- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A roadside bomb containing deadly sarin nerve agent exploded near a U.S. military convoy, the U.S. military said today. It was believed to be the first confirmed finding of any of the banned weapons upon which the United States based its case for the Iraq war.

Two people were treated for “minor exposure,” but no serious injuries were reported.

The deadly chemical was inside an artillery shell dating to the Saddam Hussein era that had been rigged as a bomb in Baghdad, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman in Iraq.

U.S. troops have announced the discovery of other chemical weapons before, only to see them disproved by later tests. A dozen chemical shells were also found by U.N. inspectors before the war; they had been tagged for destruction in the 1990s but somehow were not destroyed.

“The Iraqi Survey Group confirmed today that a 155-millimeter artillery round containing sarin nerve agent had been found,” Kimmitt said. “The round had been rigged as an IED (improvised explosive device) which was discovered by a U.S. force convoy.

“A detonation occurred before the IED could be rendered inoperable. This produced a very small dispersal of agent,” he said.

The incident occurred “a couple of days ago,” he said.

The Iraqi Survey Group is a U.S. organization whose task was to search for weapons of mass destruction after Saddam’s ouster.

The round was an old `binary-type’ shell in which two chemicals held in separate sections are mixed after firing to produce sarin, Kimmitt said.

He said he believed that insurgents who rigged the artillery shell as a bomb didn’t know it contained the nerve agent, and that the dispersal of the nerve agent from such a rigged device was very limited.

“The former regime had declared all such rounds destroyed before the 1991 Gulf War,” Kimmitt said. Two members of a military bomb squad were treated for minor exposure to nerve agent, but none was injured.

It was unclear if the sarin shell was from chemical rounds that the United Nations had tagged and marked for destruction before the U.S. invasion.

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