Sarin bomb found in Iraq by American forces

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The Independent Online

The discovery in Iraq of a bomb containing the deadly nerve agent sarin proves that Saddam Hussein did hide stocks of weapons of mass destruction, the Government said last night.

The discovery in Iraq of a bomb containing the deadly nerve agent sarin proves that Saddam Hussein did hide stocks of weapons of mass destruction, the Government said last night.

Bill Rammell, a Foreign Office minister, told the Commons that the substance appeared to be part of a programme that should have been destroyed under United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The United States Army announced yesterday that a small amount of sarin was found in an artillery shell inside a bag discovered by a US convoy a few days ago. It said it had been rigged as an improvised explosive device (IED).

Two members of an explosives team were treated for exposure to the substance. Initial testing of the shell showed that it contained sarin, but the shell was apparently unmarked so it was unclear whether the attacker knew it contained the nerve agent, a US official said.

"Additional testing will be done outside of Iraq, more detailed testing, but the initial tests in the field show the presence of sarin," the official said.

Mr Rammell told MPs: "This does not represent a new capability but it does appear to be part of a programme declared to the UN. That munition should have been handed over [to UN weapons inspectors] and destroyed. It does therefore appear to be in breach of UN Security Council resolutions and it does significantly appear to back up what we have been saying all along, that Saddam did conceal some of his stock. I think that point needs to be made."

He added: "It is thought to be an old munition. Those who planted it may not have known what it contained. Preliminary field testing of the substance proved positive for sarin and further samples have been sent for."

While the Government hoped that the tests might provide the first, long-awaited evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD, Hans Blix, the UN's former chief weapons inspector, cast doubt on the significance of the discovery. He said the shell was likely to be a stray weapon that could have been dated from the first Gulf War in 1991.

Mr Blix said the discovery of the nerve agent was not a sign that Saddam's regime possessed WMD before last year's war. Mr Blix said that the weapon could have been scavenged from a dump that could have been dated from the first Gulf War.

"It doesn't sound absurd at all. There can be debris from the past and that's a very different thing from having stockpiles and supplies," he said. "Whether this may indicate something more ... I think we need to know more about it."

US Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt told a news conference in Baghdad the substance had been found in an artillery shell inside a bag discovered by a US convoy a few days ago. The round exploded, releasing a small amount of the substance, he said. He added that the round, designed to mix the sarin in flight, belonged to a class of ordnance that Saddam's government claimed to have destroyed before the 1991 war.

In 1995, members of a doomsday cult, Aum Shinri Kyo [The Supreme Truth Sect], released sarin during rush-hour in Tokyo's subways, killing 12 and sickening thousands.

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