WMD claims of Iraqi 'colonel' treated sceptically

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Officials within the Iraqi occupation authorities are puzzling over a British newspaper's interview with a man purporting to be an Iraqi colonel who said he believed he was the source of the Government's claim that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

The Sunday Telegraph yesterday published an interview, in which the Iraqi said he passed secret information to British intelligence warning that the dictator had deployed WMD to the frontline. However, last night, question-marks were gathering around the story, not least over the man's claims that the Iraqi-made WMD warheads were to be fired on the battlefield by hand-held rocket-propelled grenade launchers, a weapon of very limited range.

The interviewee was identified only as Lt-Col al-Dabbagh, 40, who was the "head of an Iraqi air defence unit in the western desert". He was also interviewed by the American network channel, NBC. The channel reported that the colonel said Iraqi troops were under orders from Saddam to use "primitive short-range biological and chemical warheads fired from rocket-propelled grenade launchers, tactical weapons of mass destruction transported at the dead of night and handled only by Saddam's secret service." In the end, these orders were ignored because they chose not to fight.

However, sections of the transcript of the NBC interview that the network did not broadcast were aired on the ITV News Channel, which has a partnership with NBC. In one, the colonel was asked by NBC's Baghdad correspondent why he was so sure that these were chemical or biological weapons. His reply suggests that he was not, in fact, sure at all.

"We cannot determine exactly, but the procedures taken show that these were indeed WMD," he said. "It might have been chemical or biological but it was definitely unconventional weapons."

In another section, broadcast by ITV, the colonel says: "The instructions from Saddam were clear. When you get to a critical point where the survival of the country is at stake then you can use these weapons. All weapons starting from the common knife all the way up to nuclear weapons can be used.That was the instruction."

As it has long been known that Iraq's armed forces did not possess nuclear weapons, this raises further doubts about the unnamed "colonel's" credibility. Separating out the truth in this conflict has always been difficult as Iraq has been awash with rumour, misinformation and propaganda since the invasion was launched.