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Extremists Seize Shuttered Chemical-Arms Site in Iraq

Iraqi Shiite tribesmen brandish weapons in a Tuesday display of solidarity against invading militants. Islamic extremists have seized an Iraqi facility once used by Saddam Hussein's regime to manufacture chemical-warfare materials. Iraqi Shiite tribesmen brandish weapons in a Tuesday display of solidarity against invading militants. Islamic extremists have seized an Iraqi facility once used by Saddam Hussein's regime to manufacture chemical-warfare materials. (Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images)

Jihadists in Iraq captured a key Hussein-era factory for chemical weapons, but Washington downplayed the site's significance, the Washington Post reports.

Fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria took control of the Muthanna State Establishment as part of the extremist militia's rapidly advancing military campaign launched last week, the newspaper said on Friday. Saddam Hussein's regime used the facility to manufacture mustard blister agent and the nerve gases sarin and VX, but airstrikes during the 1991 Gulf War were believed to have destroyed the site's production capacity.

The U.S. State Department confirmed the facility's capture by ISIS militants, and said it was "concerned about the seizure of any military site" by the organization.

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki added, though, that the facility does not appear to hold usable chemical weapons, "and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials."

The site contains dilapidated chemical arms inside two airtight storage chambers that extremists had yet to enter, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. Armed-forces insiders said the United States would have eliminated the materials had they been usable in attacks.

"The only people who would likely be harmed by these chemical materials would be the people who tried to use or move them," one of the sources said.

One defense source, though, suggested Washington may not have left the cache in place if U.S. officials had foreseen its capture by opponents of the Iraqi government.

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