CIA bought chemical weapons from secret seller in Iraq: report

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New York, Feb 17: US intelligence agency CIA bought and destroyed deadly chemical weapons from a secretive Iraqi seller in 2005 and 2006 to ensure that such arms do not fall into the hands of terrorists, according to a media report.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, the New York Times reported.

cia

This was part of a previously undisclosed effort to ensure that old chemical weapons remaining in Iraq did not fall into the hands of terrorists or militant groups, the daily said citing current and former American officials.

The extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as 'Operation Avarice', began in 2005 and continued into 2006, and the American military deemed it a non-proliferation success, the report said.

It led to the US' acquiring and destroying at least 400 Borak rockets, one of the internationally condemned chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein's Baathist government manufactured in the 1980s but that were not accounted for by UN inspections mandated after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, it said.

The effort was run out of the CIA station in Baghdad in collaboration with the Army's 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion and teams of chemical-defense and explosive ordnance disposal troops, officials and veterans said.

Many rockets were in poor condition and some were empty or held a non-lethal liquid, the officials said. But others contained the nerve agent sarin, which analysis showed to be purer than the intelligence community had expected given the age of the stock.

The American paper's investigation published in October found that the military had recovered thousands of old chemical warheads and shells in Iraq and that Americans and Iraqis had been wounded by them, but the government kept much of this information secret, from the public and troops alike.

These munitions were remnants of an Iraqi special weapons programme that was abandoned long before the 2003 invasion, and they turned up sporadically during the American occupation in buried caches.

The purchases were made from a sole Iraqi source who was eager to sell his stock, officials said. The amount of money that the United States paid for the rockets is not publicly known, and neither are the affiliations of the seller, the report said.

Retired Army Lt Gen Richard P Zahner, the top American military intelligence officer in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, was quoted as saying that he did not know of any other intelligence programme as successful in reducing the chemical weapons that remained in Iraq after the American-led invasion.

Through the CIA's purchases, Zahner said, hundreds of weapons with potential use for terrorists were quietly taken off the market.

PTI

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