- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2003

TIKRIT, Iraq More-sophisticated field tests conducted yesterday on the pile of 55-gallon drums found near a small industrial town in central Iraq came up positive for a chemical nerve agent.
But military officials said it will be two to three days before laboratory tests can show with certainty whether fluid from one of the 14 drums is a chemical agent used to make weapons of mass destruction.
The Washington Times first reported yesterday that U.S. troops discovered the pile of drums near Baiji, about 115 miles north of Baghdad, and that initial tests yielded positive results for the nerve agent cyclo-sarin.
The 4th Infantry Division'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.
The town, home to one of Iraq's oil refineries, is on the west bank of the Tigris River north of Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein and a known pocket of his most loyal supporters.
During the weekend, soldiers wearing gas masks and full-body protective suits extracted a small amount of clear fluid from one of the 55-gallon drums. Initial tests were conducted with Army M-8 test paper.
Yesterday, Lt. Col. Valentine Novikov, the 4th Infantry's chemical officer, stressed that M-8 paper is not always accurate, being designed to err on the side of caution to protect soldiers in combat.
He said a special team was sent yesterday with a civilian, "not so militarily rugged" test kit to evaluate the fluid in the drums.
The test with an AP-2C detector, which heats the agent in what is considered a more-accurate test, "came up positive for a nerve agent," Lt. Col. Novikov said.
"With the testing device that they used, you could not tell whether it was cyclo-sarin or sarin," he said. "It could only tell that it was a nerve agent."
Cyclo-sarin is a variant of the lethal chemical used in a gas attack that killed 12 persons and sickened thousands on the Tokyo subway in 1995. Heavy exposure can cause loss of muscle control, paralysis, unconsciousness and death within minutes.
"What's going to happen next is that a mobile exploitation team needs to go out and actually take samples of the fluid, which will go back to a laboratory," Lt. Col. Navikov said.
"The lab will determine whether it really is a positive chemical agent … which I guess would be a smoking gun then," he said, adding that four samples of the fluid will be taken.
One will be sent to a lab in the United States, one to a lab in Europe and one to a lab in the Persian Gulf war theater. The fourth sample will be preserved for "historical purposes in a library kind of thing," Lt. Col. Navikov said.
In other developments:
Four U.S. soldiers were wounded yesterday when an attacker opened fire on them in central Baghdad. The soldiers were stopped in traffic in two Humvees when the attacker fired. One of the soldiers was in serious condition, officials said.
One U.S. soldier was killed and another hurt when their armored vehicles overturned near a checkpoint in Tikrit Saturday. The two soldiers were in Bradley Fighting Vehicles that rolled over.
A leading Iraqi scientist who worked in the country's biological weapons program in the 1980s said he and his colleagues lied to UN inspectors about biological and chemical weapons. The stories he gave the inspectors "were all lies," Nissar Hindawi told the New York Times. He said Iraq "produced huge quantities" of liquid anthrax and botulinum toxin.
Yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition," Gen. Tommy Franks said coalition forces will "probably go through 1,000 sites" where weapons could be stored in Iraq.
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.
"Our government wants to make sure that when they announce to the world that they've got the smoking gun that nobody, like [U.N. chief inspector for such weapons] Hans Blix, can poke holes in it," said one military official close to the investigation.
Before the war, President Bush aggressively argued the need to strip Saddam of his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and any remaining elements of a nuclear-weapons program, which he said were hidden from U.N. weapons inspectors.
The U.N. team, led by Mr. Blix, spent months searching for such weapons in Iraq before the war.
Ultimately the inspectors failed to turn up enough evidence to persuade the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution for war, so the United States established its "coalition of the willing" to disarm Saddam's Iraq.
There have been several reports of possible chemical-weapons finds since coalition forces toppled Saddam's regime this month. So far none has panned out.
The pile of 55-gallon drums at issue near Baiji was stacked into a dirt berm that military officials said appeared at first to blend into the Iraqi countryside.
"It looked like a typical revetment that you see all over this country with munitions in it, except these containers looked different," said Col. Michael E. Moody, commander of the 4th Infantry's aviation brigade.
Before last week no U.S. troops had operated with intensity in the area around Baiji. Such units as the 101st Airborne Division and the Marines bypassed the town on their way to Mosul, about 100 miles to the north.
"I'm pleased that we found bad chemicals and can get them out of circulation; that whatever toxins, if they are weapons of mass destruction, that we are able to take control of it," Col. Moody said.
He said that for him the war in Iraq hasn't been about validating the action by finding unconventional weapons .
"This is really about, to a large degree, Iraqi freedom," he said.

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