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WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. troops have found a suspected chemical factory in Iraq and officials were trying to determine late Sunday whether it was involved in making chemical weapons, U.S. officials said.
The plant is near the city of An Najaf, which U.S. troops reached Sunday on a push to Baghdad, the officials said.
President Bush and other U.S. officials say ridding Saddam Hussein's regime of chemical and biological weapons is the main objective of the war.
Saddam's government denies it has any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or programs to produce them.
Asked at a news conference in Qatar Sunday about reports of the chemical plant, Lt. Gen. John Abizaid of U.S. Central Command declined comment. He said top Iraqi officers have been questioned about chemical weapons.
"We have an Iraqi general officer, two Iraqi general officers that we have taken prisoner, and they are providing us with information," Abizaid said.
If the plant is confirmed as a chemical weapons factory, it would be the first find by the U.S.-led invasion force validating U.S. allegations that Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction.
Iraqi officials have insisted that they destroyed all of the chemical and biological weapons they made after the 1991 Persian Gulf War -- a claim U.N. weapons inspectors have questioned.
U.N. weapons inspectors are not aware of any large-scale chemical sites which could be used to make chemical weapons in An Najaf, said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the inspectors. However, there are many such dual-use sites in other parts of the country because of Iraq's petrochemical industry.
U.N. inspectors visited a cement plant in An Najaf earlier this year but did not report finding anything.
The U.S. military's discovery was first reported in the Jerusalem Post, which has a reporter traveling with the unit from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division which reached the chemical plant. The newspaper reported that about 30 Iraqi troops, including a general, surrendered at the plant.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)