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Al-Abud Network

Iraq’s Chemical Warfare Program - Annex E

 

Summary

Triggered by a series of site exploitations and detentions in March 2004, Iraq Survey Group (ISG) began investigating a network of Iraqi insurgents—referred to as the al-Abud network—who in late 2003 and early 2004 actively sought chemical weapons for use against Coalition Forces. ISG created a team of experts—including operators, analysts, and technical ops officers—to systematically investigate and disrupt the al-Abud network and diffuse the immediate threat posed by the insurgents. The team also focused on identifying links between al-Abud players and former regime CBW experts to determine whether WMD intellectual capital was being tapped by insurgent elements throughout Iraq. By June 2004, ISG was able to identify and neutralize the chemical suppliers and chemists, including former regimemembers, who supported the al-Abud network. A series of raids, interrogations, and detentions disrupted key activities at al-Abud-related laboratories, safehouses, supply stores, and organizational nodes. However, the insurgent leaders and financers within the network remain at large and alleged chemical munitions remain unaccounted.

 

Organization and Preparation

Fallujah-based insurgents—belonging mostly to the Jaysh Muhammad organization—recruited in late 2003 an inexperienced Baghdad chemist to lead the development of chemical agents including tabun, mustard, and other nontraditional agents. The insurgents targeted the chemist because of his background in chemistry—albeit limited and with no ties to former regime CW program—and his access to chemicals in Baghdad’s chemical suk district. The insurgents appear to have recruited the chemist with financial incentives; however, debriefings of detained al-Abud network members suggest that the chemist was sympathetic to the insurgent’s anti-Coalition cause.

After identifying their chemist, the al-Abud network sought chemicals and equipment needed to conduct CW experiments. The al-Abud network had little difficulty in acquiring desired chemicals after OIF, including malathion pesticide and nitrogen mustard precursors. However, it remains unclear if their inability to acquire necessary precursor chemicals is attributed to a lack of supply or CW inexperience.

  • The insurgents acquired most of the chemicals from farmers who looted state companies and from shops in Baghdad’s chemical suk.

The last component of the CW project involved dissemination of the agents. The al-Abud network relied on a political member of Jaysh Muhammad to provide the mortar rounds, which the insurgents would fill with agent for planned use against Coalition Forces. It remains unclear how the insurgents intended to utilize the rounds, either fired as mortars or detonated as improvised chemical devices.

 

Initial CW Experiments

The al-Abud network first attempted to produce the nerve agent tabun in late December 2003, and the experiment was a self-admitted failure because the insurgents lacked the necessary chemicals. The product of the first CW experiment was a mixture of malathion and other chemicals, which by itself is a poisonous compound if disseminated properly.

  • The al-Abud network used their malathion mixture to “weaponize” nine mortar rounds. The mortars likely are an ineffective means of dispersing the malathional because the detonation of the mortar will consume the poison.
  • Malathion and tabun have similar chemical structures, however it is not possible to create tabun from malathion. The al-Abud chemist understood this limitation, but probably continued with the experiments to appease the insurgents.

The al-Abud chemist abandoned his tabun experiments after initial failures, but months later in March 2004 he considered trying to produce tabun from the prescribed precursor chemicals, not malathion. Based on ISG investigations, the al-Abud network did not have the necessary chemicals. A lack of resources and insurgent backing probably forced the al-Abud chemist to cease his attempts to produce tabun.

 

Mustard Experiments and Weaponization

After the initial attempt to produce tabun, the al-Abud network in late January and early February 2004 began acquiring materials for the production of nitrogen mustard. The al-Abud network had the necessary materials, but lacked the expertise, to produce nitrogen mustard.

  • They failed to produce nitrogen mustard because the chemist used incorrect amounts of the precursors and inadequate processes.
  • Following the mid-March failure to produce mustard, the al-Abud network sought the assistance of a young “chemist-for-hire”—who owned a small chemical lab in Baghdad—to refine their processes. The younger chemist also failed to produce nitrogen mustard.
  • The al-Abud network approached the “chemist-for-hire” because of his reputation as a capable chemist in Baghdad. Although he did not have any prior CW experience or previous anti-Coalition tendencies, the young chemist willingly aided the al-Abud network as a profit-seeking mercenary.

With time and experience it is plausible that the al-Abud network could have mastered the processes necessary to produce nitrogen mustard. However, Coalition Forces disrupted the al-Abud network’s ability to produce nitrogen mustard when they detained the younger and more experienced al-Abud chemist and confiscated chemical precursors. Lacking the young chemists’ expertise, the network likely shifted its focus to the production of binary mustard.

In renewed efforts to produce mustard, the al-Abud network returned to the chemical suk in Baghdad to purchase necessary chemicals and began the weaponization of binary mustard rounds. Weaponization of binary mustard in mortar shells is relatively simple, however the insurgents poorly executed this procedure.

 

Ricin and Nontraditional Agent Production

The younger al-Abud chemist—at the urging of the other al-Abud chemist and motivated by financial gain—successfully produced small quantities of ricin extract in March 2004 using widely distributed terrorist literature. ISG exploited the young chemist’s laboratory to reveal an operational lab setup designed for producing ricin cake—a substance that easily can be converted to poisonous toxin ricin. The production of ricin likely occurred without the direct knowledge of the al-Abud insurgents, but the chemists probably intended to sell the toxin for use against Coalition Forces.

  • The lab setup contained the necessary raw materials and equipment to produce small quantities of ricin and was not capable of facilitating a mass-casualty ricin attack. However, the lab could have produced enough ricin to cause a few isolated casualties—if disseminated properly.

Within the same timeframe of the tabun and ricin experiments, the al-Abud chemists prepared two additional agents, napalm and sodium fluoride acetate, for the Jaysh Muhammad insurgents in the al-Abud network. ISG assesses their efforts to produce nontraditional compounds capable of causing mass casualties as highly unlikely.

 

Jaysh Muhammad

Jaysh Muhammad (JM) is an anti-Coalition group with both politically motivated and religiously motivated elements that ISG began tracking after they produced chemical mortars. The politically motivated members are Ba’athist, pro-Saddam elements who tend to be of the Sufi religious soca. The Sufi enjoyed special status during the Regime and hold Izzat al-Duri, the ex-vice-president, in exceptionally high esteem. They were members of intelligence, security, and police forces from the previous regime.

According to detainee accounts, JM members, along with Fallujah based insurgents planned to use the CW rounds against Coalition Forces. Evidence suggests that JM acquired the rounds, although it remains unclear if they were used. Until we are able to capture the key figures of JM involved with al-Abud, it is unlikely we will determine what happened to the rounds.

 

Ties to the Former Regime

ISG has found no evidence that the recent chemical weaponization attempts stem from the former regime’s CW program or represent a prescribed plan by the former regime to fuel an insurgency. However, many of the known al-Abud personalities have ties to the former regime through either business relationships or political affiliations. Capitalizing on these connections, the al-Abud insurgents—including former Ba’athists—utilized a pre-OIF supply infrastructure to access chemicals and mortars.

  • The primary chemical supplier in Baghdad—who had business ties to former regime companies as well as personal relationships with MIC and Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) officials—served as a facilitator for the al-Abud network, supplying chemicals and limited financial backing.
  • The leadership of Jaysh Muhammad is comprised of mostly Ba’athists with ties to the former regime. Insurgent knowledge of pre-OIF infrastructure enabled the network to source and generate much of its chemical-biological warfare capability. Whether due to previous positions held or personal contacts within the former regime, much of the direct support derived from various former regime means.

 

Ties to the Insurgency

ISG has found no evidence to confirm or deny that the al-Abud network is an integrated and coordinated piece of a larger insurgency campaign in Iraq. However, the al-Abud network’s efforts are likely known to the insurgency because of the proximity in Fallujah of the al-Abud leadership and insurgent Zarqawi network. Additionally, the majority of figures in the al-Abud network are at least sympathetic to the insurgent cause.

 

Implications

The most alarming aspect of the al-Abud network is how quickly and effectively the group was able to mobilize key resources and tap relevant expertise to develop a program for weaponizing CW agents. If the insurgents had been able to acquire the necessary materials, fine tune their agent production techniques, and better understand the principals behind effectively dispersing CW, then the consequences of the al-Abud network’s project could have been devastating to Coalition Forces.

  • Despite the fleeting nature of the insurgent’s initial attempts, the al-Abud chemists progressively gained experience with CW, and continued different approaches with the same goal.

The al-Abud network is not the only group planning or attempting to produce or acquire CBW agents for use against Coalition Forces. ISG focused on the al-Abud network because of the maturity of the group’s CW production, as well as, the severity of the threat posed by its weaponization efforts. Recent reporting from a variety of sources shows insurgent’s attempts to acquire and produce CBW agent throughout theatre. The availability of chemicals and materials dispersed throughout the country, and intellectual capital from the former WMD programs increases the future threat to Coalition Forces by groups such as the al-Abud network.


Posted: Apr 23, 2007 12:55 PM
Last Updated: Apr 23, 2007 12:55 PM