Search for chemical weapons ongoing

 

Up to 3,000 potential weapons of mass destruction sites are being investigated across Iraq, the commander of US forces in the Gulf said today.

Gen Tommy Franks said in any given 24 hours up to 10 or 15 sites were having samples taken from them. Despite the huge testing programme and a number of "false positive" results there has as yet been no firm proof of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq.

However, Gen Franks told Fox News: "I am absolutely confident there are weapons of mass destruction inside this country."

Earlier, the US Secretary of State, Mr Colin Powell, also said coalition forces would find Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. "The combat period is over and we can now turn our attention to finding weapons of mass destruction. There's strong evidence and no question about the fact there are weapons of mass destruction," he said. "We will find weapons of mass destruction." More than three weeks into the invasion, no firm evidence has yet been uncovered of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons in the country.

Saddam's leading scientific adviser, Gen Amir Hamudi Hasan Al-Sadi, surrendered to US forces on Saturday, still insisting that Iraq had no chemical or biological weapons.

Gen Al-Sadi, listed as one of the 55 "most wanted" regime figures pictured on special American "playing cards" said: "I know the programmes for weapons of mass destruction and have always told the truth about these old programmes, and only the truth. You will see, the future will show it, and nothing else will come out after the end of the war.

"Because I know the programme, together with my colleagues, because we have always worked together and nobody intervened. Nobody ever told me what I should say."Meanwhile, US Marines reported finding five canisters with a substance testing positive for chemical agents but backed off a claim of finding 278 suspect artillery shells.

Officers with the marine's 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment said the canisters were found Saturday in a Baghdad schoolyard among large stocks of ammunition.

Cpl Chad Arva, a chemicals analysis specialist, said the contents of the canisters "tested positive three times for blister agents". But battalion officers retreated from an earlier claim they had found likely blister agents in 278 artillery shells.

The report had come from the battalion's operations officer, Maj Stephen Armes, and his commander, Lieut Col Fred Padilla. But they later said they were mistaken. No further details were available on the five canisters.