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Artillery shell with chemical residue found in Baghdad

WASHINGTON—A small amount of residue from mustard, a potentially deadly chemical agent, has been found in an old artillery shell on a Baghdad street, according to a U.S. military report obtained Thursday by Knight Ridder.

The shell was from a "very old stockpile," and for that reason experts didn't consider it evidence that former dictator Saddam Hussein was hiding illegal stockpiles of chemical weapons, said a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter is classified.

The report said tests identified the substance as mustard residue. The official confirmed that and said more tests were under way.

The Bush administration has been under fire because American arms inspectors so far haven't found the stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and the nuclear weapons facilities that the president and his senior aides claimed that Saddam possessed in violation of U.N. resolutions.

Saddam's regime used mustard and other chemical agents against Iraq's minority Kurds in the late 1980s and against Iranian forces during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

His regime said Iraqi experts and U.N. arms inspectors destroyed all of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. When inspections ended in 1998, U.N. arms inspectors contended that Iraq had failed to account for about 550 artillery shells filled with mustard.

Mustard is a blistering agent that attacks the skin, eyes and lungs and gives off an aroma compared to that of horseradish or apples. It was first used on the battlefield in World War I.

A U.S. bomb-disposal team found the shell Tuesday and took it to a base, where it emitted a chemical smell, the report said.

Anti-American insurgents often make roadside bombs out of artillery shells, which are widely available in Iraq.

"It's possible, since the anti-coalition forces take artillery shells and turn them into IEDs (improvised explosive devices), someone scarfed this up somewhere and rigged it up without knowing what they had," the senior official said.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.