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http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/voices/story/0,12820,882027,00.html Scepticism over papers detailing chemical warfare preparations Richard Norton-Taylor Saturday January 25, 2003 The Guardian The significance of documents claiming Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard have been issued with chemical warfare suits and an anti-nerve gas drug was being treated with scepticism last night. The smuggled documents were said to have been obtained by the Iraqi National Coalition, an opposition group whose secretary-general Tawfik al-Yassiri, a former brigadier-general in the Iraqi army, claimed that his organisation had extensive contacts within the Iraqi armed forces. "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," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. They were seized on by Downing Street as showing that President Saddam was preparing to use chemical weapons in the event of war and that he was not complying with UN resolutions. However, the prime minister's spokesman said: "We are not in a position to say whether the report on the Today programme is correct or not. That is a matter for the BBC". It has long been assumed by western intelligence agencies that Iraqi forces might use chemical or biological agents against invading troops. British troops are being provided with suits designed to protect them against the agents. The BBC said the documents - handwritten Arabic-language notes claimed to have been brought out of Iraq in the past month - suggest that Iraqi troops have been given atropine, an antidote to nerve gas. However, atropine has some perfectly normal medical uses - especially for heart and respiratory disorders - and Iraq has bought large quantities of the drug with the blessing of the UN security council. A claim in the New York Times last year that Iraq had bought large quantities of atropine from Turkey was denied by the Turkish authorities and drug companies. Claims about the documents were made as US officials admitted that President George Bush's assertion last year that Iraq had tried to buy thousands of aluminium tubes "to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon", was wrong. UN investigators will tell the security council on Monday that the tubes were for ordinary artillery rockets, the Washington Post reported. The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell, yesterday urged caution: "These documents may be of potential significance but their authenticity needs to be established. It should be noted that NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) suits and atropine can be used for defensive purposes. If there is a war, British forces will receive similar protection." The father of the Commons, Tam Dalyell, a leading Labour opponent of a war, said the documents could be propaganda. "I have always said there may be some leftovers of chemical weapons... The most sure way of their being used is if Saddam is cornered in Baghdad", he said. More than 500 staff, students and alumni at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned Tony Blair yesterday that more than 260,000 lives could be lost in a war with Iraq. Their open letter was published in the Briti sh Medical Journal and the Lancet. The government, meanwhile, said yesterday that UN inspectors had visited all the sites mentioned in its intelligence-backed dossier but had not found "any signs" of weapons of mass destruction. Nor were there any signs of "programmes for their production at the sites," Mike O'Brien, the Foreign Office minister, told the Labour MP Harry Cohen. Mr O'Brien added that, given the advance publicity the government gave to the sites, "it is not entirely surprising that the inspectors failed to uncover any evidence". _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk