NEW YORK - The Central Intelligence Agency, working with American troops during the occupation of Iraq, repeatedly purchased nerve-agent rockets from a secretive Iraqi seller, according to an American media report.

Citing current and former US officials, The New York Times said that the move 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 extraordinary arms purchase plan, known as Operation Avarice, began in 2005 and continued into 2006, the newspaper said, adding that It led to the United States’ acquiring and destroying at least 400 Borak rockets, one of the internationally condemned chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein’s government manufactured in the 1980s but that were not accounted for by United Nations inspections mandated after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.   

 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-defence and explosive ordnance disposal troops, officials and veterans of the units said. Many rockets were in poor condition and some were empty or held a nonlethal 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.

A New York Times 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 program that was abandoned long before the 2003 invasion, and they turned up sporadically during the American occupation in buried caches, as part of improvised bombs or on black markets.

The potency of sarin samples from the purchases, as well as tightly held assessments about risks the munitions posed, buttresses veterans’ claims that during the war the military did not share important intelligence about battlefield perils with those at risk or maintain an adequate medical system for treating victims of chemical exposure. 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. Moreover, it has been learnt that Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah is fighting the jihadist Islamic State group in Iraq, its chief Hassan Nasrallah revealed for the first time Monday in a speech beamed to supporters in southern Beirut.

‘We may not have spoken about Iraq before, but we have a limited presence because of the sensitive phase that Iraq is going through,’ Nasrallah said in reference to ongoing clashes between Iraqi troops, several militias and Kurdish forces against the IS. Hezbollah is already fighting in Syria, alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Nasrallah’s speech comes two days after his leading Lebanese opponent, Saad Hariri, called on Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria. ‘I say to those who call on us to withdraw from Syria, let’s go together to Syria,’ said Nasrallah. ‘I say, come with us to Iraq, and to any place where we can fight this threat that is threatening our Muslim nation and our region,’ he added.