US Troop Capture Huge Chemical Plant: Used To Produce Chemical Weapons?
The Jerusalem Post

24 March 2003

US forces of the 3rd Infantry Division have captured a huge installation in southern Iraq apparently used to produce chemical weapons.

A general was among 30 Iraqi soldiers who immediately surrendered to the soldiers on Sunday afternoon in the complex near Najaf, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Baghdad.

Asked about The Jerusalem Post's exclusive coverage of this development, US Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, Deputy Commander of Central Command, told reporters: "I'm not going to confirm that report, but we have one or two generals officers who are providing us with information." Other US officials have since confirmed that the site is indeed a suspected chemical weapons factory.

Fox Television News called the Post report Monday "a topic of a great deal of interest in Washington." The network quoted Pentagon sources as reporting the find of yet another chemical factory elsewhere in Iraq, but gave no further details.

One soldier was lightly wounded when a booby-trapped explosive went off as he was clearing the sheet metal-lined chemical facility shortly after the troops stormed in on Sunday afternoon.

The huge 100-acre complex, which is surrounded by a electrical fence, would be the first illegal chemical plant to be uncovered by US troops in their current mission in Iraq. The surrounding barracks resemble an abandoned slum. It wasn't immediately clear exactly which chemicals were being produced here, but clearly the Iraqis tried to camouflage the facility so it could not be photographed aerially, by swathing it in sand-cast walls to make it look like the surrounding desert.

Within minutes of our entry into the camp on Sunday afternoon, at least 30 Iraqi soldiers and their commanding officer of the rank of general, obeyed the instructions of US soldiers who called out from our jeep in loudspeakers for them to lie down on the ground, and put their hands above their heads to surrender.

The operation was the brigade's third engagement with Iraqi forces since Saturday afternoon.

So far in the campaign, the brigade has suffered no losses. But two were wounded Saturday night in an ambush on the outskirts of As-Samwah in southern Iraq.

Fresh bombardment rattled Baghdad early Monday as American and British troops tried to slash through resistance by Iraqi troops who fired rockets and anti-aircraft guns to defend the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.

Allied casualties mounted as two British soldiers were reported missing Monday after vehicles they were traveling in were attacked in southern Iraq, British defense officials said. The attack took place on Sunday but no details were disclosed.

Twelve U.S. soldiers were missing and presumed captured by Iraqis in an ambush on an army supply convoy at An Nasiriyah, Central Command said.

Arab television showed what it said were four American dead in an Iraqi morgue and at least five other Americans identified as captured soldiers.

"I come to shoot only if I am shot at," said one American prisoner. Asked why he was fighting Iraqis, he replied: "They don't bother me; I don't bother them."

The march to Baghdad also left as many as nine Marines dead in the fighting near An Nasiriyah, a southern city far from the forward positions of the allied force. A dozen U.S. soldiers were also taken prisoner in the area.

Although U.S. leaders declared the invasion on target despite the bloody setbacks on the third day of the campaign, any expectation that Iraqi defenders would simply fold was gone.

"Clearly they are not a beaten force," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "This is going to get a lot harder." In another unsettling incident for the US -led coalition, British officials confirmed that a Royal Air Force Tornado aircraft was shot down accidentally Sunday by US Patriot missile near the Kuwaiti-Iraq border while returning from a mission. The aircraft's crew was missing; details about those on board were not disclosed. "This is a tragedy and we are taking rapid steps to ensure there is no repetition," said Group Capt. Al Lockwood, a spokesman for British forces.