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 Friday, 24 January, 2003, 14:27 GMT
Iraq 'preparing for chemical war'
Pro-Saddam demonstration in Baghdad
Saddam Hussein has been rallying support at home
Documents smuggled out of Iraq by an opposition group appear to indicate that Baghdad is equipping key units with protection against chemical weapons.

The hand-written papers, said to have been smuggled out by the Iraqi opposition, refer to new chemical warfare suits to protect soldiers and distribution of the drug atropine to counter the effects of nerve gas.

We have members of our organisation in most of the camps and cities in Iraq, from soldiers to generals

Tawfik al-Yassiri, Iraqi national Coalition
The notes, passed on by the opposition Iraqi National Coalition to the BBC, also included details for attacking ships in the Gulf.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says the Iraqi opposition groups that provided these documents has vested interests in seeing Saddam Hussein undermined, so it is very difficult to assess whether we should believe the documents.

She adds that the timing of their release is significant at a time when the United States and the UK are trying to win over opinion to their approach to the Iraq crisis.

Open in new window : Iraq Weapons
Iraqi chemical and biological weapons

A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said the documents would fit with Saddam Hussein's efforts to hide weapons of mass destruction.

BBC defence correspondent Paul Adams says US and British planners have speculated on the possibility of Iraq using drones to spray chemical weapons on coalition troops, but there is no conclusive proof this has been done.

Opposition in Exile

The Iraqi National Coalition is a group of former Iraqi army officers who have turned against Saddam Hussein and are now living in exile.

The Secretary General of the coalition, Tawfik al-Yassiri - a former brigadier-general - told the BBC's Today programme that the documents originated from serving members of the Iraqi military.

"We have members of our organisation in most of the camps and cities in Iraq, from soldiers to generals," he said.

Mr al-Yassiri said the information had been verified through various sources.

Iraq's Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard are among the recipients of special suits and atropine, according to the documents.

A former arms inspector, Bill Tierney, told Today that "if both these two units have new equipment, then it would indicate that they are prepared to use chemical weapons".

The report of Iraqi war preparations is bound to intrigue UN weapons inspectors, the BBC's Rageh Omaar reports from Baghdad.

According to a UK Government report last year and UN inspectors' findings, Iraq has undeclared stocks of VX and sarin nerve agent. It is thought Iraq could deploy such chemicals quickly.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Rageh Omar
"So far the inspectors haven't come up with any smoking gun"
  The BBC's Gordon Correra and Rageh Omar
discuss the discovery of the chemical warfare documents
  The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"It's very difficult to assess...whether we should believe it"

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22 Jan 03 | Europe
23 Jan 03 | Middle East
23 Jan 03 | Middle East
23 Jan 03 | Middle East
23 Jan 03 | Americas
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