Iraqi militants seize former chemical weapons factory

An image grab taken from a propaganda video uploaded on June 11 by jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) allegedly showing ISIL militants. ISIL militants are said to have taken control of one of Saddam Hussein's former chemic
An image grab taken from a propaganda video uploaded on June 11 by jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) allegedly showing ISIL militants. ISIL militants are said to have taken control of one of Saddam Hussein's former chemical weapons factories, used to produce mustard gas and other nerve agents in the 1980s.

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Sunni radicals in Iraq, who have overrun a swathe of territory north of Baghdad in a lightning offensive, have taken control of one of Saddam Hussein's former chemical weapons factories, a US official said.

"We are aware the that the ISIL has occupied the Al Muthanna complex," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement on Thursday.

But she said she did not think the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants would be able to produce usable chemical weapons there, because any materials remaining are old and unwieldy.

The complex, located just 72km north-west of Baghdad, began producing mustard gas and other nerve agents, including Sarin, in the early 1980s soon after Hussein took power, according to a CIA factsheet.

The programme expanded to its height during the Iran-Iraq war later that decade, and produced just over 200 and just under 400 tonnes of Sarin in 1987 and 1988 respectively.

But the CIA writes that the facility shut down after the first Gulf war, when UN resolutions "proscribed Iraq's ability to produce chemical weapons."

In the early 1990s, the site was used to oversee efforts to destroy Iraq's chemical weapons stockpile.

Ms Psaki said "We remain concerned about the seizure of any military site by the ISIL."

However, she said, "we do not believe that the complex contains (chemical weapons) materials of military value and it would be very difficult, if not impossible to safely move the materials."