Insurgents in Iraq are seeking chemical arms and expertise left over from the regime of Saddam Hussein for possible use against U.S. and allied troops, an intelligence official in Iraq said yesterday.
Charles Deulfer, the head of the CIA weapons inspection team, also said in a television interview that weapons searchers so far have found as many as a dozen chemical-filled bombs.
“What we are finding is that there are some networks that are seeking to tap into … this expertise, and try to use it against the United States,” Mr. Deulfer told Fox News Channel’s Brit Hume. “And we are very concerned about that. That is a problem.”
Mr. Deulfer said that investigations into arms laboratories in Iraq and interviews with former Iraqi arms specialists revealed that “former experts in the WMD program are being recruited by anticoalition groups.”
“They are being paid by anticoalition groups,” he said. “We’re seeing interest in developing chemical munitions.”
Asked whether anything suggests that insurgents actually are getting the expertise or may be ready to use it, Mr. Deulfer said: “We want to follow that very, very closely.”
Of particular concern is the danger that al Qaeda associate Abu Musab Zarqawi will acquire and use chemical weapons.
Zarqawi “is one bad actor, and if he gets his hands on it, he’ll use it,” Mr. Deulfer said.
U.S. intelligence officials have identified the Jordanian-born Islamist as the leader of the foreign insurgents in Iraq fighting U.S., Iraqi and allied forces and engaging in attacks on civilians.
Zarqawi is known to be a specialist in bomb making and also is believed to have some expertise in chemical weapons, according to U.S. officials.
The wave of bombings and shootings in Iraq that killed at least 100 people yesterday is believed to be the work of the Zarqawi terrorist network, which officials estimate has between several hundred to several thousand fighters operating undercover.
On the chemical munitions, Mr. Deulfer, who replaced David Kay as the head of the Iraq Survey Group earlier this year, said that the group has uncovered 10 to 12 bombs filled with blistering mustard gas or the nerve agent sarin.
“We’re not sure how many more are out there that haven’t been found, but we’ve found 10 or 12 sarin and mustard rounds,” he said. “I’m reluctant to judge what that means at this point, but there’s other aspects of the program which we still have to flush out.”
U.S. military officials in Baghdad found two bombs in May containing chemicals. A roadside bomb made from an artillery shell discovered May 15 contained chemicals that, when combined, form sarin.
Earlier on May 7, another improvised explosive device was found containing mustard agent.
All such weapons were supposed to have been destroyed by Saddam’s regime under U.N. sanctions and the terms of the cease fire from the 1990-91 Persian Gulf war.
Officials said the chemical munitions were probably stored with conventional arms in some of the thousands of weapons depots located throughout Iraq. Military officials have uncovered some 8,700 weapons depots and continue to find new ones, and estimate that the weapons depots in Iraq contain between 650,000 and 1 million tons of arms.
The dumps are believed to be arming the anticoalition insurgency as former regime elements and terrorists join forces in conducting attacks.