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US Investigates Possible Mobile Chem-Bio Weapons Lab in N. Iraq - 2003-05-06

Defense officials say they are examining what appears to be a mobile chemical-biological weapons laboratory found in northern Iraq.

A defense official tells VOA he cannot yet call it "the smoking gun" that proves definitively that Iraq was involved in recent chemical and biological weapons production.

But the official indicates the discovery of what appears to be a mobile chemical-biological weapons lab in northern Iraq is the biggest breakthrough so far in the hunt by U.S. investigators for evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.

There has been no official Pentagon announcement. But at the White House Tuesday President Bush was asked about the discovery and said he was not surprised.

"I will leave the details of your question to the experts but one thing we know is that he [Saddam Hussein] had a weapons [of mass destruction] program," the president said. "We also know he spent years trying to hide the weapons program. Over time, the truth will come out."

Defense sources say the mobile lab was apparently stopped at a checkpoint near Irbil in northern Iraq by Kurdish fighters and turned over to U.S. forces. It was then taken to Mosul where it is currently undergoing testing.

But the sources say examiners have already determined that vats inside the vehicle were scoured with ammonia, erasing evidence of what may have been mixed in the containers. One Pentagon official calls it a "conscious decontamination effort".

U.S. efforts so far to find Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have left investigators empty-handed. A number of finds of possibly suspicious materials have turned out to be things like conventional explosives and pesticides.

However, Secretary of State Colin Powell in a presentation to the United Nations before the war accused Iraq of using mobile labs for its weapons programs, apparently to evade international inspectors.