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Old Mortar Shells Found in Iraq May Contain Poison - 2004-01-11

Iraqis protested in the southern city of Amara, a day after five demonstrators were killed in clashes with Iraqi police and British soldiers. And experts are examining old mortar shells found in southern Iraq that may contain poison liquid gas.

Iraqis took to the streets of Amara again. There were some reports of scuffles, but there appeared to be no major violence.

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters demanding jobs marched on the town hall, throwing stones and shattering windows. There are conflicting reports as to what happened next. Some witnesses say Iraqi police fired into the crowd. The police say they fired in self-defense after shots came from the protesters.

British soldiers were called in to restore order, and report they opened fire when some of the protesters began throwing grenades. British officials say they are investigating Saturday's unrest.

Early Sunday, mortar shells exploded at the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in the northern city of Mosul.

Meanwhile, experts are examining a cache of old mortar shells found near the southern city of Basra. They suspect the containers, some of them leaking, could contain poison liquid gas.

Officials say Danish troops operating in the area, found the shells on Friday. They say they were wrapped in plastic and buried in the desert north of Basra.

Military officials say the shells have been in the ground for many years and are likely weapons left over from Iraq's war with Iran in the 1980s.

The United States and Britain had cited the threat of illegal weapons of mass destruction, including a variety of chemical and biological weapons, as a main reason for launching the war against Iraq last year. But no such weapons have been found.