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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


January 20, 2004

Iraq Mortar Shells Did Not -- NOT -- Contain Chemical Weapons

Shells found near Basra were not chemical weapons (1/19/04 - The Independent [UK])

Repeated lab tests by Danish, American, and British experts have conclusively determined that mortar shells found by Danish troops on Jan. 10, 2004, do not contain any chemical warfare agents. Initial field tests on the shells showed positive for mustard gas, a World War I-vintage blister agent, and the story received prominent play in US print and broadcast news reports.

An earlier round of lab testing by the Danish government, British experts, and the US military's Iraq Survey Group, completed on Jan. 14, concluded that "none of the shells contain chemical warfare agents" according to a statement issued at the time by the Danish military. The Danes said additional testing would be done to confirm the results. European news reports emphasized the negative finding, while in the US the Associated Press wire story bore the technically accurate but misleading headline that the tests were "inconclusive."

Shells were then shipped to the National Environment Engineering Laboratory in Idaho, run by the US Department of Energy, for further testing. Their negative findings were announced by the Danes (not the US) on Jan. 18. "The results show the shells from the Danish area did not contain chemical warfare agents," a spokesman for the Danish army said.

On Jan. 9, Danish troops discovered a cache of 36 aging and unmarked 120mm mortar shells outside a village near Qurnah in southern Iraq. A field testing machine, widely shown in US TV news reports, indicated the presence of blister agent.

A Danish spokesman also said at the time that "first inspections have shown that the mortars contain some liquid. We don't now what sort of liquid or the age of the mortars." This liquid was probably rain water, as the buried shells had been exposed by a storm, according to The Guardian.

Another 50 mortar shells were soon excavated, and reports circa Jan. 14 indicated at least another 50 were believed to be buried in the area. A Danish army spokesman said villagers told the troops that they had found about 400 or more some years ago and thrown them in the Tigris river.

None of the shells had any markings to indicate where they came from or who manufactured them. The area in which they were recovered had been site of intense fighting during the Iran-Iraq war, and it is now believed the shells date at least from the mid-1980s.

Danish Capt. Kim Vibe Michelsen, a military spokesman stationed in Iraq, told The Guardian on Jan. 14 that villagers described a week-long battle in 1984. The villagers said they fled the area and returned after the battle to find all their cattle dead and the area littered with human bodies, according to Michelsen. He quoted the villagers as saying that none of the carcasses or bodies bore gunshot wounds, but all were bleeding from mouth and nose. "This is a clear indication of chemical weapons use,'' he said at the time.

[Read the source...]

The Independent [UK], 19 January 2004

Shells found near Basra were not chemical weapons By Rupert Cornwell in Washington

Three dozen mortar shells found buried in southern Iraq did not contain chemical blister agents as initially reported, the Danish army said yesterday.

The conclusion, after a week of tests by British, US and Danish experts, is a further blow to the dwindling hopes of finding the barred chemical, biological or nuclear weapons whose alleged existence was the official reason for the 20 March invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

The first 36 shells were found in the desert north of Basra on 9 January, in a zone supervised by Danish troops. They were buried among scrap construction equipment.

Initial tests detected traces of mustard gas, a First World War-era chemical weapon, suggesting that the shells were from the mid-1980s -- when Saddam used chemical weapons in his war against Iran. The area where they were unearthed saw particularly fierce fighting during that conflict.

But further tests in Iraq and at the US Department of Energy laboratories in Idaho were negative, the Danish army said. "The results show the shells from the Danish area did not contain chemical warfare agents," a spokesman said.

In all, 50 unmarked 120mm shells were recovered, and at least 50 more are believed to be buried in the area. Local residents told troops that another 400 of the shells had been thrown into the Tigris river.

Earlier reported finds of caches of chemical weapons also proved false, while supposed mobile biological weapons laboratories found after the war appear to have been for other purposes. No trace of any biological agent has been discovered on them.

With every passing day it seems more likely that Iraq did destroy its WMD stockpiles in the early 1990s after the Gulf War in 1991 -- just as Baghdad claimed.


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