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[casi] Skepticism over "Iraq" Papers,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

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".

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