Iraq 'uses chemicals in attack'

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The Independent Online
THE Conservative MP Emma Nicholson asserted yesterday that Saddam Hussein has launched a chemical weapons attack on Shia Muslims in the southern marshes of Iraq, writes Charles Richards.

Ms Nicholson, a campaigner for the Marsh Arabs, said a senior doctor in a refugee camp on the Iraq- Iran border 'confirmed to me reports of a chemical weapons attack'.

The Tehran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said that on 29 September Iraqi troops fired chemical shells at villages in the Abu Zergi marshes north-west of Basra.

Ms Nicholson said that doctors working on the Iraq-Iran border had received similar reports from refugees fleeing the area. 'Patients have come across from the Iraqi side and have reported to them that there has indeed been a terrible chemical weapons assault,' she told the BBC. '(They said) nerve gas has been used, which means that you suffocate to death, some have survived and reached the safety of Iran, some civilians died.'

The Foreign Office said it was investigating the reports but suggested that the white clouds of gas that eyewitnesses said they saw could have been white phosphorus, which though unpleasant is not a proscribed substance.

Other Iraqi dissidents, none of whom has an interest in whitewashing Saddam Hussein, were sceptical about the reports on both technical and political grounds. They said none of their many sources had independent confirmation of the use of chemical weapons. And they argued that President Saddam was unlikely to have used them when he is seeking a lifting of sanctions at the 19 November review by the United Nations special committee.

That President Saddam has not hesitated to use chemical weapons against his own population in the past is not in question. Yet Iraq has also shown that it can discipline army commanders not to use them.