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Tests rule out suspect bio-labs


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KARBALA, Iraq (CNN) -- The buried labs U.S. troops found last week were not the mobile chemical and biological weapons labs one U.S. Army general suspected, according to the head of an expert team brought in to examine them.

The 11 cargo containers were filled with new laboratory equipment apparently intended to make conventional weapons, said team leader Chief Warrant Officer 2 Monte Gonzalez.

"Based on what we've seen, the containers are full of millions of dollars worth of high-tech equipment," he said. "It possibly has a dual use. But it does not appear to be weapons of mass destruction."

Members of the 101st Airborne's 2nd Brigade found the site -- about 50 miles south of Baghdad near Karbala -- last week as they were heading north to Baghdad.

Some of the containers, used to hold cargo on ships, were partially buried. The troops dug up the containers and Gonzalez's team was brought in to investigate.

The containers held equipment typically found in laboratories, including test tubes, water baths, sand baths, ph transmitters, explosive-proof lights, ethyl alcohol gauges, shakers, test tubes, test tube holders, and temperature and pressure gauges.

Gonzalez's team finished its investigation Tuesday and will report its findings to the head of the 101st Airborne Wednesday, he said.

They will continue to examine the large number of documents found at the site. He said the containers might have been partially buried to prevent looting.

"It's like a Scooby-Doo mystery," he said. "It's a puzzle. But we don't expect to find a smoking gun."

Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, said Monday soldiers found what they thought were 11 mobile chemical and biological laboratories. (Full story)

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

During the buildup to the war in Iraq, U.S. officials said Iraq was using mobile laboratories to help conceal its production of banned weapons.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a U.N. Security Council meeting that Iraq had biological weapons labs on at least 18 flatbed trucks.

Iraq denied having mobile weapons labs. U.N. weapons inspectors said they had found that Iraq used mobile labs to test food but had come across no evidence of banned weapons production.

On a visit February 23, U.N. weapons inspectors found nothing "untoward" at the Karbala Ammunition Filling Plant that is close to the site, a U.N. inspection team spokesman said Monday.

The site was among several that had been visited previously by weapons inspectors.


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