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U.S. experts comb through suspected Iraqi chemical weapons training facility and lab

KIRKUK, Iraq—Specially trained experts donned protective suits and combed through a suspected chemical weapons training facility and a laboratory at the military airport here Tuesday, not long after reporters toured a third site nearby that contained what soldiers said was a decontamination chamber inside a steel vault.

Nothing conclusive was learned about the three sites, and any final word about those and several other suspected chemical weapons finds in the Kirkuk area would probably not come for days or weeks, officers said. They added that the Pentagon has called for extreme caution in releasing information about the findings by teams of experts searching for weapons of mass destruction, because there is a great potential for false leads.

There was still no word, for example, about a warhead found at the airfield earlier this week that showed positive signs of nerve agent.

The third Kirkuk site, which the team is expected to search Wednesday, was in what was described as an Iraqi "command and control facility" that had a crater in the center of the roof likely the work of a U.S. bomb.

The bomb did not destroy much of the building, though, and reporters who toured it Tuesday with 173rd Airborne Brigade soldiers found a steel vault that opened into a chamber with showers.

"This is probably a (decontamination) chamber," said Staff Sgt. Stephen Zaleski of Eugene, Ore. Inside the chamber was an elevator that appeared to lead further underground, which neither the soldiers nor the reporters touched. On the outside of the doorway to a separate passage leading from the chamber were security cameras.

The first building searched appeared to be a laboratory, team members said. Inside were several yellow 55-gallon drums. Capt. Adam Cubbage of Philadelphia said they contained a German-made decontamination agent. They also discovered atropine anti-nerve agent injectors strewn on the floor; a cylindrical object that the team said may have been a "practice round" to experiment with injecting chemical agents; and what the team called a "chemistry set," full of small batches of a variety of chemicals. None of the most common chemical weapons, including sarin, VX or mustard gas, was immediately detected.

The second building was described by soldiers as an "NBC (nuclear, chemical and biological) school," and contained training manuals for chemical weapons, as well as gas masks and protective suits.


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