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Chapter 1. Iraqi Chemical and Biological Warfare Capability (Part 1)

Status of Iraqi Readiness to Use Chemical Weapons Against Coalition Force
Destruction of Iraq's Chemicals and Chemical Weapons by the United Nations
Chemical Warfare Doctrine and the Use of Combined Agent Warfare
Chemical Nerve Agents


Over the last ten years, Iraq, a signatory to both the Geneva Protocols of 1925 (prohibiting the use of poisoned gas) and the Biological Warfare Convention of 1972 (banning biological weapons), has expended an enormous amount of research and energy in developing these and other prohibited weapons.

Iraq was believed to have been manufacturing mustard gas at a production facility in Samarra since the early 1980s. It also began an extensive program to produce nerve agent precursor chemicals, taking advantage of its own natural resources. Phosphate mines/industries are at Akashat, Al Qaim, and Rutbah. The Iraqi Al Fallujah gas warfare complex was believed to be capable of producing up to 1,000 tons per month of Sarin, as well as the nerve agent VX. In addition, with the assistance of foreign firms, Iraq developed the capability to experiment with hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride, and lewisite. By the start of the Gulf War, Iraqi forces had developed chemical delivery capabilities for rifle grenades, 81mm mortars, 152mm, 130mm, and 122mm artillery rounds; bombs; 90mm air-to-ground rockets; 216 kilogram FROG and 555 kilogram SCUD warheads; and possibly land mines and cruise missiles.

On July 30, 1991, Ambassador Rolf Ekeus, director of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), charged with overseeing the elimination of Iraq's chemical and nuclear arsenals, told the Security Council that the U.N. inspectors had found chemical warheads armed with nerve gas. Mr. Ekeus claimed that some warheads found were already fitted onto the SCUD missiles.

Iraq's chemical warfare capability was known to the U.S. government before the war. A month before the war began, then Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director William Webster estimated that Iraq possessed 1,000 tons of poisonous chemical agents, much of it capable of being loaded into two types of missiles: the FROG (Free Rocket Over Ground) and the SCUD B(SS-1). Jane's Strategic Weapons Systems lists warhead capabilities for the FROG-7 as high explosive (HE), chemical, or nuclear, and for the Iraqi versions of the SCUD as probably HE or chemical.

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Status of Iraqi Readiness to Use Chemical Weapons Against Coalition Forces

In March 1991, Molly Moore reported from Jubayl, Saudi Arabia that Marine Commanders found no indications of chemical weapons stockpiles on the battlefields of Kuwait. According to a Washington Post report that day, (March 7, 1991), U.S. intelligence analysts claimed that these weapons "never got distributed down to the battlefield" from storage sites north of the Euphrates River. A U.S. military intelligence source stated in March 1991 that "it was a matter of not deploying chemical weapons, rather than not having them, ....my guess .... is they never managed to get it down to division level."

Regarding the presence of chemical weapons and Iraqi readiness to use them against Coalition forces, Committee staff has received the following information:

Dale Glover, of the 1165th Military Police Company, was with the 7th Corps, approximately 75 miles inside Iraq, when they came upon a destroyed artillery site. They entered a bunker that was half uncovered by the bombing. Inside there was a very strong ammonia smell. They discovered leaking chemical munitions inserts packed inside aluminum casings. A test confirmed a blister agent. They went back to their unit and reported what they had found. Mr. Glover recalled that "they didn't get back to us for 2- 3 hours, then told us it was a false positive, nothing to be concerned about." However, he said, within hours they were ordered to move from the location where they were camped, about three miles from the bunker. Mr. Glover recalled that they had been at that position only a couple of weeks and had not expected to move that soon. When questioned if the site they discovered was south of the Euphrates, he confirmed that it was.

Another source who identified himself to the Committee but wishes to remain anonymous has informed Committee staff that he also was with the 7th Corps in southern Iraq. Somewhere between As Salman and Bashra (in a position south of the Euphrates River), his unit came upon bunkers containing crates of substances that "made you choke, made you want to throw up, burned your eyes. It smelled like ammonia, only a lot stronger." He could not approach the crates without experiencing immediate breathing problems. He said these crates were leaking.

Chris Alan Kornkven was a Staff Sergeant with the 340th Combat Support Company during the Persian Gulf War. He reported to Committee staff that a U.S. military doctor at the 312th Evacuation Hospital told him that doctors at the hospital had been speaking with Iraqi officers. According to these doctors, the Iraqi officers said that they had chemical weapons at the front, and had authorization to use them, but that the winds in their area were blowing the wrong way.

Several press sources carried reports of encounters with chemical mines by the 2nd Marine Division during the initial mine field breaching operation early on February 24, 1991. According to the Chicago Tribune, which interviewed officers and enlisted Marines involved in the operation, a FOX vehicle confirmed positive readings for a nerve agent and for a mustard gas. A second detecting device gave the same positive reading. General Keys, the 2nd Division commander, and Colonel Livingston, commander of the 6th Marine Regiment, told reporters they believed it was possible that a chemical mine was blown up or hit. General Schwarzkopf told reporters he considered the reports "bogus."

British troops also discovered Iraqi chemical mines on the Gulf battlefield, according to Gannett News Service. A British official (not further identified) said the incident was reported to Prime Minister John Major's war cabinet; no details were given.

Press reports indicate Iraqi readiness to use these weapons against Coalition forces. The British Sunday Times reported on January 27, 1991, that American intelligence detected greatly increased activity at Iraq's main chemical plant at Samarra in the last week of December, and the British Ministry of Defense said that the Allies believe that Iraq "may have as many as 100,000 artillery shells filled with chemicals and several tons (of bulk agent) stored near the front line." According to the Times report, a British Ministry of Defense official said: "The plant was at peak activity and the chemicals were distributed to the troops in Kuwait and elsewhere in theatre." The Times reported that an unnamed Pentagon source said that Hussein had given front-line commanders permission to use these weapons at their discretion, and that "it was no longer a question of if, but when."

Iraqi soldiers captured by the British units also informed the allies that before the war started, Iraq distributed substantial supplies of chemical weapons along the front lines to be held for the ground war. According to Newsweek, U.S. intelligence sources had reported that Saddam Hussein had ordered his commanders to fire chemical weapons as soon as the allies launched a ground offensive. A British signals officer was reported to have said that "we were tuned into the Iraqi command radio net. We heard them give the release order to their front-line troops to use chemical weapons against Rhino Force if it crossed the border."

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Destruction of Iraq's Chemicals and Chemical Weapons by the United Nations

In April 1993, weapons inspectors from the United Nations charged with locating all of Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by U.N. Resolution 687, confirmed that in Muthanna, 65 miles northwest of Baghdad, Iraq manufactured a form of mustard gas as well as Sarin and Tabun, both nerve agents. This vast desert complex was the nucleus of Iraq's chemical weapons program. During the allied bombing in the early days of the Gulf War, Muthanna was a priority target. It was repeatedly attacked and production sites were destroyed. As United Nations inspectors attempted to destroy Iraq's chemical weapons arsenal, they discovered bombs, missiles, and chemical weapons of mass destruction spread out across this immense complex. Of particular concern were the chemical warheads of Al-Hussein modified SCUD missiles, each filled with five gallons of Sarin. Twenty-eight of these warheads have been drained and destroyed by the U.S. inspectors. These weapons were not destroyed during the bombings at Muthanna because they had been removed to other locations before the Gulf War started. Their relocation and transfer back to Muthanna was described by U.N. inspectors as a painstaking process. According to Brigadier General Walter Busbee, U.S. Army Chemical and Material Destruction Agency, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, these warheads were exported to Iraq from the former Soviet Union.

Chemical warfare agents which either survived the allied bombing or were inventoried and returned to the Muthanna facility for destruction include:

U.N. inspectors have concluded that the Muthanna plant was capable of producing two tons of Sarin and five tons of mustard gas daily. The plant was also capable of manufacturing VX, a nerve gas and one of the most toxic chemicals ever produced.

In addition to Muthanna, chemical agents were destroyed at two airbases: one located 40 miles west of Baghdad and the other located near An Nassiriyah, where a number of 122mm rockets loaded with Sarin (GB) were blown in place. According to UNSCOM sources, many of these weapons were hastily deployed prior to the air war and later returned for destruction. The U.N. has destroyed hundreds of tons of bulk chemical agents and tens of thousands of chemical munitions. In addition, hundreds of thousands of liters of key chemical precursors which have been identified and destroyed include: 14,600 liters of DF; 121,000 liters of D4 and 153,983 liters of thiodiglycol. According to UNSCOM, the Iraqis were capable of employing both binary and mixed agent weapons. Binary weapons identified used DF. When combined with appropriate chemicals, GB and GF are produced.

UNSCOM also discovered, at various locations, evidence of research into certain biological agents, including botulinus toxin, anthrax, an organism responsible for gas gangrene (clostridium perfringens) and others as identified below. The evidence discovered by the group suggested that this was primarily an offensive biological warfare program.

On February 13, 1994, a clandestine radio service in Iraq, the Voice of the Iraqi People, reported that Saddam Hussein's government was still attempting to hide chemical and biological weapons from international inspectors by repeatedly relocating them. Citing unidentified individuals, the radio reported that the banned weapons were being hidden in the oil pipelines that have been "out of operation because of the international embargo."

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Chemical Warfare Doctrine and the Use of Combined Agent Warfare

There is substantial evidence to suggest that in the use of chemical weapons, as in other military areas, the Iraqi military adhered, at least in part, to Soviet military doctrine. Soviet military doctrine suggested that chemical warfare should be conducted with mixed agents. Mixed agents, often referred to as "cocktails," are intended to enhance the capabilities of nerve agents and defeat the precautions taken by the enemy. Use of mixed agents could account for the wide variety of symptoms displayed by the Gulf War veterans. Mixed agents can be made by combining a variety of biotoxins, nerve agents, vesicants, blister agents and some biological agents -- such as bacteria and fungi, and others described briefly below.

According to some sources, Iraq used mixed agent weapons combining cyanogen, mustard gas, and tabun against the Kurds. Saddam Hussein stated on April 2, 1990, that Iraq had "double combined chemical" weapons since the last year of the Iran-Iraq War. It was also believed that in 1984 Iraq may have used mixed agent weapons with biological tricothecenes and mycotoxins against Majnoon Island during the Iran-Iraq War.

The utility of chemical weapons and the possibility of exposing one's own troops to indirect chemical weapons effects is an issue which has been seriously debated by both U.S. and Soviet military planners. Soviet doctrine questions the utility of initiating chemical warfare, since chemical weapons produce secondary effects that could obstruct troop advances. U.S. Military doctrine warns that according to its calculations, the use of a nerve agent against a target area of no more than a dozen hectares (a hectare is about 2.47 acres) can, under certain weather conditions, create a hazard zone downwind of up to 100 kilometers in length. Within this downwind area, friendly military units would have to take protective measures.

According to the official military announcements made in the last half of January 1991 and based on the quantity of chemical agents observed by UN inspectors after the war, the scope of coalition bombing against these facilities involved hundreds -- if not thousands -- of tons of bulk chemical nerve agents, mustard gas, as well as tens of thousands of pieces of chemical munitions. This quantity of chemical warfare agents vastly exceeds the amounts that might be expected to be deployed by a military force in a single chemical attack.

The dispersal of the chemical agents and other hazardous substances is controlled by factors such as topography, wind velocity, direction, temperature, precipitation, vertical temperature gradient and atmospheric humidity. These factors all contribute to the size and type of dispersal pattern which will be observed. In addition, as confirmed by unclassified U.S. satellite imagery, debris from the Coalition bombings were upwardly dispersed, rather than downwardly dispersed as would occur in offensive use, causing chemical agents to be carried by upper atmospheric currents and distributed as "traces" of chemical fallout over "down weather" positions. Czech and French officials confirmed the detections of these chemicals during the war. (See Chapter 3.)

In considering the consequences of the placement of troops in areas downwind (where non-lethal exposure to chemical warfare agents might be expected), it must be remembered that chemical nerve agents, such as Sarin and Soman and other agents, have cumulative effects -- often explained as slow rates of detoxification.

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Chemical Nerve Agents

Nerve agents kill by disrupting the metabolic processes, causing a buildup of a chemical messenger (acetylcholine) by inhibiting the production of acetylcholine-esterase, a key regulator of neurotransmission. Lethal exposure to chemical nerve agents is generally characterized by drooling, sweating, cramping, vomiting, confusion, irregular heart beat, convulsions, loss of consciousness and coma.

According to a material safety data sheet (MSDS) for Soman (GD), and VX prepared by the U.S. Army Chemical Research, Development and Engineering Center, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, "the inhibition of cholinesterase enzymes throughout the body by nerve agents is more or less irreversible so that their effects are prolonged. Until the tissue cholinesterase enzymes are restored to normal activity, probably by very slow regeneration over a period of weeks or 2 to 3 months if damage is severe, there is a period of increased susceptibility to the effects of another exposure to any nerve agent. During this period the effects of repeated exposures are cumulative; after a single exposure, daily exposure to concentrations of nerve agent insufficient to produce symptoms may result in the onset of symptoms after several days. Continued daily exposure may be followed by increasingly severe effects. After symptoms subside, increased susceptibility persists for one to several days. The degree of exposure required to produce recurrence of symptoms, and the severity of these symptoms depend on duration of exposure and time required to produce recurrence of symptoms, and the severity of these symptoms depend on the duration of exposure and the time intervals between exposures. Increased susceptibility is not specific to the particular nerve agent initially absorbed." (See appendix A for MSDS on Soman, Sarin, Tabun, and VX).

Some of the symptoms commonly associated with acute exposure to chemical nerve agents include myosis, frontal headaches, eye pain on focusing, slight dimness of vision, occasional nausea and vomiting, runny nose, tightness in chest, sometimes with prolonged wheezing, expiration suggestive of broncho-constriction or increased secretion and coughing. Following systemic absorption, these symptoms are identified as typical: tightnesss in chest, wheezing, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, epigastric and substernal tightness, heartburn, diarrhea, involuntary defecation, increased sweating, increased salivation, increased tearing, slight bradycardia, myosis, blurring vision, urinary urgency and frequency, fatigue, mild weakness, muscular twitching, cramps, generalized weakness, including muscles of respiraton, with dyspnea and cyanosis, pallor and occasional elevation of blood pressure; giddiness, tension, anxiety, jitteriness, restlessness, emotional lability, excessive dreaming, insomnia, nightmares, headaches, tremors, withdrawal and depression; bursts of slow waves of elevated voltage in EEG (especially on over ventilation), drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, slowness on recall, confusion, slurred speech, ataxia, coma (with absence of reflexes), Cheyne-Stokes respirations, convulsions, depression of the respiratory and circulatory centers, with dyspnea, cyanosis and fall in blood pressure.

The majority of automatic chemical agent detection alarms (M8A1) deployed during the war were not sufficiently sensitive for detecting sustained low levels of chemical agent and monitoring personnel for contamination. U.S. Army Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) indicate that chronic exposure to levels of over .0001 mg/m3 for Sarin (GB) is hazardous and required the use of protective equipment. (See appendix A). The minimum level of chemical agent required to activate the automatic chemical agent detection alarm M8A1, commonly in use during the war, exceeds this threshold by a factor of 1,000. As the chemical agent alarms began to sound during the "air war," French, Czech, and many U.S. commanders confirmed that they were sounding from the fallout from the bombings. Over time, even at these levels, after repeatedly being told that there was no danger, U.S. forces failed to take precautionary measures. Others report that the alarms were sounding so frequently that they were turned off.

This increased susceptibility associated with prolonged exposures to non-lethal dosages of nerve gases, suggests that the synergistic effects of the fallout from the bombings of the chemical warfare agent facilities and the administration of the cholinesterase inhibiting drug, pyridostigmine bromide, should be further researched as factors contributing to the symptoms being described by the Gulf War veterans.

The following is a listing of a number of agents which the Iraqi government could have combined or which could have been combined in the atmosphere as a result of Coalition bombings:

Sarin (GB) - A colorless and practically odorless liquid, Sarin dissolves well in water and organic solvents. The basic military use of Sarin is as a gas and a persistent aerosol. A highly toxic agent with a clearly defined myopic effect, symtoms of intoxication appear quickly without any period of latent effect. Sarin has cumulative efffects -- that is, a slow rate of detoxification independent of its method of entry into the body. According to Joachim Krause and Charles K. Mallory in Chemical Weapons in Soviet Military Doctrine: Military and Historical Experience, 1915-1991, the progressive signs of initial Sarin intoxication include myosis (contraction of the pupil), photophobia, difficulty breathing and chest pain.

Soman (GD) - A neuro-paralytic toxic agent. Soman is a transparent, colorless, involatile liquid smelling of camphor. Soluble in water to a limited degree, Soman is absorbed into porous and painted surfaces. Soman is similar to Sarin in its injurious effects, but more toxic. When it acts on the skin in either droplet or vapor form, it causes a general poisoning of the organism.

Tabun (GA) - A neuro-paralytic toxic agent. Tabun is a transparent, colorless liquid. The industrial product is a brown liquid with a weak sweetish smell; in small concentrations, it smells of fruit, but in large concentrations, it smells of fish. Tabun dissolves poorly in water but well in organic solvents; it is easily absorbed into rubber products and painted surfaces. Injury occurs upon skin contact with Tabun vapor and droplets. The symptoms of injury appear almost immediately . Marked myosis occurs.

VX - This colorless, ordorless, liquid has a low volatility and is poorly soluble in water, but dissolves well in organic solvents. The danger of pulmonary VX intoxication is determined by meteorological conditions and the delivery method used. VX is thought to be very effective against respiratory organs when in the form of a thinly dispersed aerosol. The symptoms of VX intoxication are analogous to those of other nerve agents, but their development is markedly slower. As with other nerve agents, VX has a cumulative effect.

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