U.S. finds more chemwar suits, sets sights on 'Chemical Ali'

Monday, March 31, 2003

NICOSIA The U.S. military has found additional chemical warfare suits, and with the continuing silence from Saddam Hussein has targeted a key member of his regime.

Officials said Ali Hassan Majid, Saddam's cousin and head of Iraq's nonconventional weapons programs, might have been responsible for the supply of thousands of chemical protection suits and gas masks for Iraqi troops being prepared for chemical warfare against U.S. forces. Over the weekend, U.S. marines found more than 300 such suits and gas masks in a compound used by Iraq's 11th Infantry Division in Nassiriya.

U.S. Central Command reported that the marines also found chemical decontamination vehicles and atropine injectors. Atropine is used as an antidote for CW agents.

Officials said Majid has become a leading Iraqi figure amid the disappearance of Saddam and his sons over the last 11 days. They said Iraqi television footage of the ruling family appears to have been taken on the eve of a massive attack on Saddam's headquarters in Baghdad on March 20. Saddam was said to have been seen taken out on a stretcher from the damaged building.

U.S. officials said a marine force has moved north of positions around Nassiriya toward the town of Shatra in an effort to capture Majid, who was responsible for chemical weapons attacks that killed tens of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq in the 1980s.

Majid is believed to be commanding Republican Guard forces in the area of central Iraq. On Monday, U.S. commanders reported the largest battle yet with Republican Guard forces. They reported 200 Iraqi casualties in the battle with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division east of Karbala.

"We have not seen Saddam Hussein or his sons," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Sunday. "We know that he prepared lots of videos before the war started. And if you look at those, it's not possible to be certain that they are current."

Rumsfeld did not discount the prospect that Saddam might have been killed or incapacitated in the U.S. attack. "Certainly it's possible," he said.

Central Command has also reported the destruction of what officials termed a large terrorist compound in northern Iraq. The facility at Khurmal was said to have contained dozens of sites, including underground bunkers where toxins and poisons were being developed.

Officials said Al Qaida and its satellite Ansar Islam were connected to the Iraqi facility. Al Qaida insurgents are also said to have been deployed in Baghdad.

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