Coalition forces have found arms and 3,000 chemical suits at a hospital used as a paramilitary headquarters near the Iraqi town of Nasiriyah. The report is raising concerns at coalition headquarters that Iraq may be planning to use chemical weapons as it seeks to stop an allied advance toward Baghdad.
Army Brigadier General Vince Brooks, briefing reporters at coalition headquarters, said U.S. Marines gained control of a hospital that was being used by Iraqi paramilitaries.
"Within the hospital there were 200 weapons, Iraqi military uniforms, one tank, 3,000 chemical protection suits and nerve agent antidote injectors," General Brooks said.
General Brooks said finding such equipment is a sign that the Iraqis are still committed to using weapons of mass destruction. "We remain convinced this regime has not only the means, but also the will to use weapons of mass destruction. What we found last night inside that hospital reinforces our concern in that regard. The danger does increase, we believe, as we approach Baghdad, but we are well prepared to deal with the potential use of chemical weapons," he said.
General Brooks said U.S. forces are equipped with both detection and protection gear and that U.S. troops have been inoculated against biological agents such as anthrax and smallpox.
The general said the Marines captured 170 Iraqi irregulars who were using the hospital as a staging area for attacks on U.S. forces.
As U.S. forces move towards Baghdad, Iraqi forces have reverted to guerrilla warfare tactics. And coalition officers said many are wearing civilian clothes, or using civilians to screen themselves from allied forces.
"We have seen irregulars marching people in the street in front of them as they fire on coalition forces. We have seen buses following tank columns that empty out and have people engaging in combat," they said.
Coalition officers say buses and trucks packed with explosives have tried on several occasions to ram advancing U.S. armored units and succeeded in putting two tanks out of operation.
Iraq said 15 people were killed and 30 wounded when a bomb or missile landed in a residential area of Baghdad. General Brooks said U.S. forces do not know, at this point, whether U.S. aircraft made a targeting mistake. He said U.S. forces are investigating the incident.
"When we have something like that, we will go back and examine flight paths, weapons releases and what the circumstances were and try to determine whether or not we had an impact on something like that. Right now, we simply do not know," General Brooks said.
General Brooks also says the coalition is holding more than 4,000 Iraqi prisoners of war.