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Devices containing nerve gas antidote found in Iraq

KIRKUK, Iraq—Dozens of medical devices containing nerve-gas antidote, whose packaging indicated that they were manufactured by a Turkish company for use by Iraq, were found Friday outside a looted armory at an Iraqi military base.

The automatic injection devices filled with atropine reached Iraq in the months leading up to the U.S.-led invasion, according to the labels, which were printed in English and Arabic.

The Bush administration last November said that it had learned that Iraq had ordered large amounts of atropine from Turkey, raising fears that Saddam Hussein might use nerve gas to repulse invading U.S. troops.

But it was unclear at that time whether the order had been filled. Turkey was said to have agreed to a Bush administration request to review the sale and consider blocking it.

Atropine is used to block nerve agents such as Sarin and VX. Iraq acknowledged producing those substances in large amounts in the past but claimed that it destroyed its stockpiles after the 1991 Gulf War.

Friday, yellow boxes containing the atropine auto-injectors lay amid piles of chemical- and biological-warfare protective gear, including plastic overalls and rubber boots and gloves, outside the armory at Khalid Camp.

Also found were boxes for gas masks manufactured by a German firm, Draeger AG. No production dates were seen on the boxes' labels.

Most of the boxes were empty, their contents stolen by intruders who swarmed through government buildings and military bases after the Iraqi Army abandoned Kirkuk on Thursday.

The labels on the boxes of auto-injectors identified the manufacturer as Plas-Set Ltd. of Istanbul. The items were manufactured for the Iraqi Ministry of Health, according to the labels, which also stated that the devices could not be distributed or sold "without the authorization of MOH (Ministry of Health)."

The labels said the auto-injectors were produced in May 2002 and are good until May 2005.

Auto-injectors containing atropine are provided to soldiers. When jabbed into the thigh, they administer the drug into the bloodstream.

In addition to being a nerve gas antidote, atropine is used to revive heart attack victims, and is commonly stocked by hospitals and clinics. For that reason, it was not placed on a list of items with military and civilian uses that United Nations monitors were required to closely review before approving for sale to Iraq.

But the large Iraqi order of auto-injectors, which are produced only for military use, caught the Bush administration's attention.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.