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Suspected chemical warhead found in Kirkuk

Ex-Iraqi colonel says he has chemical weapons information

From Thomas Nybo

This suspected chemical warhead discovered at an air base near Kirkuk is marked with a green band, which sources said is the symbol for chemical weaponry.
This suspected chemical warhead discovered at an air base near Kirkuk is marked with a green band, which sources said is the symbol for chemical weaponry.

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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• Interactive: Detection devices 

KIRKUK, Iraq (CNN) -- Weapons experts were called Saturday to an occupied northern Iraqi air base in Kirkuk to determine if a warhead discovered there is laden with a chemical agent.

On Friday, a former Iraqi air force colonel claiming to be the former base commander told U.S. military officials he knew of 120 missiles within about an 18-mile radius of the city -- 24 of them carrying chemical munitions, according to an Army intelligence posting at the airfield's military headquarters.

The man said he had been freed recently from an Iraqi prison, military intelligence said.

The warhead was found in a box Friday during routine operations to secure the airfield by the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade. It is about the width of a coffee can and marked with a green band that military sources said is the universal symbol for chemical weaponry.

Two initial "improved chemical agent monitor" (ICAM) tests showed trace amounts of a nerve agent on the baseball bat-length warhead -- at the rear and in the middle where there is a screwed-down circular area about the size of a quarter.

ICAM is a miniature chemical agent detector that allows for simultaneous detection of nerve and blister vapors and aerosol agents.

The warhead tested at one bar on a six-bar scale, which would be consistent with leakage from a chemically armed weapon, military sources said.

But two subsequent ICAM tests showed zero on the scale, contradicting the earlier tests.

A soldier who performed the second pair of tests told CNN that little should be gathered from the findings, because no definitive answers would emerge until chemical experts arrive at the base and break into the warhead itself.

Soldiers were standing guard Saturday outside the storage facility where the warhead was found.

A large wooden box next to the one with the warhead contained a 13-foot missile, one of many troops have found at the base.

Some underground bunkers the size of basketball courts were discovered piled high with cans of munitions, crates of missiles and 1,000-pound bombs.

"It appears as though the air base was evacuated hastily," said Maj. Rob Gowan, a public affairs officer. "A lot of indicators seem to say that the Iraqi forces that were here left very quickly."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details. Thomas Nybo is accompanying U.S. troops with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

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