Iraq preparing to use chemical weapons if attacked

27 January 2003
The potential dangers of attacking Iraq became evident on 23 January, as documents passed to the BBC indicated the regime is preparing to use chemical weapons against invaders. Notes smuggled out of Iraq by the opposition Iraqi National Coalition (INC) refer to new chemical warfare suits to protect soldiers and the distribution of the anti-nerve gas agent atropine. Iraq's efforts to purchase large quantities of atropine was highlighted recently by the US, as Washington sought to tighten the UN restrictions on what Baghdad is allowed to import. The notes allegedly come from senior members of the Iraqi military. When the US and UK criticised the Iraqi's December declaration of its weapons to the US, one of their complaints was that large stocks of VX and Sarin nerve gas were unaccounted for.

The US on 23 January made a new accusation pointing to Iraqi non-compliance with the terms of Resolution 1441, when deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz claimed that 'multiple sources' indicated that scientists who co-operated with UN interviewers would be killed, along with their families. On the same day the head of Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate, Hussam Mohammed Amin, told a news conference that Baghdad was encouraging scientists to be interviewed, but that some had refused without the presence of a government official.

Senior French and German officials tried to calm the stormy exchange between their governments and the US after Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's 'old Europe' remark. Reacting to questions about European opposition to Washington's hawkish line on Iraq, Rumsfeld said: 'You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that's old Europe.' This brought an angry response from Paris and Berlin, but German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on 23 January told people to 'calm down,' and said that the three countries were 'good friends and allies'. Concluding their regional summit, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan avoided any criticism of US policy, and issued a joint appeal to Iraq 'to demonstrate a more active approach' towards UN weapons inspectors.

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