Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Saddam's Elite Set for Chemical Strike; TYRANT TELLS HIS GUARDS THEY CAN USE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION IF COALITION FORCES BREACH HIS 'RED LINE'

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Saddam's Elite Set for Chemical Strike; TYRANT TELLS HIS GUARDS THEY CAN USE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION IF COALITION FORCES BREACH HIS 'RED LINE'

Article excerpt

Byline: JEREMY CAMPBELL;HUGH MUIR

SADDAM HUSSEIN has drawn a "red line" around Baghdad, and has authorised Republican Guard units to use chemical weapons once coalition forces cross it.

Fears that Iraq will commit a chemical atrocity rose sharply today as US-led forces confronted Iraq's elite fighters for the first time 40 miles south of Baghdad.

Experts say Saddam may decide he has nothing to lose when it becomes clear that his forces are being overwhelmed. The Republican Guard controls the bulk of Iraq's chemical weapons, most of which can be fired from artillery guns or shortrange rocket launchers, according to US officials.

The most persuasive evidence that Saddam's troops have been prepared for the use of chemicals emerged in Kabbala, 65 miles south-west of Baghdad.

Having captured thousands of troops, the US Third Infantry has found that they are carrying up-to-date equipment designed to give them immunity to chemical agents.

Some of the equipment is new, a striking contrast to some of the conventional rifles carried by the Iraqi soldiers, which is mostly decades out of date.

Sergeant Jennifer Raichle of the Third Infantry said "It looks as if they are carrying chemical protection masks. They are brand new."

The Iraqi soldiers were also equipped with decontamination kits, and atropene, used to treat exposure to nerve agents. "I would guess they are planning on using chemical warfare," said Sgt Raichle. "They may or may not use it, but they were ready for it."

Pentagon officials said they have advised army units nearing Baghdad of the possibility that chemical weapons will be used.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said even if Saddam does not use chemical weapons on US troops, he might use them on his own people and blame coalition troops. Mr Powell said: "Such an action would be an immediate acknowledgement that he has the weapons of mass destruction he has denied having. …

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