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Scientists warn looters of radiation risk

Pentagon points to possible mobile WMD lab

U.S. officials seized this trailer in northern Iraq that is suspected to be a mobile biological weapons laboratory.

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The Pentagon is being cautious about a trailer fitted with chemical apparatus stopped by Kurds in northern Iraq
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A newly acquired audiotape carries a voice purported to be that of Saddam Hussein's.
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• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Radioactive material from a looted nuclear research site outside Baghdad could contaminate nearby villages and sicken residents, Iraqi scientists warned Wednesday.

Villagers surrounding the Tuwaitha facility, about six miles (10 kilometers) south of Baghdad, said they used drums from the site to hold water, dumping material from the drums on the ground before using them. Scientists said the drums contained uranium oxide, or yellowcake. (Full story)

There were no immediate reports of anyone falling ill after exposure to the material, which is highly toxic if ingested but gives off low levels of radioactivity. Workers poured concrete over piles of yellowcake Tuesday to contain it.

The drums came from a fenced site set up by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in 1991 to store radioactive material that could not be used for nuclear weapons. The site is about 1km from the main Tuwaitha complex, which was the focus of multiple U.N. weapons inspections before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March.

The fenced storage site has several buildings, which are now open. A guard shack outside the gate bears a spray-painted warning that radioactive material is inside.

Equipment raises suspicion

A trailer captured last month at a Kurdish checkpoint in northern Iraq may have been used as mobile biological weapons laboratory, a senior Defense Department official said Wednesday.

The trailer contained equipment not normally used for "legitimate biological processes" and matched descriptions of mobile biological laboratories provided by an Iraqi defector, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone said.

U.S. and British experts have concluded that the trailer "does not appear to perform any function beyond what the defector says it was for, which is the production of biological agents," Cambone said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell presented evidence from that defector to the United Nations in February in an effort to demonstrate that Iraq had violated U.N. resolutions requiring its disarmament.

Cambone said the trailer was brought to Baghdad, where it will be dismantled and subjected to further examination. He added: "The experts have been through it, and they have not found another plausible use for it."

Tape urges Iraqis to fight

An audiotape purportedly recorded this week by deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein calls on the people of Iraq to reject the "invaders," while promising that victory is coming.

"I am talking to you from inside great Iraq," the voice on the tape says, "and I say to you, the main task for you, Arab and Kurd, Shia and Sunni, Muslim and Christian and the whole Iraqi people of all religions, your main task is to kick the enemy out from our country."

There was no way to authenticate that the tape was made this week, nor could it be immediately proven that the speaker on the tape was Saddam.

According to an article in Wednesday's edition of The Sydney Morning Herald, two men gave the tape Monday to the Australian newspaper's reporters in Baghdad. (Full story)

A more lucrative deal?

About 250 members of the 82nd Airborne Division march Wednesday at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, after returning from Iraq.
About 250 members of the 82nd Airborne Division march Wednesday at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, after returning from Iraq.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says a contract awarded without competition to a subsidiary of Halliburton Co. included not only putting out oil well fires in Iraq but also "operation of facilities and distribution of products."

Officials previously have said the multimillion dollar contract only dealt with putting out oil well fires and performing emergency repairs as needed. (Full story)

The awarding of the contract in March prompted some lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, to question whether the administration's deep ties with Halliburton helped secure the contract -- allegations the White House has adamantly denied.

Vice President Dick Cheney was chairman and chief executive of the company from 1995 to 2000. Cheney's office reiterated Wednesday that he has severed all corporate ties with the company.

Halliburton has said accusations that it received preferential treatment were off-base. It has said Kellogg Brown & Root is the only contractor that could implement the complex contingency plan. (CNN/Money special report: Rebuilding Iraq)

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Wednesday dismissed the complaint, saying: "Henry Waxman never met a Republican he didn't want to investigate."

He added: "This is not a White House issue. The White House does not get involved in who gets contracts."

Other developments

• About 200 medical staffers -- scores of them doctors -- protested in Baghdad, demanding raises, calling for a union and pressing for the removal of former Saddam regime officials from the interim Iraqi Health Ministry. (Full story)

• Ghazi Hammud al-Ubaydi, former Baath Party regional command chairman in the Iraqi district of Kut, is in the custody of coalition forces, according to U.S. Central Command. Al-Ubaydi is No. 32 on Central Command's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis. . (Gallery: The cards)

• For the first time since before the war, an Iraqi passenger train left Baghdad bound for the southern port city of Umm Qasr on Wednesday. Trains returning to Baghdad from Umm Qasr will be transporting 140,000 tons of food per month to the capital. (Full story)

CNN Correspondents John King, Suzanne Malveaux, Jamie McIntyre, Karl Penhaul and Barbara Starr and Producer Matthew McFetridge contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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