U.S. confirms sarin shell was 'pre-Gulf War' chemical weapon

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The United States has confirmed the use of Iraqi chemical weapons in the current insurgency war against the coalition.

Officials said a 155 mm artillery shell used in an attack against U.S. troops in Iraq contained sarin, a lethal nerve agent. The officials said the 155 mm artillery shell came from the weapons arsenal of the former Saddam Hussein regime.

"That was a pre-Gulf War shell is what it was determined to be, first of all," Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, deputy director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday. "So that's, you know, in a different category, obviously, than you know, other chemical weapons out there. But it's been proved to be sarin."

The 155 mm artillery shell was planted along the side of the road and meant to explode as a U.S. convoy passed. Instead, the binary chemical round was detected by U.S. troops and exploded as it was being detonated.

Officials said only a small amount of sarin was released from the explosion on May 15. The 155 mm shell was designed to produce sarin after it was shot from an artillery gun. Nobody was seriously hurt in the explosion in Iraq.

This was the first time the Defense Department confirmed the finding of a nonconventional sarin weapon in Iraq. Most of the earlier reports of CW in Iraq were later disproved.

"We continue to operate the same way we did before," Rodriguez said. "And we'll continue to continue to pursue it with every intelligence asset we have. We think we've covered that with everybody, and we continue testing and checking into it."

Iraqi began to test a binary sarin shell in 1988, officials said. The Saddam regime had never acknowledged storing sarin shells in the 1990s.

Officials said the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence community have assessed that Sunni insurgents and Saddam loyalists have access to weapons arsenals that could contain additional CW. They said the shells were unmarked and come from stocks produced by Saddam in the late 1980s.

"We know that they tested sarin shells," Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said. "Defectors told us that they tested these things. We also know that he produced somewhere between 7 [hundred tons] and 850 tons of this stuff and only accounted for the destruction of about 70 tons of it."

Saddam loyalists were also believed to have deployed unmarked mustard gas shells. In early May, a mortar round that contained mustard gas was found by U.S. soldiers in an attempted roadside attack in Baghdad.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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