Nerve gas report hits Iraq's sanctions plea

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The Independent Online
A REPORT that traces of the deadly nerve gas agent VX were found on Iraqi warheads would - if true - deal a severe setback to Iraq's efforts to lift crippling economic sanctions, Bill Richardson, US Ambassador to the UN said yesterday.

Diplomatic sources yesterday confirmed that chemical analysis of Iraqi warheads handed over to the UN Special Commission revealed traces of VX despite Baghdad's claims that it never successfully manufactured weapons from the nerve gas agent. The head of the commission, Richard Butler, is expected to discuss the finding when he briefs the Security Council on Wednesday.

"If this allegation is correct ... that will set back Iraq's efforts to try to lift sanctions," Mr Richardson said. "It shows that they've been concealing, they've been lying, and it calls into question their commitment to disarmament."

The Security Council has said it will not lift sanctions on Iraq until Baghdad satisfies Butler's team that it has destroyed all weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions were imposed on Iraq in 1990 after President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, triggering the 1991 Gulf War.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the information on VX is included in a confidential US Army laboratory analysis of warhead fragments taken from a pit at Taji, Iraq, in March.

Analysed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, the samples from the warhead fragments revealed "significant amounts" of VX disulphide and stabiliser, the Post reported. VX is a colourless, odourless liquid that turns into a gas when it comes into contact with oxygen. A few drops of the nerve gas can kill in minutes.

Diplomatic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the Post report. They said that Mr Butler presented the Iraqis with the findings during a meeting in Baghdad this month but that the Iraqis rejected them.