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Since 1st March, 1999
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Iraq preparing chemical arms, says BBC

London, Jan. 24: Iraqi documents obtained by the BBC appear to suggest that Saddam Hussein is preparing to use chemical weapons against Western troops in the event of war.

The hand-written Arabic-language notes state that elite units of the Iraqi military have been issued with new chemical warfare suits and supplies of the drug Atropine, used to counter the effects of nerve gas. They were passed on to the BBC by Opposition group the Iraqi National Coalition, which claims to have received them from serving members of Baghdad’s military during secret meetings.

The documents were brought out of Iraq within the past month have been verified by three different experts, said the programme.

They suggest that the chemical suits and anti-nerve gas drugs have been smuggled into Iraq from neighbouring countries. Also included are details of methods for attacking ships in the Gulf region.

The documents suggest that the new chemical suits and atropine, which protect against the nerve gases sarin and VX, have been issued to the Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard, Saddam’s most loyal and feared military units.

They also include details of testing of unmanned submarines designed to attack ships in the Gulf and information on fibre-optic radar systems and plans of the layout of presidential palaces.

The secretary-general of the Iraqi National Coalition Tawfik al-Yassiri is a former Brigadier-General in the Iraqi army and claims that his organisation has extensive contacts within Saddam’s military.

He told the Today programme: “We received the documents from inside Iraq, passed by people who left Iraq. “We have checked the information in other ways.

“We have members in our organisation in most of the camps and cities in Iraq, from soldiers to generals.”

Toby Dodge, an Iraq specialist from Warwick University, looked at the documents for the programme.

He said: “The documents that you have supplied me seem to be genuine and they would represent what my best analysis of Iraqi planning would be for the coming conflict.”

Convincing proof

The US said today it had “very convincing evidence” Iraq possessed banned weapons as a trans-Atlantic rift widened over whether Baghdad should be disarmed by force.

US undersecretary of state John Bolton, Washington’s top arms control diplomat, said Iraq has maintained an extensive programme for the production of weapons of mass destruction, including long-range ballistic missiles banned since the 1991 Gulf war.

“That is information that we have, and I think that, at an appropriate time and in an appropriate way, we will make the case about Iraq’s violations,” Bolton said in Tokyo during the third and last stop of a tour of Asia.

The comments echoed those made by US deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz who told a New York audience Washington had a “powerful case” against Iraq, which included allegations Baghdad threatened to kill its scientists if they cooperated with UN weapons inspectors.

The US campaign to win support for a tougher stance on Iraq and possible military action comes just days before top weapons experts Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei deliver a report on whether inspectors have found Iraq in “material breach” of UN resolutions.

Oil fields

Iraq intends to “cause damage or destruction” to its own oil fields if war breaks out, and the US military has plans to secure and protect the fields in the event of hostilities, a senior US defence official said today.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told a Pentagon briefing that “a variety of intelligence sources” indicate that President Saddam Hussein intends to “cause damage or destruction to their oil fields.”

The official did not describe the nature of the intelligence information seen by the American military.

The official noted that Saddam’s forces set fire to Kuwaiti oil fields while retreating during the Gulf war in 1991 after seizing Kuwait the previous year, causing a monumental economic, health and environmental disaster.

The official said that “it cost Kuwait and the coalition partners over $20 billion to re-craft the oil infrastructure that was destroyed by Saddam during the Gulf war. And it’s believed that it would cost us ... $30 (billion) to $50 billion to repair and reconstruct the Iraqi oil infrastructure” if Iraq sabotages its own oil fields. The official said US military planners “have crafted strategies that will allow us to secure and protect those fields as rapidly as possible in order to then preserve those prior to destruction, as opposed to having to go in and clean up after.”

The official said there are indications that Saddam's forces already have begun the process of planning for destroying oil wells.

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