US troops take control of suspected chemical weapons plant

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DUE WEST OF NAJAF, SOUTHERN IRAQ – Soldiers of the US 3rd Infantry Division Sunday captured in Najaf, some 250 kilometers south of Baghdad, the first Iraqi installation that is suspected of having produced chemical weapons. About 70 Iraqi troops, including a general, surrendered to US forces at the plant.

One soldier was lightly wounded when a booby-trap exploded as he was clearing the sheet metal-lined facility, which resembles the eerie images of scientific facilities in World War II concentration camps. He sustained burns to his hands when a door he touched detonated a bomb that exploded a building.

Asked about The Jerusalem Post report at a press briefing in Qatar, US Lt.-Gen. John Abizaid said, 'I'm not going to confirm that report. But we have one or two general officers who are providing us with that information.'

The 100-acre (400-dunam) complex is surrounded by an electrical fence. The surrounding barracks resemble an abandoned slum.

It wasn't immediately clear exactly what chemicals were being produced here, but clearly the Iraqis tried to camouflage the facility so it could not be photographed from the air, by swathing it in sand-cast walls to make it look like the surrounding desert.

The mostly abandoned buildings inside the complex are long cavernous structures built of blue corrugated metal that call to mind chicken coops.

Tank and Bradley fighting vehicle companies moved in on the suspected chemical plant, due west of Najaf, after an initial artillery barrage. Aside from several guard dogs, the plant appeared recently abandoned. And yet upon approaching the complex the psychological operations team broadcast surrender instructions to the Iraqi troops presumed to be hidden inside.

The team went from building to building. After some 35 minutes inside the compound, the first group of 10 soldiers and officers surrendered as instructed. They lay on the ground and put their hands above their heads.

Some 10 minutes later an additional group of 60 officers and soldiers surrendered. Initial interrogations by the troops in the field revealed that one of the officers was a general.

Documents written in Arabic, Cyrillic, and English script were found and confiscated. After registering the POWs, the soldiers left the area and moved on to the main encampment, some 50 kilometers south of Karbala.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post


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