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Possible chemical weapons agents found in Iraq

Suspicious materials found in central Iraq were being  tested to see whether chemical agents were present.
Suspicious materials found in central Iraq were being tested to see whether chemical agents were present.

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U.S. troops are testing suspicious materials at an agricultural complex in central Iraq as possible chemical weapons agents CNN's Ryan Chilcote reports. (April 8)
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U.S. troops find chemicals in Iraqi agricultural compound that may be used for weapons. (April 7)
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KARBALA, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. troops were testing suspicious materials as possible chemical weapons agents at an agricultural complex in central Iraq, U.S. military officials said Monday.

Samples of the materials are being studied, and no conclusive determination has been made, said Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakly of the Army's 101st Airborne Division. The materials, stored in barrels and buried, had not been weaponized and might simply be pesticides, Freakly said.

On Friday, elements of the 101st Airborne Division visited two sites in an area south of Baghdad near Karbala. One site had been used for military training and the other as an agricultural compound.

At the military camp, tests found no conclusive evidence of chemical weapons being present. In fact, tests there indicated pesticides were likely present, Freakly said.

At the agricultural compound, the division found 10 25-gallon drums and three 55-gallon drums buried within bunkers 4 to 6 feet deep, Freakly said. The 63rd Medical Company tested substances found in the drums to see whether chemical agents were present. Initial tests proved inconclusive, he said.

Monday, a new, higher-level test was administered using special testing vehicles called FOX vehicles, Freakly said. Those tests indicated the presence of nerve and blister agents, but the tests sometimes show false positives, according to Freakly.

The substances may be pesticides or they may be chemical agents that are "non-weaponized," he said. "It's a liquid chemical, but it hasn't been put in a delivery means or anything that could be dispersed against our soldiers."

If it were weaponized, Freakly said, "We would see it in probably an artillery projectile or in an artillery missile, or perhaps in an aircraft bomb or something that the enemy would spray troops with."

At the United Nations, Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri was asked about the find and said any speculation about chemical weapons was American "propaganda."

"We have no chemical areas," Aldouri said. "We say that several times and we underline that right now. We don't have chemical weapons."

Freakly also said the 101st Airborne found a large cache of conventional weapons at the agricultural site.

As part of Iraq's cease-fire agreement ending the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Baghdad promised to destroy all its weapons of mass destruction, biological, chemical or nuclear, and submit to United Nations weapons inspections.

The Bush administration has insisted Iraq has not accounted for its alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Asked whether it appeared that U.N. weapons inspectors had visited the site, Freakly said he would find it "hard to believe" that inspectors would have found the two sites, which are located behind a civilian complex near the Euphrates River.

Former chief U.N. weapons inspector Terry Taylor said it is likely Iraq has stashes of chemical agents hidden at civilian sites "which they would pull out to fill munitions at the right time." It is too soon to tell whether that is the case in this instance, he added.

Some soldiers involved in the raid at the military camp reported feeling ill, but it appears they were suffering from dehydration, Freakly said. They're all feeling fine now, he added.

Asked whether the found materials were a "smoking gun," a military official at the Pentagon said, "It has potential."

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declined comment on the find, saying more tests must be conducted.

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