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U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that while the news reports sounded “responsible,” nearly all preliminary reports from the battlefield have to be revised over time.
“We don’t do first reports and we don’t speculate, and I can tell you it takes days to get samples of things from wherever they are on the battlefield into a first place where they take a look and then to a second place where things get checked, and I think that the prudent thing in a case like this would be to let the thing play itself out, we’ll see, we’ll eventually know,” Rumsfeld said Monday.
MSNBC reporter Dana Lewis said U.S. officers told him preliminary tests of 14 newly-buried barrels at the facility were positive for chemical weapons.
The Reuters news agency reported that the tests indicated a “cocktail” of dangerous chemical substances inside the sealed barrels.
Reuters correspondent Kieran Murray, reporting from a U.S. base near Karbala, said that Maj. Michael Hamlet of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division said the tests revealed the presence of nerve agents sarin and tabun and the blister agent lewisite. Experts were expected to do further testing on Tuesday to verify the initial results.
“If tests from our experts confirm this, this could be the smoking gun. It would prove [Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] has the weapons we have said he has all along,” Hamlet said. “But right now we just don’t know.”
Reuters said the facility was located in the town of Albu Mahawish, on the Euphrates River between the cities of Karbala and Hilla.
In Washington, Rumsfeld said U.S. forces were taking steps to maintain a “chain of custody” for any evidence of weapons of mass destruction soldiers might find on the battlefield.
The United States has accused Iraq of hiding chemical and biological agents as well materials that can be used to develop and deliver them. Iraq has steadfastly denied possessing such items.
U.N. inspectors re-entered Baghdad in November 2002 and reported limited but unsatisfactory cooperation from Saddam Hussein’s regime until the United States, Great Britain, Spain, and other countries called for the end of diplomatic wrangling and the beginning of military action in March 2003. The coalition called for the use of force to respond to what they said was Iraq’s continued defiance of the international community.
According to inspectors, the three-month inspection regime produced no solid evidence of chemical or biological weapons though some banned materials were found. However, the United States maintained that it had intelligence that proved Iraq harbored such weapons.
According to State Department documents, Iraq has not accounted for 17,000 liters of antrhax; 19,000 liters of botulinin toxin; 1.5 tons VX nerve gas; 1,000 tons of mustard gas; and 30,000 delivery systems, which include artillery shells and missile warheads. The document says the numbers are based on U.N. estimates.
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