American and Iraqi troops fell victim to chemical weapons left over after the fall of Saddam Hussein, according to military documents obtained by The New York Times.
During a seven-year time frame, from 2004 to 2011, soldiers serving in the area encountered the abandoned chemicals, dubbed by the Times in a story published Tuesday as "a largely secret chapter of America's long and bitter involvement in Iraq."
While America's war rationale under President George W. Bush was to search out and destroy Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, the search ultimately harmed U.S. service members as well as those Iraqi-trained soldiers who also were injured, the Times noted in interviews with military and intelligence sources and in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The secrecy now has broader implications as Islamic State (ISIS) fighters take over in Iraq and may see using the leftover chemical agents as a coup in spreading their destruction and terror in the region, the Times reported.
The Times investigation noted that the discovery of chemical agents was not shared widely among the military, putting troops in the way of a known danger.
Wrote the Times' C.J. Chivers in his exclusive investigation: "The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm's way and from military doctors. The government's secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war's most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds."
All told, about 4,900 chemical munitions were uncovered across the nation in the aftermath of the Hussein regime collapse and "17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers" were exposed to mustard or nerve gasses, according to the Times, which described horror stories where service members had come in contact with odd substances while on patrols, and quickly realized their exposure.
Now, photographic evidence has emerged showing the Islamic State forces using such chemicals against the Kurds, Fox News reported,
citing information obtained from the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA).
The findings of the investigation and word that the Islamic State is now using chemicals in its surge could help bolster a renewed response and a broader and more forceful coalition against the Islamist terrorists, The Huffington Post noted.
A State Department official told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that the agency was "aware of the reports but cannot confirm details."
"We take allegations of chemical weapons use very seriously and are seeking more information," a State Department official told the Post, noting that officials were "aware of the reports [about the Islamic State] but cannot confirm details."
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