Evidence found of plan to use chemical weapons: UK
Hoon said the findings of recent days go beyond the discovery this week of about 100 chemical-weapons suits that had been given to Iraqi troops in the south, apparently to protect them from any chemical weapons that Saddam's commanders might use.
Hoon did not explain the nature of the new evidence, although defence officials implied that it was found in paperwork and other Iraqi material seized at an oilfield in southern Iraq.
"British forces have made significant discoveries in recent days which show categorically that Iraqi troops are prepared for the use of such horrific weapons," Hoon said today. "I want to make it clear that any Iraqi commander who sanctions the use of such weapons of mass destruction is committing a war crime and will be held personally responsible for his action."
He said chemical suits had been found in a command post at the Rumaila oil fields in southern Iraq. The facilities have been secured by British troops and have now been searched.
That discovery was in addition to reports that US Marines found 3,000 chemical-weapons suits Tuesday at a hospital in An Nasiriyah.
Hoon said the new evidence was supported by interrogations of Iraqi prisoners of war indicating that a large number of Iraqi soldiers had been given chemical protection gear.
British officials said the Iraqi regime would not have issued the gear to its soldiers in fear of a possible US or British chemical attack because Saddam knows that allied forces do not use the banned weapons.
At the same news conference, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce said that "paperwork and other equipment" uncovered at the command post indicated that Saddam was planning to use chemical weapons. Those materials were being analysed by British intelligence agents, he said.
He did not elaborate on the contents of the papers, but said the chemical gear found by British troops was in good condition and had been properly maintained for possible use.
"This kit is effective, well cared for and in good working order," he said. "Now we have to ask ourselves why Iraqi commanders felt that infantry in this part of Iraq should be issued with weapons of mass destruction equipment and protection."
He also said the Iraqi regime had laid thousands of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines throughout the battle zone - creating great hazards for the civilian population - and also had planted a large number of lethal booby traps. British troops were having to spend "a huge amount of time and effort to make the area safe" to prevent civilian and military deaths, he said.
"It is not just the use of weapons of mass destruction that marks out this regime," Admiral Boyce said.
But Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, said in New York today that he doubts the Iraqi regime would use any banned weapons in the current fighting because to do so would cause Saddam great damage in the battle for world opinion.
He said that thus far, Saddam apparently had not used any illegal weapons against allied troops despite early, erroneous reports that banned Scud missiles had been launched at Kuwait.
"I didn't think they would do it because, first of all, the world would say that they were liars," Blix said, referring to Iraq's claim that it did not have any weapons of mass destruction.
"And in the second place, it would also then change, I think, the attitude of the world towards the armed conflict. The scepticism about the armed conflict would, I think, give way to one of greater understanding."
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