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Don't use bio weapons, Iraq warned

Rumsfeld, left, and Berlusconi
Rumsfeld received a warm welcome from Italian premier Berlusconi, right, at the Palazzo Chigi

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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has warned Iraq's military commanders not to even think about deploying biological and chemical weapons.

Rumsfeld flew into Europe on Friday to drum up support at a what he said was a "critical time" in the countdown to a possible war in Iraq.

Speaking at a news conference in Italy after talks with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Rumsfeld said: "We are sending very clear messages to people around him that they would be well-advised not to use those weapons.

"In the event, they do, they would wish they hadn't."

Rumsfeld was answering a question that referred to President Bush's statement that Saddam has authorized field commanders to use chemical weapons.

The Pentagon is considering cremating remains of troops who may die in a chemical or biological attack in a possible war with Iraq, officials said on Thursday. (Full story)

Use of field cremation would alter a longtime U.S. military tradition of making every effort to return each person's body home in a flag-draped coffin.

Rumsfeld was asked if he has seen any evidence that Iraqi field commanders are planning to use chemical weapons, and whether nuclear retaliation is an option the United States would consider if such weapons were deployed by Iraq.

He would not discuss the nuclear angle, saying: "the United States doesn't discuss that matter" and did not elaborate any further about the president's comment.

Rumsfeld, who discussed NATO and bilateral relations with Italian officials, said opposition to the Iraqi regime was increasingly united, noting support for the United States' stance on Iraq throughout Europe.

The secretary also visited troops at Aviano Air Force Base, taking questions from some of the U.S. forces stationed there.

He told the gathered troops that a military conflict would last "six days, six weeks, I doubt six months" but that "the last choice is war."

He said the United States every day receives more "volunteers to participate in a coalition of the willing" if necessary to force Iraq to disarm. Other nations, he said, prefer a second U.N. resolution explicitly authorising the use of force, and several indicate they "would like to participate in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq."

Rumsfeld is heading to a security conference in Munich, Germany.

Asked at the Italian news conference what sense of urgency he carried about the crisis with Iraq, the secretary said, "the world feels a sense of momentum" and the "long road" to disarm Iraq over the last 12 years has been a stark failure.

"We've seen enormous efforts by the international community of a diplomatic nature, and they have failed," he said, mentioning economic sanctions, the oil-for-food programme and the no-fly zone patrols.

He said there is great "urgency" in the standoff because Saddam's weaponry becomes "more mature" as time goes on.

"And the risk of their use becomes greater," he said, "whether by that country or to a terrorist network."

"The world faces a serious situation," Rumsfeld said, observing the danger of the "nexus" between Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, terrorist states and terrorist networks. He reminded reporters that Iraq has used chemical weapons on Kurds in Iraq.

Saddam carried out a campaign against the Kurds in the 1980s in retaliation for their support of Iran, with whom Iraq was at war. Iraqi forces razed hundreds of villages and killed thousands of people.

Those killed included 5,000 who reportedly died in a 1988 attack on the town of Halabja, home to about 80,000 Kurds. International scientists said that attack involved multiple chemical agents, notably mustard gas and sarin.

Residents of Halabja still bear scars from the attack -- genetic mutations, cancer, breathing problems and chronic eye disorders.

The United States was backing Iraq against Iran at the time.

Rumsfeld argued for the U.S. effort to use force as an option to disarm by saying that if the United States had information that the September 11, 2001, attack would take place, wouldn't the country have had an "obligation to stop it?"

"Instead of an attack with 3,000 people killed, imagine an attack with a biological weapon that kills 30,000 or 300,000 innocent people."

Remark causes German controversy

Rumsfeld was asked about a comment he made on Wednesday that lumped Germany with Libya and Cuba "on the same plane."

The remark has caused a lot of controversy in Germany, and a questioner asked: "how can you compare someone like Fidel Castro with (German chancellor Gerhard) Schroeder"?

On Friday, Rumsfeld said he "was asked which countries are supporting the U.S. effort with respect to Iraq, which countries have offered to assist, and which countries are opposed.

"It just happens that those are some of the countries that are opposed," Rumsfeld said. "I can't imagine why it would cause a stir in any country."

On Wednesday, Rumsfeld said: "There are three or four countries that have said they won't do anything -- I believe Libya, Cuba and Germany are ones that have indicated they won't help in any respect, I believe."

At the security conference this weekend, Rumsfeld is to meet with his German counterpart, Peter Struck, while in the Bavarian capital.

Germany's foreign minister, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson are also expected to attend the Munich conference.

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