No, it’s not WMD

I just noticed this post over at the Jawa Report. The poster is quite upset about the glaring lack of the word “terrorist” among the media’s labels for the bad guys in Iraq. But I’m not posting about that here. I’m posting about the use of the term WMD in the post’s title, “Terrorists Use WMD in Iraq.”

Taji victimAs you can probably guess if you’ve heard any news this week, he’s talking about chlorine used in a truck bomb in Taji that the media reported pounced on with a certain level of sensationalism this week. I’m not posting to downplay the fact that this terrorist tactic is a concern. However, this particular use of a toxic industrial chemical (TIC) is not WMD, unless the D stands for disruption. The press, as I mentioned, has used some sensational language and by doing this, they feed terrorists/insurgents/bad guys the kind of attention and psychological effects they want. (Not that they don’t want to kill people, too.) The attention this has received will no doubt encourage them, unfortunately.

But it’s not WMD. A TIC could consitute a WMD (as in Bhopal, which definitely would qualify, had the leak been an intentional attack). Some 130-140 people were apparently referred for medical treatment after the Taji attack. It’s not yet clear how many of those did suffer from chlorine inhalation. Remember, out of several thousand that sought medical attention after the Tokyo sarin attacks, something like 80% of those were the “worried well.”

The psychological impact of “chemicals” carries a lot of weight. Chlorine could get a lot of people particularly wound up even if they were far enough away to be out of danger because you can smell it at very low concentrations, too low to harm anyone.

I don’t know if further information will come later about the extent and seriousness of the injuries suffered, but I tend not to swallow everything the media feeds me especially while it’s in the throes of a frenzy. I do know that a hundred people with a temporary throat irritation and high anxiety does not make WMD. A few people with serious or lethal inhalational exposure, if there were any, still does not make WMD. The conventional bombs the terrorists are using in Iraq every day have been far more devastating in their physical impact than the Taji attack. What’s left, then, is the psychological impact, and using the term WMD only helps to inflate it.

For someone else’s opinion (which, of course, agrees with mine), try this one.

[Update: And by the way, as I commented here,  the military has provided press releases (A, B) noting that these have been trucks carrying relatively small amounts of chlorine in tanks (meaning a gas cylinder).  They're NOT chlorine tankers! The media just cannot get off the word "tanker."  Why? Nobody's going to be particularly freaked out by a compressed gas tank.  More recent articles have started to use "trucks carrying chlorine" and even the term "chlorine tank" so it looks like a few of them actually care to get the terminology right.]

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2 Responses

  1. If you google Pentagon Press releases, you will see the quantification of 5,000 gallons of chlorine and 2 tons of explosives as constiuents of a recent CL VB-IED (April 2007)

  2. They’ve continued to increase the quantities over time but haven’t had a “chlorine tanker” yet..this post was written when the tactic was fairly new. Even with increasing the number of tanks on their VBIEDs, they’re still having a pretty crappy ROI compared to conventional VBIEDs.

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