- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

TIKRIT, Iraq — Military officials yesterday said suspicious 55-gallon drums found in northern Iraq do not contain a chemical agent used to make weapons of mass destruction, nullifying earlier field tests that indicated nerve agents were present.The fluid “appears to be a component of a liquid rocket fuel” that showed up in multiple tests as false positives of nerve and mustard agents, said Maj. Dean Thurmond, a spokesman for the Army’s V Corps.The drums were not holding a “weaponized chemical,” Maj. Thurmond said.Officials with the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, the first to announce that initial tests on the drums were positive for chemicals used to make weapons of mass destruction, now say they are not able to comment because the matter is being handled by V Corps.On several occasions since Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled, military officials have announced the potential discovery of unconventional weapons, only to have initial tests of the findings shot down by more intensive investigation.Before the war, President Bush aggressively argued the need to strip Saddam of chemical and biological weapons and any remaining elements of a nuclear-weapons program, which Mr. Bush said were being hidden from United Nations weapons inspectors.Military officials have said their field testing equipment is designed to err on the side of caution to protect soldiers in combat.Maj. Thurmond said the fuel component inside the 55-gallon drums contained a derivative of the sarin chemical. While the derivative is not used to make nerve agent, it evidently caused field testing equipment to turn up the false positives.The Washington Times first reported Sunday that a 4th Infantry reconnaissance unit had secured the site where the 14 drums were discovered by U.S. special forces near the industrial town of Baiji, about 115 miles north of Baghdad.Lt. Col. Ted Martin, the unit’s commander, had said initial tests of a clear, waterlike fluid from one of the drums turned up positive for cyclo-sarin nerve agent and a mustard agent.On Saturday, Lt. Valerie Phipps, a chemical- and biological-weapons specialist with a reconnaissance element of the 4th Infantry, said that tests of the fluid inside one drum “detected mustard [agent], and we detected another unknown agent.”“We’ve confirmed that we have a cyclo-sarin agent also known as CF,” she had said, based on the initial tests conducted by soldiers using field equipment including kits with chemical test paper.On Sunday, Lt. Col. Valentine Novikov, the 4th Infantry’s chemical officer, said a second round of more sophisticated field tests also was positive for a nerve agent, although the tests were inconclusive about what type of nerve agent.Stressing that field tests can turn up false positives, he had said a mobile exploitation team would need to take samples that would be sent to laboratories in the United States, Europe and the Persian Gulf to determine conclusively whether they contained a nerve agent. However, Maj. Thurmond yesterday said the mobile exploitation team that went to the site conducted more thorough tests and “determined they didn’t need to take samples to send to other labs.” Military officials have said they will continue the hunt for weapons of mass destruction and will be more careful about publicizing potential findings.An Iraqi scientist who worked in the biological-weapons program in the 1980s has said he and colleagues lied to U.N. weapons inspectors. Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. Central Command, has said that coalition forces will “probably go through 1,000 sites” where weapons may be stored.

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