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Munitions Found in Iraq Meet WMD Criteria, Official Says

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2006 – The 500 munitions discovered throughout Iraq since 2003 and discussed in a National Ground Intelligence Center report meet the criteria of weapons of mass destruction, the center's commander said here today.

"These are chemical weapons as defined under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and yes ... they do constitute weapons of mass destruction," Army Col. John Chu told the House Armed Services Committee.

The Chemical Weapons Convention is an arms control agreement which outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. It was signed in 1993 and entered into force in 1997.

The munitions found contain sarin and mustard gases, Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said. Sarin attacks the neurological system and is potentially lethal.

"Mustard is a blister agent (that) actually produces burning of any area (where) an individual may come in contact with the agent," he said. It also is potentially fatal if it gets into a person's lungs.

The munitions addressed in the report were produced in the 1980s, Maples said. Badly corroded, they could not currently be used as originally intended, Chu added.

While that's reassuring, the agent remaining in the weapons would be very valuable to terrorists and insurgents, Maples said. "We're talking chemical agents here that could be packaged in a different format and have a great effect," he said, referencing the sarin-gas attack on a Japanese subway in the mid-1990s.

This is true even considering any degradation of the chemical agents that may have occurred, Chu said. It's not known exactly how sarin breaks down, but no matter how degraded the agent is, it's still toxic.

"Regardless of (how much material in the weapon is actually chemical agent), any remaining agent is toxic," he said. "Anything above zero (percent agent) would prove to be toxic, and if you were exposed to it long enough, lethal."

Though about 500 chemical weapons - the exact number has not been released publicly - have been found, Maples said he doesn't believe Iraq is a "WMD-free zone."

"I do believe the former regime did a very poor job of accountability of munitions, and certainly did not document the destruction of munitions," he said. "The recovery program goes on, and I do not believe we have found all the weapons."

The Defense Intelligence Agency director said locating and disposing of chemical weapons in Iraq is one of the most important tasks servicemembers in the country perform.

Maples added searches are ongoing for chemical weapons beyond those being conducted solely for force protection.

There has been a call for a complete declassification of the National Ground Intelligence Center's report on WMD in Iraq. Maples said he believes the director of national intelligence is still considering this option, and has asked Maples to look into producing an unclassified paper addressing the subject matter in the center's report.

Much of the classified matter was slated for discussion in a closed forum after the open hearings this morning.

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