- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004


Comprehensive testing has confirmed the presence of the chemical weapon sarin in the remains of a roadside bomb discovered this month in Baghdad, a defense official said yesterday.

The determination, made by a U.S. laboratory that the official would not identify, verifies what earlier, less-thorough field tests had found: The bomb was made from an artillery shell designed to disperse the deadly nerve agent on the battlefield.

The origin of the shell is still not clear, and finding that out is a priority for the U.S. military, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

Some analysts worry that the 155 mm shell, found rigged as a bomb on May 15, might be part of a larger stockpile of Iraqi chemical weapons that insurgents can use. But no more have turned up, and several military officials have said that the shell might have predated the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

It likewise is not known whether the bombers knew they had a chemical weapon. Military officials have said that the shell bore no labels to indicate that it was anything except a normal explosive shell, the type used to make scores of roadside bombs in Iraq.

No one was injured in the shell’s initial detonation, but two American soldiers who removed the round had symptoms of low-level nerve agent exposure, officials said last week.

The shell was a binary type, which has two chambers containing relatively safe chemicals. When the round is fired from an artillery gun, its rotation mixes the chemicals to create sarin, which is supposed to disperse when the shell strikes the target.

Because it was not fired from a gun but detonated as a bomb, the initial explosion on May 15 dispersed the precursor chemicals, apparently mixing them in only small amounts, officials said then. In battle, such shells would have to be fired in great numbers to affect a large body of troops.

Iraq’s first field test of a binary-type shell containing sarin was in 1988, U.S. defense officials have said.

Saddam Hussein’s government only disclosed the testing and production after Iraqi weapons chief Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel al-Majid, Saddam’s son-in-law, defected in 1995. Saddam’s government never declared that any sarin or shells filled with sarin remained.

Saddam’s purported stockpile of weapons of mass destruction was the Bush administration’s chief stated reason for invading Iraq. U.S. weapons hunters have been unable to validate the prewar intelligence.

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