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Gas shell findings a concern for Iraq arms inspector

Duelfer says insurgents may use such weapons on U.S. troops

From David Ensor
CNN Washington Bureau

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Charles Duelfer said insurgents may work out how to use chemical shells against U.S. troops.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The recent discovery of two chemical artillery shells in Iraq has raised concerns among weapons inspectors that other shells may turn up in the hands of insurgents battling American troops, the head of the U.S. search team said Wednesday.

"We need to investigate whether there are more where that came from, wherever that is, and we need to make certain that they're not finding their way into anti-coalition or terrorist hands," said Charles Duelfer, head of the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group, in an interview via satellite from Baghdad.

Laboratory tests of an artillery shell used in a May roadside bomb in the Baghdad area confirmed the presence of the nerve agent sarin, and a shell found two weeks before then contained the decayed residue of mustard gas. (Full story)

Those are the first nonconventional weapons to turn up in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 that deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein -- a move the United States said was necessary because Iraq was violating U.N. resolutions requiring it to disarm.

Before the conflict, Iraqi officials told U.N. weapons inspectors that they had destroyed the country's stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

The Iraq Survey Group reported last fall that it had found evidence of weapons research that Iraqis had concealed from U.N. inspectors.

But Duelfer's predecessor, David Kay, predicted in January that no large stockpiles of banned weapons would be found.

Duelfer said he did not think that chemical shells would be found in the thousands. But given the number of weapons Iraq was unable to account for after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he said it is likely that others will turn up.

The insurgents who rigged the sarin shell -- which was unmarked -- as a roadside bomb "didn't know what they had," he said.

But now that one chemical shell has been found, insurgents may figure out how to use others against coalition forces, Duelfer said.

"There is evidence they have a lot of desire to connect themselves with either or both the intellectual capital of the previous regime with respect to weapons of mass destruction and quite conceivably materials," Duelfer said. "That is a very strong concern, and it's something that fuels a lot our investigation at the moment."

He declined to discuss whether any evidence suggested that insurgents such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have linked up with former Iraqi weapons technicians. U.S. officials have said that al-Zarqawi has links to al Qaeda and that he has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks on U.S. troops, Iraqis and others.

Iraq used chemical weapons in its 1980-88 war with Iran and to put down a Kurdish uprising against Saddam in 1988. Baghdad admitted to the United Nations in 1990 that it had built some artillery shells to carry sarin -- prototypes that it insisted had all been destroyed during testing.

"We have found one. We don't know if that means there are more," Duelfer said. "We don't know if that means they are making their way into hands of those who would use them against the coalition. But certainly, it is important, because there were not supposed to be any."

The sarin shell was designed to mix two precursor chemicals after being fired from a cannon, and it was ineffective as a roadside bomb. The mustard gas shell was "less troublesome" because the contents had deteriorated to the point that it was no longer an active chemical weapon, Duelfer said.

He said the Iraq Survey Group's work has been hampered by a reluctance among second- and third-tier engineers and scientists to cooperate with U.S. inspectors amid the ongoing violence in Iraq.

Two soldiers assigned to the survey group were killed in an explosion last month at a Baghdad laboratory suspected of producing chemical weapons.

"In some ways it appears things are getting better for many people -- there's commerce and so forth," he said. "And yet the security is not good. You know, not a night goes by where you don't hear gunfire."

Duelfer has met with several once-high-ranking Iraqis -- many of them depicted on the deck of playing cards issued to U.S. troops in the early days of the occupation -- who are now held by U.S. troops.

He described the meetings as "poignant" since he had met with many of those people as a U.N. weapons inspector in the 1990s. But he said it was "still hard to determine whether they are telling the truth or not."

Inspectors also are trying to elicit some answers from Saddam, whom American troops captured in December.

Duelfer called the ousted leader a "special case."

"He is of course of great interest because if one person knows the real story it's him," Duelfer said.

But attempts to question him have been difficult, he said "because the incentives for being candid are not necessarily strong."

Duelfer said he hopes to present a full report within the next few months. He denied the search is a wild goose chase, as some critics have suggested.

"A wild goose chase is when you're looking for something that may not exist," he said. "We're looking for something that does exist, and that is the truth. You know I wasn't sent here to find weapons of mass destruction. I was sent out here to find the truth about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs."


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