George Robertson, Secretary of State for Defence, told MPs: " ... At the time of the Gulf war Iraq may have possessed large quantities of a chemical war mental incapacitant agent known as Agent 15." Immediate effects of exposure include weakness, dizziness, disorientation and loss of co-ordination. Officials said large doses could prove fatal, and could render victims into a zombie-like state.
The decision by the allies to disclose details of the nerve agent is part of the build-up of opposition to President Saddam, intended to bolster public opinion for the threatened military action by Britain and the US against Iraq.
The agent was not included in an inventory of suspected weapons issued last week by Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary. Analysts said Agent 15 would not be among the most potent weapons in the Iraqi armoury and Gulf veterans said they did not believe it had caused their illness.
It is a glycolate compound, the type of which has been tested by American forces as a possible means of disorientating an enemy. The US tested such an agent, BZ, on troops and videoed them in a state of mental confusion, unable to even recognise their own friends. Glycolate agents can produce hallucinatory effects and throw an army into chaos.
Their only suspected use was in Mozambique in 1992 when government forces said they had been subjected to BZ by South African troops. But Alistair Hay, a chemical- weapons expert at Leeds University, said troops wearing gas masks would be well-protected against glycolate.
Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, and Ian Burrell