Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US forces destroy shell containing chemical agent

AFP , WASHINGTON

A US Army soldier secures the area after finding an improvised explosive device in the center of Baghdad on Monday. The Army used red smoke to warn people from approaching the area. A roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent exploded near a US military convoy in Baghdad, the US military said on Monday.

PHOTO: AP

The detonation in Iraq of an artillery round containing the deadly toxic nerve agent sarin comes just days after a separate artillery shell was found containing mustard gas, a US official said Monday.

The official, who asked not to be identified, said a separate 155mm artillery shell containing mustard gas was discovered in Iraq earlier this month, also rigged to explode.

"This is the second time in 10 days a [chemical weapon] round was found being used as an [improvised explosive device]," the official said.

The latest discovery, however, is more worrisome because sarin is a deadlier, more advanced chemical agent.

It has raised concerns in the US military that soldiers may be facing a new threat in Iraq from chemical weapons.

Two soldiers from an explosives ordnance team were treated for "minor exposure" to nerve agent following the detonation of the sarin shell, according to Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the US military spokesman in Baghdad.

Sarin works by being inhaled or absorbed through the skin and attacking the nervous system.

Symptoms include nausea and violent headaches, blurred or tunnel vision, drooling, muscular convulsions, respiratory arrest, loss of consciousness and then death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No special markings were found on the 155mm round that tested positive for sarin, said the official.

"So it raises the concern of how many more there might be in Iraq, and who has them," he added.

The discovery is likely to reopen debate over whether Iraq had hidden stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, the main rationale for the US invasion of Iraq.

David Kay, who formerly led the US hunt in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, concluded before stepping down in February that Iraq had no significant stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons when US forces invaded Iraq in March last year.

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