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Report: Baghdad a chemical threat

By CNN State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel

Al-Majid has been nicknamed 'Chemical Ali' for reputedly using gas against Kurds.
Al-Majid has been nicknamed 'Chemical Ali' for reputedly using gas against Kurds.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials have intelligence reports suggesting the Iraqi Republican Guard may have been ordered to use chemical weapons against U.S. forces if they cross a "red line" drawn around Baghdad, they told CNN.

"That doesn't mean they will do it," said one official on Monday, "but there have been reports such orders may have been issued."

Coalition troops are closing in on Iraqi defenses and the Bush administration has also raised concerns that Saddam Hussein has "authorized" a member of his inner circle to use chemical and biological weapons.

The administration fears the weapons may be used against the Shiites in southern Iraq and the Kurds in northern Iraq and then blame the attacks on coalition forces, two senior State Department officials said.

The officials allege that Lt. Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid al-Tikriti, the Saddam confidant dubbed "Chemical Ali," was recently put in charge as governor of southern Iraq, and that reports based on information acquired by the United States in the past two to three weeks show that al-Majid was given the green light to use chemical and biological weapons against Iraqi civilians.

In an interview with Fox News, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the reports were being investigated.

The administration provided no new evidence.

Previously, U.S. officials alleged that Iraq was trying to purchase American military uniforms, so it could disguise Iraqi soldiers and then blame the United States for attacks on civilians.

Perhaps even more worrisome, one of these officials told CNN, is that this authority is also alleged to have been given to "field level commanders" which "assumes (there will be) a breakdown in command and control."

The official went on to say that this type of "fragmentation" of authority "increases the chances (chemical and biological weapons) will be used."

"Chemical Ali" is a member of Saddam's extended family -- a cousin of the Iraqi leader -- who earned his nickname because he used poison gas against Iraqi Kurds in 1988 in Halabja, northern Iraq.

The attack killed an estimated 5,000 Iraqi civilians, and injured thousands more.

Bush administration officials have warned the Iraqi regime not to use any weapon of mass destruction, suggesting such use would prompt a major retaliation.

U.S. forces have also been dropping leaflets and contacting Iraqi military commanders by telephone and e-mail, in part to warn them that any officer obeying orders to use weapons of mass destruction would be treated as a war criminal.

Barring other developments, the order to use chemical or biological weapons against Iraqi Kurds or Shiites would "go through" al-Majid, the officials said.

The officials added they are unsure how the agents would be disbursed among the population, but they said it could be carried out using artillery shells, mortars or unmanned aerial vehicles.

Another State Department official speculated that perhaps due to last weekend's guerrilla attacks against U.S. forces, the concern is that chemical or biological weapons may have been "seeded" among the Fedayeem force run by Saddam Hussein's son Uday Saddam.

Its members are said to be planted among Iraqi civilians.

-- CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report


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