that had leaked into the sand, causing servicemembers to be exposed to these agents. American forces heavily bombed these areas in the beginning of the Iraq war “which almost certainly resulted in the widespread contamination of the surrounding terrain” (Hickman, 2016, pg. 89).

In 2005, the "Iraq Survey Group" — an international group composed of civilian and military experts — concluded that the Iraqi military chemical and biochemical weapons programs had been abandoned during 1995 and 1996 because of fear that discovery of continued activity would result in severe political repercussions including the extension of UN sanctions. However, the Iraqi government continued to investigate toxins as tools of assassination, concealed its program from UNSCOM inspectors after the 1991 war, and reportedly conducted lethal human experimentation until 1994. Small-scale covert laboratories were maintained until the 2003 United States invasion.

The history has significance because it is that any chemicals destroyed prior to the invasion had found its way into the ground on these bases and were being covered and soaked up by sand and during high winds. American contractors then dug into the ground creating massive holes to use as burn pits which when in use would send not only smoke from the items being physically burned, but the smoke from the buried chemicals in the ground.


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