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Perspective: Where is Saddam's weapons hoard?; It was the reason Iraq was invaded in the first place and the stumbling block on which the UN faltered. But, asks Chief Feature Writer Paul Groves, what happened to the weapons of mass destruction?

Byline: Paul Groves

I t was the cause for alarm among those planning the invasion of Iraq. For millions living on the doorstep of Saddam Hussein's country in Kuwait and farther afield in Israel, it was the doomsday scenario.

For Tony Blair and George W Bush it was the reason why Iraq had to be taken care of and a source of incredulity that the rest of the United Nations could not see the looming danger.

Yet, for all the rhetoric and genuine concerns expressed in recent months, the evidence remains elusive.

Saddam's stockpile of weapons of mass destruction remains, for now, the stuff of rumour and conjecture.

US officials have now re-deployed several thousand soldiers to scour Iraq in search of this deadly arsenal.

Their mission remains the central plank of the original invasion - to find and destroy abundant anthrax, mustard gas and other weapons of mass destruction that Saddam was said to have stashed.

Troops have begun storming buildings in their hunt for illegal weapons, raiding the home of a scientist dubbed Dr Germ by UN weapons inspectors.

Special forces backed by about 40 marines armed with heavy-calibre machine-guns raided the home of Rahib Taha, a microbiologist. Three men emerged from the house with their hands up and the troops carried off several boxes of documents. Taha's whereabouts was not known.

Other discoveries have been made, but nothing like the type of weapons we were told to expect. Here, we look at the whole weapons issue and exactly what the British and American Governments anticipate will eventually be uncovered: Q: What type of chemical weapons is Saddam alleged to have had?

A: According to the US, Saddam had 20 or 30 Scud missiles capable of carrying chemical or biological weapons.

Officials also said Saddam's military might have included 550 artillery shells containing mustard gas, other precursors that could have brought his stockpile up to 500 tons of chemical agents, and 6,500 bombs left over from Iraq's war with Iran. The US says Iraq never accounted for these weapons. Aside from that, officials contended that the Iraqi government had at least seven mobile biological weapons labs mounted on road trailers and railway carriages.

These facilities, they argued, could have been used to produce, in one month, enough of a dry biological agent such as anthrax or botulinum toxin to kill thousands.

Last month, in the days before the fighting began, Iraq destroyed at least 70 banned Al Samoud 2 missiles, and handed over to UN inspectors videos of mobile biological weapons labs.

It also submitted a report containing results from soil samples taken from an area where it claimed to have destroyed its stocks of VX nerve gas in 1991.

Q: What have US soldiers found sofar? A: They have found several suspected chemical or biological weapons sites, but testing revealed those sites were used for other purposes, such as explosives, pesticides or agricultural products. Not all the test results are in, though.

On Monday, US Army troops located 11 buried shipping containers filled with lab equipment and 1,000lbs of Iraqi documents - which were determined yesterday not to be part of a chemical or biological weapons lab, according to CNN. Also yesterday, US special forces searching a house in northern Baghdad following a tip-off found a weapons cache with a sizeable laboratory. They also found documents they described as papers on making chemical and biological weapons.

'We have not been loud and boisterous about every find that occurs because we have a structure for getting a very deliberate read and being conscious about it,' said Brig Gen Vincent Brooks of US Central Command in Qatar.

'Nevertheless, we remain convinced that we are going to find something as time goes on.'

Q: What do US commanders have to say about the fact that Saddam did not use chemical weapons against US troops as they thought he would?

A: 'The fact that they have not been used yet is a success story. It is not the story of failure by any means,' Brooks said. 'Now the work of removing the weapons of mass destruction can begin in earnest.'

Q: What happens if troops find suspected dangerous weapons?

A: They would use detectors and monitoring equipment to determine if they were chemical or radiological, Brooks said. After that, military units that can examine the weapons in greater detail are brought in. The weapons may be taken away for further testing and confirmation.

Q: Where have US forces been searching?

A: US Marines last week secured the Iraqi nuclear complex at Tuwaitha, 18 miles south of Baghdad. Rumours thatthey found plutonium there turned out to be false.

UN officials who had monitored the storage until recently said they doubted the US would find any banned materials there.

Troops searching the Qaa Qaa military complex south of Baghdad two weeks ago found boxes of a white powder that turned out to be explosives.

Before the war, UN weapons inspectors repeatedly visited the complex - which had been home to some of Iraq's nuclear bomb design work before the 1991 Gulf War - but did not report finding anything.

The US military has also sent experts to a facility near Qaim, a town near the Syrian border where Iraqi hold-outs battled US forces for nearly a week. After the 1991 war, Iraq built new facilities at a phosphate-processing centre near Qaim that had been used to refine uranium.

US and British officials said the new buildings could have been related to chemical or nuclear weapons programmes, but the UN inspectors visited the site twice before the latest war.

Q: How else does the US hope to locate Iraqi weapons now that Saddam is gone?

A: US defence officials said they were offering rewards ranging from pounds 1,600 to pounds 130,000 for this information, and US soldiers will also provide food or other necessities to encourage Iraqi citizens to share what they may know.

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Coalition force found the training facilities - but where are the weapons?
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Apr 18, 2003
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