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U.S. concludes mobile lab was for biological weapons

Thursday, May 6, 2003

The United States has concluded that an Iraqi trailer discovered last month was a biological weapons mobile laboratory.

The Defense Department said the trailer served as a platform for a mobile BW laboratory that eluded United Nations weapons inspectors in their six month-search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The Pentagon said the trailer, normally used to transport tanks, was captured by Kurdish forces near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on April 19, Middle East Newsline reported.

"U.S. and UK [United Kingdom] technical experts have concluded that the unit does not appear to perform any function beyond the production of biological agents," Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Steve Cambone said on Wednesday. "We are poring through documents. We are talking to people, and more of this is going to come to the surface as time goes by. It is a tough, laborious process."

Cambone said the trailer could not be explained as a dual-use system for the production of fertilizer or vaccines. He said the trainer contained such equipment as a fermenter for the growth of cultures, gas cylinders and a system to eliminate any signature of the BW agents.

Officials said the U.S. military have not yet found traces of biological or chemical agents. They said the trailer was washed with ammonia to remove all traces of WMD.

An Iraqi defector told the United States last year that Iraq has 18 mobile BW laboratories. The facilities were said to produce anthrax, botulinum toxin and staphylococcus.

Cambone said swabs of the captured Iraqi trailer will be sent for analysis to four laboratories. He said U.S. Central Command has surveyed 110 out of a list of 1,000 sites suspected of containing WMD in Iraq. So far, the United States has not determined the presence of chemical or biological weapons.

"What we have here is a highly iterative process in the theater where we try to take advantage of each bit of information to get to the next step in unraveling the puzzle that is the weapons of mass destruction program," Cambone said. "It will be another considerable period of time before the next round of testing comes back and we get some results."

Iraq did not use WMD during the war against the U.S.-led coalition. U.S. Army 5th Corps commander Lt. Gen. William Wallace said he believed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had been unable to remove his hidden WMD arsenal fast enough to halt the U.S. advance toward Baghdad.

U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said the United States suspects that Syria has harbored Iraqi WMD. Ms. Rice said that Washington would be forced to respond to any evidence that Syria had accepted Iraqi biological and chemical weapons.

"We have assurances from the Syrians that nothing crossed their borders," Ms. Rice said in interviews to several Spanish dailies. "Time will tell."

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