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Pentagon Cites Discovery of Iraqi Chemical Suits as Evidence of Baghdad Intent - 2003-03-26

A U.S. general says the discovery of thousands of chemical weapons suits in an Iraqi hospital is reinforcing concerns that Saddam Hussein's military is prepared to use weapons of mass destruction.

Briefing reporters at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks says American Marines discovered 3,000 chemical suits in a hospital in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.

The Marines captured about 170 Iraqi paramilitary fighters in the hospital, which had been turned into an outpost.

Also found were Iraqi weapons and military uniforms.

In addition, the Marines confiscated gas masks and antidote injectors to protect against nerve gas.

General Brooks said the discovery is further proof that Saddam Hussein's troops are prepared to use chemical weapons. "We remain convinced that this regime has not only the means but also the will to use weapons of mass destruction," said General Brooks. "What we found last night inside of that hospital reinforces our concern in that regard. The danger does increase, we believe, as we approach Baghdad."

General Brooks says coalition forces are well prepared to deal with the potential use of chemical weapons.

He says detection equipment has been deployed, soldiers were vaccinated and have been issued suits to protect them from a chemical attack.

Speaking to the British parliament, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon also expressed concern that Iraq may soon use chemical or biological weapons.

"To date we have no evidence of Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction during this campaign," said Mr. Hoon. "But it is impossible to know whether this is the result of successful military operations or a deliberate tactical judgment of the Iraqi regime. Indeed, we know from prisoners of war that protective equipment was issued to southern Iraqi divisions."

U.S. defense officials have repeatedly urged Iraqi commanders not to use weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says sketchy intelligence reports suggest the closer coalition forces get to Baghdad and Saddam Hussein's stronghold of Tikrit, the greater the likelihood Iraqi forces will use such weapons.