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Initial tests of Iraqi chemicals show nerve agent

Experts: Preliminary tests often wrong

From Nic Robertson
CNN


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SPECIAL REPORT
•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models

BAI'JI, Iraq (CNN) -- Preliminary tests of chemicals found in barrels in northern Iraq suggest the presence of two weapons that the United Nations has barred Iraq from possessing -- a deadly nerve agent and a blister agent, a U.S. Army officer told CNN on Sunday.

Experts cautioned that preliminary tests can be unreliable. Other suspicious chemical discoveries in Iraq since the beginning of the war have, after additional testing, turned out to be pesticides or other industrial chemicals.

Three tests, including one that used a highly sensitive mass spectrometer, indicated the presence of the nerve agent cyclosarin and an unspecified blister agent in a stash of 55-gallon drums, the officer said.

U.S. soldiers found the 10-14 drums at a former Iraqi military position about 40 miles [64 kilometers] north of Tikrit, the hometown of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and 130 miles [208 kilometers] north of Baghdad.

A mobile laboratory that soldiers said could have been used to mix chemicals was found near the site.

Human exposure to cyclosarin can cause shortness of breath, muscle spasms, unconsciousness and death, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The site has been turned over to a U.S. military investigative team, which will conduct further tests, the officer said. A more detailed assessment of the find could take four days.

The U.S. Army's 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry, was dispatched Friday night to investigate the site. The unit also found what it said were a number of surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles about 50 yards away, and about 150 gas masks of a higher quality than others left behind by retreating Iraqi troops.

Iraq had acknowledged producing 795 tons of cyclosarin, which it used against Iranian troops in the 1980s. Baghdad also had said it destroyed remaining stocks of its chemical and biological weapons as was required under the terms of the cease-fire that ended the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

The United States and Britain accused Baghdad of violating that cease-fire and invaded Iraq in March with the stated aim of stripping the country of banned weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found.


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