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Suspicious shells found in southern Iraq

Mortars thought to hold blister agent left over from war with Iran

The Danish army says it found these mortar shells in southern Iraq.
The Danish army says it found these mortar shells in southern Iraq.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Danish troops have found suspicious mortar shells in southern Iraq that officials believe contain blister agents, the United States and Denmark announced Saturday.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. Army spokesman, said Saturday that the 120 mm mortars were filled with liquid.

The shells are at least 10 years old, and a U.S. Army official said he suspects the ordnance was surplus from the Iran-Iraq war in the mid-1980s. Blister agents are used in chemical weapons.

A release on the Danish army operational command Web site said that in a routine collection of old ammunition, the 36 heavy mortar grenades were found in a dried-up marsh Friday. They were buried and packed in plastic.

"Most were wrapped in plastic bags, and some were leaking," Kimmitt said.

The shells were found 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the city of Qurnah by Danish engineers and Icelandic munitions experts.

Several hundred Danish soldiers are working with a British-led multinational force responsible for security in southern Iraq.

Both the U.S. and British governments cited the threat of illicit weapons of mass destruction as a main reason for launching the Iraq war. However, no such weapons have been found so far.

The U.S. pulled 400 weapons-disposal experts from Iraq this month in what The New York Times called "a sign that [the] administration might have lowered its sights." The move raised suspicions that weapons are unlikely to be found.

The White House played down the move, saying the group focused on hunting weapons was remaining in Iraq.

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