E. Germans gave Iraqis help with chemical arms Berlin site was model for testing facility WAR IN THE GULF

January 30, 1991|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Special to The Sun

BERLIN -- One of Iraq's main chemical and biological warfare facilities was built with the help of East German expertise and was modeled after a site near Berlin, former East German military officials say.

In addition, East Germany may have sold Iraq chemical weapons or at least cooperated in providing technical advice on their production in the early 1980s, experts say.

The former East German National People's Army (NVA) training facility in Storkow served as a blueprint for Iraq's large training grounds near Baghdad, according to Karl-Heinz Nagler, the former head of the NVA Atomic, Biological and Chemical (ABC) Defense Division.

NVA plans were adapted for the Iraqi desert but followed East German techniques on preparing for and surviving a war involving mass-destruction weapons, Mr. Nagler said. The facility included equipment to detoxify vehicles and soldiers as well as mock-up villages for exercises.

After the top-secret Iraqi facility was constructed in the early 1980s, NVA officers visited it, advised Iraqi military officials how best to use it and gave general tactical tips on chemical warfare, said Rolf Buettner, who is a retired colonel of the East German Ministry for Defense and Disarmament.

The Iraqi facility can simulate chemical war and has equipment to analyze the effectiveness of newly developed weapons, Mr. Buettner said. After a typical simulated attack, Soviet-built reconnaissance vehicles and mobile testing equipment from West Germany would test the level of chemical contamination. Troops in protective gear also would be deployed to fight mock battles, he said.

ABC training was only one part of the two countries' military ties, which included officer training. This started in 1982 and continued until last spring, when the training agreement expired.

ABC weapons became part of the overall training program about eight years ago, when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was making his long-range plans for war with Israel, Mr. Nagler said. It is uncertain whether East Berlin knew or supported Baghdad's plans to destroy Israel. East Germany, however, was training Palestine Liberation Organization troops at the same time and was hostile toward Israel.

The East German Defense and Disarmament Ministry was taken over by its West German counterpart when Germany united last October. The test grounds in Storkow now are closed until army tests determine whether the land is contaminated, said an army spokesman, Maj. Dieter Kunze. All files pertaining to chemical weapon tests were destroyed before the West Germans took responsibility for the NVA, Major Kunze said.

"A lot is unclear," he said. "The relevant files are missing, and this has become a big problem for us."

Although East Germany formally renounced the development or production of chemical weapons, it secretly produced its own biological and chemical weapons during the 1980s because of its increasing estrangement with Moscow, which became mistrustful of East Berlin because of its hostility toward the Soviet policies of glasnost and perestroika (openness and restructuring), according to Karlheinz Lohs, head of the Leipzig-based Research Office for Chemical Toxicology.

"Moscow completely cut off East Berlin from mass-destruction weapons," Mr. Lohs said. "The mistrust over the past three years between the two was enormous."

Although East Germany developed chemical weapons, it is unclear whether it actually sold any of them to Iraq. A chemical and biological weapons-production facility in another village near Berlin, Koenigs Wusterhausen, was closed and its equipment, which reputedly included top-grade U.S. computers and West German radiation-testing equipment, was hauled away before the united German army took over, Major Kunze said. The files for this facility also "lead to a dead end," he said.

Mr. Lohs said there was no reason for East Germany to have such huge facilities unless it intended to use them in cooperation with other countries, leading him to believe that if goods were not directly sent to Baghdad, then at least test material was made available.

The 3,700-acre research site in Koenigs Wusterhausen was "completely out of proportion for such a small country," he said.

At least one type of factory, however, was not sold to Iraq because it could have been converted to poison gas use. The Chemical Construction Kombinat in Leipzig-Grimma almost signed a contract to sell an insecticide plant to Iraq in 1985 but backed down when it realized that the desired plant could be easily modified for military purposes.

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