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Troops find Iraqi chemical suits

By Tim Butcher of the Daily Telegraph in a pooled despatch

Click to enlarge photo

NEAR BASRA, Southern Iraq (Reuters) - British troops have found a stash of Iraqi equipment designed to protect soldiers from chemical attack, including protective suits, training materials and nerve gas antidote.

Sunday's discovery at an ordinance facility south of Basra did not appear to include any actual weapons of mass destruction -- the elusive "smoking gun" that Washington and London hope will eventually justify their invasion of Iraq.

But troops did find items including a Geiger counter, gas masks and nerve gas simulators, which British officers said indicated that Iraqi troops were being trained to deal with the possibility of chemical or nuclear warfare.

"To my eye it looks like training equipment to teach people how to identify if there is something like (nerve agent) Sarin in the air and what to do in the event of a nuclear attack," said Captain Kevin Cooney of the joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) Regiment.

"Further tests will have to be done and this is now a matter that has been passed up the chain of command for further consideration."

Last week Britain said it had made a significant find of protective chemical suits in southern Iraq, saying this showed that Baghdad was ready to use weapons of mass destruction.

Any proof of Iraqi intent to use such weapons would be a propaganda coup for the United States and Britain, which went to war on March 20 after abandoning diplomatic efforts to rid Iraq of its alleged illegal weapons programmes.

Iraq denies having banned weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Sunday the United States had not found any outlawed weapons in Iraq because troops had not yet reached the area where they we t re stockpiled.

Among the items found on Sunday were what appeared to be a chemical simulator to test if Sarin was in the atmosphere.

Also found were "combo pens", devices carried by troops who anticipate possible attack by nerve agents and which deliver a concentrated dose of antidote if punched against the thigh. There were also vials of atropine, the antidote for nerve gas attack used by British and American forces.

Soldiers also reported finding 13 large wooden cases -- some marked "Ministry of Defence, Baghdad" -- containing gas masks, plastic suits and other materiel, as well as what appeared to be equipment to test the atmosphere for various nerve agents.

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