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BAIJI, Iraq (AP) -- The Iraqi chief liaison to U.N. weapons inspectors surrendered to U.S. forces Sunday, as American troops reported finding a metal drum that preliminary tests indicated could contain chemicals used to disable and kill.
Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin -- No. 49 on the U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted figures from the regime of Saddam Hussein, the six of clubs in the deck of fugitive playing cards -- was taken into custody in Baghdad.
Capt. Kellie Rourke, division battle captain with the 101st Airborne Division, said Amin surrendered to soldiers of the division's 2nd Brigade and was taken to the international airport for questioning.
Also known as Hossem Mohammed Amin al-Yasin, he was among the key figures in Saddam's weapons programs. He would be expected to have detailed knowledge of any illegal armaments and where they might be found, if they exist.
Meanwhile, a dozen suspicious 55-gallon drums were found propped up with gravel in an open field near the northern Iraqi town of Baiji. Tests indicated one drum might contain the nerve agent cyclosarin and a blister agent that could be mustard gas, U.S. troops said.
But more tests were being conducted. By design, initial test procedures favor positive readings, erring on the side of caution to protect soldiers.
There have been numerous false reports that coalition forces have turned up chemical or biological weapons, and the U.S. Central Command was measured in its response to the discovery.
"There are many sites that we look into every day, and when we have confirmed positive results we will provide that information," said Capt. Stewart Upton, a spokesman at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar. "We just want to be very cautious that when we go with the information, that when we release nuclear, biological, or chemical information, that we're accurate."
Mustard gas burns skin, eyes and lungs, while exposure to high amounts cyclosarin may lead to loss of muscle control, twitching, paralysis, unconsciousness, convulsions, coma, and death within minutes.
Lt. Col. Ted Martin of the 10th Cavalry Regiment said soldiers went to the site near Baiji at midnight Friday after being alerted by U.S. Special Forces teams who became suspicions of the site because of the presence of surface-to-air missiles guarding the area.
Martin said that in addition to the drums, soldiers also found two mobile laboratories containing equipment for mixing chemicals, but they appeared to have been looted.
Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles ringed the 1.5-square-mile field Sunday evening, using night vision equipment to watch for intruders. Troops had permission to shoot to kill if anyone entered the area, which was near the Tigris River about a mile outside Baiji.
Sgt. Maj. David List of the regiment's 1st Squadron said the field appeared to be a storage site for large missiles. "This whole country is a big ammo dump," said List, of West Warwick, R.I.
While soft-pedaling the find at Baiji, Central Command trumpeted Amin's arrest. Thirteen of the 55 most-wanted figures are now in coalition hands. Three others are believed to be dead.
"Almost every day additional people have been brought into custody," said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who arrived Sunday in Qatar, "and almost always it's because an Iraqi comes up to someone from the U.S. or the coalition and says 'I know where a person is and if you go down here you'll find them."'
During the U.N. inspectors' long, fruitless search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, they had to deal with Amin, head of Iraq's monitoring commission for more than a decade.
Amin and his troops refused to allow U.N. inspectors into presidential palaces and other "sensitive sites" during the first round of U.N. inspections that ended in 1998. He was also one of the few Iraqis authorized to comment on weapons of mass destruction.
Amin is believed to be British-educated and has a masters degree in radar and communication engineering.
A former air force communications engineer, his career took off in 1980 when Saddam Hussein established the military's Technical and Scientific Committee, a weapons research and development think tank.
It later became the Military Industrialization Organization, responsible for producing all of Iraq's most lethal weapons.
Others members included Gen. Amer Rashid, Iraq's oil minister, and Amir al-Saadi, Saddam's senior weapons adviser, who is also in custody.
Like most of Saddam's most trusted lieutenants, Amin is from a prominent Sunni Muslim family from northern Iraq, in Mosul.
He also had powerful friends: He was also believed close to Saddam's son Qusai, and Saddam's personal secretary, Gen. Abide Hmoud, making him one of the best-connected insiders in the Iraqi ruling establishment.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)