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U.S. troops find missiles, chemical-protection suits near Kirkuk

KIRKUK, Iraq—Led by a retired Iraqi air force engineer who walked in off the street, U.S. paratroopers inspected several sites south of Kirkuk on Monday and found about a dozen 20-foot-long missiles, more than two dozen large green tanks full of an unknown substance and crates of suits and masks designed to protect troops from chemical attack.

Much of the material was covered with camouflage netting, and there were some fake fiberglass missiles nearby that seemed design to fool aerial observation. Local Kurds said the farmland was owned by Ali Hassan al Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein who was known as Chemical Ali for his suspected role in gassing thousands of ethnic Kurds in Iraq in 1988.

Some of the missiles, which had booster tanks attached, were mounted on mobile launchers. The military later identified them as Soviet-made S-2 surface-to-air missiles.

The missiles and the tanks had English inscriptions on their surfaces, but no indication of their country of origin.

"Remove carefully. Handle with care," read a label on many of the green tanks.

"Make sure you put this in the newspaper: The U.N. weapons inspectors suck," Sgt. Sean Gruezer of West Virginia said as the soldiers examined the weapons.

In fact, it was not known whether any of the missiles or tanks contained chemical or biological agents, or whether their ranges made them prohibited under the U.N. resolutions that regulated Iraq's weaponry.

Tahir Kareem, who walked into the municipal government building in Kirkuk to tell U.S. troops about the sites, said he was a Kurd who had retired in 1996 from the Iraqi air force.

"There are many things buried out here," he said, after leading a convoy of Humvees in his car to the location about 12 miles southwest of Kirkuk.

The sites were replete with abandoned bunkers that showed signs of having been recently inhabited by Iraqi troops. Green uniforms and helmets were discarded on the ground nearby.

The U.S. paratroopers marked the locations, which were to be examined by experts. Some of the sites appeared to have been bombed.

"The weapons inspectors never would have found this stuff," said Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, the battalion commander who led the team to the sites. "It would have taken 40 years."


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