- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2003

BAIJI, Iraq Initial tests on a pile of 50-gallon drums found by U.S. troops near this small industrial town north of Baghdad came up positive for chemicals used to make weapons of mass destruction, military officials said.
"We've confirmed that we have a cyclo-sarin agent also known as CF," said Lt. Valerie Phipps, a chemical and biological weapons specialist with a reconnaissance element of the Army's 4th Infantry Division.
Tests of the fluid inside one drum, conducted by soldiers using field equipment including kits with chemical test paper, "also detected mustard [agent], and we detected another unknown agent," Lt. Phipps said.
Although military officials are waiting for more thorough tests on the fluid before calling the discovery of the 50-gallon drums a "smoking gun" for weapons of mass destruction, Lt. Phipps said that "usually, you don't get many false positives on mustard."
Lt. Col. Ted Col. Martin, the unit's commander, would not say the discovery was the evidence so eagerly sought by U.S. officials after the defeat of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. But he said his soldiers "may have latched onto the fact that [Saddam] had proof-positive for weapons of mass destruction."
Lt. Phipps said her unit with the 4th Infantry's 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry, was sent to secure and investigate the suspicious-looking pile of drums late Friday, after a U.S. Special Forces team discovered it near Baiji.
The town, home to one of Iraq's dozens of oil refineries, is on the western bank of the Tigris River about 20 miles north of Tikrit, birthplace of Saddam Hussein and a known pocket of his most loyal supporters.
Before last week, no U.S. troops had operated thoroughly in the area around Baiji. Such units as the 101st Airborne Division and the Marines bypassed the town on their way to Mosul, about 80 miles to the north.
Col. Martin, commander of 1st Squadron, said his soldiers located a total of 14 of the 50-gallon drums, which appeared to have been dumped hastily and were "sitting out in the wide open." Wearing gas masks and full-body protective suits, the soldiers punched a small hole in one drum to extract and conduct tests of the fluid inside.
Col. Martin said a sarin agent combined with a mustard agent could make a "superweapon" concoction of the lethal chemicals.
The fluid "looked clear in color like water," Lt. Phipps said. She said none of the other drums was opened.
Soldiers also discovered about 100 gas masks near the 50-gallon drums and the remains of what Col. Martin said likely were two "mobile labs," which appeared to have been looted by Iraqi civilians. Several Iraqis who live nearby told soldiers through an interpreter that there were chemicals in the area, Col. Martin said.
"To me, this is a pretty significant find," he said. "This is the first time I've had a soldier in my unit who can show me a piece of paper and say, 'Hey, this is positive for cyclo-sarin.'"
U.S. military officials increasingly have felt pressure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or at least find the agents that could be used to make chemical and biological weapons.
Not only did U.S. troops cope with the threat of being attacked by such weapons, some worried that the international community and Americans back home would criticize the military if no chemical or biological agents are discovered.
Before the war, President Bush aggressively touted the need to strip Saddam of his arsenal of chemical, biological and potentially nuclear weapons, which he said were hidden from United Nations weapons inspectors.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday that the hunt for Saddam's arsenal of such weapons is under way at numerous sites.
"On a continuing basis, we get a report out of known sites," he said, "and it's still a long road. I mean, we're at a small fraction of the number of potential sites."
One U.S. soldier said last night that before he was deployed to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom, it had bothered him deeply to see "all those actors in Hollywood" speaking out against the war.
"Now that we're finding all these chemicals over here, we can go and shove it in their face," the soldier said.
Other soldiers interviewed last week said that though they were concerned they might not find weapons of mass destruction, they were not afraid of what it would mean for the validity of the war effort.
"There's no doubt [Saddam] had them," said Capt. Joseph W. Vongs, intelligence officer for the 4th Infantry's Aviation Brigade. "Of course, I'm concerned about how the world views the United States. If we don't find chemical weapons, yeah, it's gonna make the United States look bad."
But, Capt. Vongs added, "I don't necessarily think it would make what we've done here any less justified."
Standing last night by the pile of 50-gallon drums, Col. Martin said: "After seeing what I've seen in this country, we don't have to find weapons of mass destruction to justify this mission."
Col. Martin appeared unfazed by the notion that his cavalry squadron, known as the "Buffalo Soldiers," might be on the verge of making history. Straining his voice to be heard over the noisy chopping of Army helicopters circling in the dark overhead, he said: "This is just another recon[naissance] mission to me."
1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry, was formed in 1866, when it consisted mainly of slaves freed after the Civil War. It won its nickname after battling armies of Indians in the Southwest. Indian fighters thought the hair on the heads of the freed blacks looked like Buffalo hair.


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