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U.S.: Mobile labs found in Iraq

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CNN's Aaron Brown reports on U.S. soldiers' discovery of 11 mobile laboratories capable of manufacturing chemical weapons.
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KARBALA, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. troops have found 11 mobile laboratories buried south of Baghdad that are capable of biological and chemical uses, a U.S. general said Monday.

There were no chemical or biological weapons with the containerized labs, which measure 20 feet square. But soldiers recovered "about 1,000 pounds" of documents from inside the labs, and the United States will examine those papers further, said Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakley of the Army's 101st Airborne Division.

"Initial reports indicate that this is clearly a case of denial and deception on the part of the Iraqi government," Freakley told CNN's Ryan Chilcote. "These chemical labs are present, and now we just have to determine what in fact they were really being used for."

Troops found the mobile laboratories near a weapons plant outside Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad. Though buried, they appeared to contain about $1 million worth of equipment and were "clearly marked so they could be found again," Freakley said.

During the buildup to the war in Iraq, the United States repeatedly accused Iraq of using mobile laboratories to produce banned weapons. A U.S.-led force invaded Iraq March 20 after accusing Iraq of violating U.N. resolutions requiring it to give up chemical and biological weapons, long-range missiles and efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

In February, U.N. weapons inspectors "found nothing untoward" at an ammunition filling plant close to where the troops have found the mobile labs, a U.N. inspection team spokesman said Monday.

Inspectors visited the site -- referred to as the Karbala Ammunition Filling Plant -- on February 23.

"There was no hint by anybody, no special tip that led us there," one U.N. official said. No banned weapons or related materials were found there.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in February told the United Nations Security Council that U.S. intelligence indicated Iraq had production facilities for biological weapons "on wheels and on rails," and on at least 18 flatbed trucks.

He insisted the labs existed and called them "most worrisome."

"The trucks and train cars are easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors," Powell said. "In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War."

Powell said the evidence included firsthand accounts from four sources -- among them, an Iraqi chemical engineer who supervised one of the facilities and an Iraqi civil engineer "in a position to know the details of the program."

U.N. weapons inspection chief Hans Blix said his inspectors never found evidence of such labs.

On March 7, Blix told the U.N. Security Council, "Several inspections have taken place at declared and undeclared sites in relation to mobile production facilities. Food-testing mobile laboratories and mobile workshops have been seen, as well as large containers with seed-processing equipment. No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found."

Iraqi officials repeatedly denied having weapons of mass destruction and have not used them against U.S. or British troops.

Last week, troops from the 101st Airborne found a stash of chemicals, which was investigated as possible nerve agents, but the material turned out to be pesticides, Freakly said. The United States will further examine the latest find, he said.

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