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U.S. Finds Possible Chemical Weapons

U.S. Finds Possible Chemical Weapons

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. military is testing samples from a site in Iraq where soldiers found possible chemical weapons, defense officials said Monday.

Testing at laboratories in the United States has to be completed before the presence of chemical weapons could be confirmed, the officials said.

Soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division found the suspicious material in a compound near the Iraqi city of Hindiyah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.

A Knight Ridder News Service journalist traveling with the unit said initial tests of samples from the facility were inconsistent. Some tests did not indicate chemical weapons, while others indicated the presence of G-class nerve agents -- which include sarin and tabun -- and mustard agent, a blistering chemical first used in World War I.

The Knight Ridder reporter, Tom Lasseter, also reported that he and several soldiers were decontaminated after some of the soldiers felt ill while searching the compound. Officials at the Pentagon said they did not have any information about anyone getting sick.

If the discovery was confirmed, it would be the first find of chemical weapons during the war. Finding and eliminating Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological weapons is a goal of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and finding such weapons of mass destruction could mute international criticism of the war.

Iraq acknowledged making tons of sarin, tabun, mustard and other chemical weapons. Iraq used mustard and sarin against Iran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and is believed to have used the chemicals against Kurdish Iraqis.

Sarin and tabun are related nerve agents that can kill when absorbed through the skin or inhaled as a gas. They kill by causing convulsions, paralysis and asphyxiation.

Mustard agent begins dissolving tissues on contact and is particularly harmful to eyes and lungs. It does not usually kill but causes painful injuries that can linger for a lifetime.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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