Hussein might use nerve gas, BBC says

Iraqi documents suggest chemical, biological strike possible against invaders

January 25, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - Iraqi military documents smuggled out of the country in the past month suggest that Saddam Hussein is preparing to use chemical and biological weapons against troops invading Baghdad, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported yesterday.

The hand-written Arabic-language notes say that elite units of the Iraqi armed forces have been issued new chemical warfare suits and supplies of the drug atropine, used to counter the effects of nerve gas.

Experts who have seen the documents say that since the countries that might invade Iraq would not be using chemical weapons, the only reason Hussein would equip his most loyal corps with such protection is to guard them against his use of chemical-warfare weapons to repel invaders.

"My understanding would be in the event of an invasion of U.S. troops cornering Saddam in Baghdad, it would be likely that he would resort to the Samson option - pulling the temple down on top of him - and his minions would be much more likely to use weapons of mass destruction if they could be convinced they would survive its first use," said Toby Dodge, senior research fellow and specialist on Iraq at the Center for the Study of Globalization, at the University of Warwick in England.

The BBC report prompted military officials yesterday to issue assurances that British troops, who are likely to make up part of an invading force, had been issued equipment that would fully protect them against chemical weapons. "Absolutely," Defense Minister Lewis Moonie said. "We have very stringent precautions."

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the government was unable to say immediately whether the BBC report was accurate but that it was in line with the government's dossier on Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Dodge, author of a book on modern-day Iraq and a frequent visitor to Baghdad, said in an interview that he had studied the Iraqi documents, and that while no one could guarantee their authenticity, he had made independent checks and found that the members of the Iraqi opposition who furnished them to the BBC had good contacts in the Iraqi military. He said the notes appeared to be the debriefing of a senior member of Hussein's Republican Guard.

"This is entirely consistent with leaks we have been getting that Saddam has been importing pharmaceutical prophylactics, and that it would be the elite Special Republican Guard that would be weaponizing and using chemicals," he said.

Atropine is the antidote for the sarin and VX nerve gases that Hussein is suspected of possessing.

The BBC said that the documents it obtained included details of testing unmanned submarines for attacking ships in the Persian Gulf and information on fiber-optic radar systems and plans of the layout of presidential palaces.

Dodge said that Hussein's supply of chemical and biological weapons was a fraction of what it had been. "It's very rough and ready, the rump end of a much larger program," he said.

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