'Sarin' bomb explodes in Iraq

A roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent exploded near a US military convoy, but there were no casualties, the US military said today.

"The Iraqi Survey Group confirmed that a 155-millimeter artillery round containing sarin nerve agent had been found," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman in Iraq. "The round had been rigged as an IED (improvised explosive device) which was discovered by a US force convoy.

"A detonation occurred before the IED could be rendered inoperable. This produced a very small dispersal of agent," he said.

The Iraqi Survey Group is a US organization whose task was to search for weapons of mass destruction after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in last year's invasion.

'"The round was an old binary type requiring the mixing of two chemical components in separate sections of the cell before the deadly agent is produced," Kimmitt said. "The cell is designed to work after being fired from an artillery piece."

He said the dispersal of the nerve agent from a device such as the homemade bomb is "limited."

"The former regime had declared all such rounds destroyed before the 1991 Gulf War," Kimmitt said. "Two explosive ordinance team members were treated for minor exposure to nerve agent as a result of the partial detonation of the round."

In 1995, Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult unleashed sarin gas in Tokyo's subways, killing 12 people and sickening thousands. In February of this year, Japanese courts convicted the cult's former leader, Shoko Asahara, and sentence him to be executed.

Developed in the mid-1930s by Nazi scientists, a single drop of sarin can cause quick, agonizing choking death. There are no known instances of the Nazis actually using the gas, but that didn't stop other nations from stocking it.

Nerve gases work by inhibiting key enzymes in the nervous system, blocking their transmission. Small exposures can be treated with antidotes, if administered quickly.

Antidotes to nerve gases similar to sarin are so effective that top poison gas researchers predict they eventually will cease to be a war threat.

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