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Coalition Forces Take Control of Iraqi Chemical Facility South of Baghdad - 2003-03-24

Media reports say coalition forces in Iraq have taken control of a chemical plant south of Baghdad.

The reports cite Central Intelligence Agency and Pentagon officials as well as reporters traveling with U.S. forces as saying coalition forces have taken into custody the Iraqi general who oversees the plant.

There is much speculation over whether the plant was used to produce chemical weapons, but there has been no official word on exactly what U.S. forces have found in it.

The U.S. Central Command says media reports about the facility are "premature," but a spokesman says coalition forces are investigating "sites of interest" in Iraq.

But the Jerusalem Post, which has a reporter traveling with the U.S. troops who found the facility, says Iraq tried to camouflage the plant so it could not be photographed from the air. The plant is in a 100-acre complex near An Najaf, the scene of heavy fighting Sunday.

President Bush says the invasion of Iraq was necessary to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein of banned chemical and biological weapons. But the Iraqi leader has denied having those types of weapons, or the facilities to produce them.