Marines Digging Up Suspected Chemical Arms Site
Sat April 5, 2003 08:48 AM ET
AZIZIYAH, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. Marines were digging up a suspected chemical weapons hiding place in the courtyard of an Iraqi girls' school in a town southeast of Baghdad on Saturday.
The Marines said that a man who described himself as an ex-member of the Iraqi special forces said that a group of Iraqi men had knocked down a wall of the school two months ago, hidden something and concreted it over in the course of three nights.
"We don't have a clue now but we're going to dig it up and see," General James Mattis, the commander of the Marine Division, the main Marine ground force in Iraq.
"Local people grabbed a Marine's gas mask and pointed to this site," Matiss said of tip-offs about feared chemical weapons at the site in the town of Aziziyah 80 km (50 miles) southeast of Baghdad.
Washington and London launched the invasion of Iraq on March 20, saying they wanted to rid the nation of alleged chemical and biological weapons and oust President Saddam Hussein. Saddam denies having such weapons.
Reuters correspondent Sean Maguire, traveling with the Marines, said the U.S. forces were digging up the heavy concrete laid in the courtyard of the school. They were making slow progress through reinforced steel and thick building material.
U.S.-led forces, equipped with chemical protection suits, say that they have so far found no clear evidence that Saddam still has chemical or biological weapons.
Earlier on Saturday, a U.S. officer said that first tests of a white powder and liquid found on Friday in thousands of boxes near the Iraqi capital indicated that it was not a chemical weapon.
"On first analysis it does not appear to be a chemical that could be used in a chemical weapons attack," Colonel John Peabody, commander of the Engineer Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, told Reuters. He said it would be sent for more tests.
Peabody said most of it appeared to be atropine, used as an antidote to nerve gas, and another chemical.
There have been no reports of chemical or biological attacks even though the troops have crossed what the U.S. military said might be a "red line" drawn around the city within which Saddam might resort to weapons of mass destruction.