Possible chemical weapons find in Iraq

 

Danish troops have found dozens of mortar rounds buried in Iraq which chemical weapons tests show could contain blister gas, the Danish army said on Saturday.

 The initial tests, which have yet to be confirmed, were taken after Danish troops found 36 120mm mortar rounds on Friday hidden in southern Iraq. The Danish army said the rounds had been buried for at least 10 years.

 "All the instruments showed indications of the same type of chemical compound, namely blister gas," the Danish Army Operational Command said on its Web site.

 "However, this will not be confirmed until the final tests are available," it said in a statement after the initial examination of liquid leaking from the weapons.

 Results of final tests were likely to be ready in about two days.

 Blister gas, an illegal weapon which ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein said he had destroyed, was extensively used against the Iranians during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

 Mustard gas, one of the best known of the blister agents, can remain toxic in the soil for decades.

 Although it can kill if it enters the lungs, blister gas is used mainly to weaken infantry by making the skin break out in excruciatingly painful blisters.

 Four different types of instrument were used on three of the mortar rounds, the army said in its statement, adding that 100 more rounds could be buried at the site.

Icelandic bomb specialists working with the Danish soldiers said the rounds had been found concealed in road construction, Iceland's Foreign Ministry said.

It said a mobile U.S. chemical research laboratory has been sent to help.       

After the suspicious mortar shells were unearthed British specialists were asked to analyse them, a Danish official had said earlier. "The first inspections have shown that the mortars contain some liquid," he said.

There are several hundred Danish soldiers working with a British-led multinational force responsible for security in southern Iraq.

In Baghdad, the U.S. military said the mortar rounds had been found buried 75 km (45 miles) south of Amara, north of Basra.

"Most were wrapped in plastic bags, and some were leaking," Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a news conference, adding that it was likely the weapons were left over from the Iran-Iraq war.

The U.S. administration had cited the threat of illicit weapons of mass destruction as a principle reason for launching war on Iraq in March last year. But no such weapons were found.