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US Officials Say They Recently Considered Attacking Chemical Test Site in Iraq - 2002-08-20

U.S. officials say the United States recently considered mounting a covert attack on a target in Northern Iraq where Bush administration officials believed a radical Kurdish group may have been testing deadly chemical weapons.

Administration officials tell reporters the Pentagon recently considered a secret military attack against the small Islamic Kurdish group known as Ansar al-Islam, operating in Iraq's northern no-fly zone and outside territory controlled by President Saddam.

It was there that U.S. officials say they believed the group appeared to be experimenting with deadly chemical or biological agents, tests similar to those recorded on video by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network in Afghanistan and obtained by CNN.

On those tapes, a dog appears to be suffering an agonizing death shortly after a poisonous substance is released.

It's unclear what motive the Iraqi group might have had for experimenting with poison gas, but a U.S. official tells the Associated Press some of its members trained in camps in Afghanistan and were in contact with al-Qaida.

Early in the war in Afghanistan, coalition troops found manuals for making chemical agents in abandoned al-Qaida strongholds in Kabul.

At the Pentagon Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeated his belief that al-Qaida militants are in Iraq with Baghdad's knowledge, but would not comment on any administration discussion concerning a strike on the suspected test site.

But Administration officials who ask not to be identified say a decision was made not to target the facility after it was determined to be too rudimentary to pose a serious threat, one sufficient, at this time, to warrant the risks of a military operation to take it out.