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US Commander:  'Plenty of Evidence' of an Iraqi  WMD Program - 2003-05-07

The commander of U.S. Army troops in Iraq says coalition forces have collected what he describes as "plenty of evidence" that Saddam Hussein's regime had an active weapons of mass destruction program. Lieutenant General William Wallace says experts are now sorting through the evidence.

Speaking from Baghdad in a satellite video-conference with reporters at the Pentagon, the General gives no details on the information.

But he said it clearly indicates Iraq had an active program for chemical and biological weapons.

"We've collected evidence, much of it documentary evidence, that suggests there was an active program," he said. "It's taken a while, as you might expect, to sort through that documentary evidence. A lot of the information that we're getting is coming from low-tier Iraqis who had some knowledge of the program but not full knowledge of the program, and it's just taken us a while to sort through all of that."

He does not elaborate, nor does he mention high-ranking Iraqi officials who have been detained who are believed to have detailed knowledge of the weapons of mass destruction effort.

Despite the alleged documentary evidence, intensive searches by U.S. authorities have so far found no actual chemical or biological weapons. None were used during the war.

General Wallace says one explanation why they were not used could be the effectiveness of U.S. information campaigns aimed at discouraging Iraqi military commanders who might have fired them.

He says another reason they were not used could be that they were too well hidden, in part to prevent United Nations weapons inspectors from finding them in the days before the war.

"As you recall, the UNMOVIC inspectors only left Baghdad a few days before the start of the campaign, and it's entirely possible that they have located that, what systems that they did have, such that the UNMOVIC inspectors couldn't get, couldn't observe or find evidence, and therefore, because they were so clever in disguising that and burying it so deep, that they themselves had a problem getting to them," said General Wallace.

General Wallace offers no information about the U.S discovery in northern Iraq of what appears to be a mobile chemical-biological weapons laboratory.

Pentagon officials have indicated it is the most significant find yet. But the General says he is not prepared to make any judgments about the mobile lab until experts have had a chance to do a detailed examination.

There have been suggestions by defense officials that an announcement is imminent. But one intelligence source has told VOA, vats in the lab were scoured clean in an apparent decontamination effort, possibly thwarting U.S. efforts to produce conclusive physical evidence of Iraq's controversial weapons programs.