Egypt helped Iraq with gas, CIA says

Egypt secretly supplied crucial help - both technology and expert manpower - to the chemical weapons programme of Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the 1980s, US arms investigators say.

    Iraq dismantled its weapons programmes under UN inspection

    The CIA's Iraq Survey Group says Egyptian specialists

    helped the Iraqis make technological leaps on poison

    gas at the height of the Iran-Iraq War, when Baghdad used

    nerve agents to kill thousands of Iranian soldiers and

    Iranian and Iraqi civilians.

    The US report is the most authoritative and detailed

    since such collaboration between the Arab nations was first

    rumoured in the late 1980s.

    The Cairo government rejected earlier allegations,

    and Egypt's Washington embassy reiterated the denial when

    asked by the media about the CIA report. But in

    interviews with The Associated Press, United Nations arms inspectors who scoured

    Iraq's files and facilities in the 1990s corroborated the

    US finding.

    Possessing weapons

    Like its former enemy Israel, Egypt has long been thought

    to possess chemical weapons. Experts say there is strong

    evidence Egyptian warplanes repeatedly used mustard-gas

    bombs against royalist forces during Cairo's intervention

    in the Yemen civil war of the 1960s.

    UN arms inspectors corroborated
    the US finding on Egypt's link

    In 1981, after the outbreak of war with Iran, President

    Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government paid Egypt $12 million

    "in return for assistance with production

    and storage of chemical weapons agents," the US weapons

    hunters say in a little-noticed section of their

    Comprehensive Report, a 350,000-word document issued last

    October.

    The Iraq Survey Group, led by CIA special adviser Charles

    Duelfer, had spent 20 months in 2003-2004 searching for

    evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, cited by

    President George Bush as the rationale for invading Iraq

    two years ago.

    The US arms teams discredited Bush's claims, finding

    that Iraq had dismantled its advanced weapons programmes

    under UN inspection in 1991. In the process, the

    Americans uncovered previously unreported details of the

    programmes, such as the findings on Egypt and chemical arms.

    "During the early years, Egyptian scientists provided

    consultation, technology and oversight allowing rapid

    advances and technological leaps in weaponisation," the

    Duelfer report says.

    From 1983 to 1988, the Iraqis repeatedly used mustard gas,

    tabun, sarin and possibly other chemical agents against the

    Iranians. Most notoriously, in 1988, Iraqi aircraft dropped

    sarin and mustard gas on Iranian-held villages in

    rebellious Iraqi Kurdistan, killing up to 5000 Iraqi

    Kurdish civilians.

    Report findings

    The Duelfer report says that in the mid-1980s Baghdad had

    invited Egyptian chemical weapons experts to Iraq to help

    with production of sarin, a nerve agent that when inhaled

    can produce symptoms within seconds - convulsions,

    paralysis, respiratory failure and possibly death.

    From five tons in 1984, Iraqi sarin

    production rose to 209 tons  in 1987 and

    394 tons in 1988, the report says.

    The US arms hunters specify two other instances of

    critical Egyptian help:

    In 1983, the Egyptians modified the Iraqis' Grad 122mm

    multiple-launch rocket system to enable warheads to carry

    chemical agents. That powerful weapon system can launch 40

    rockets with a range of 19.2km.

    A year later, the Egyptians supplied Iraq with

    2.73m-long Grad rockets pre-equipped

    with plastic inserts in the warheads to hold the poisons, said the report.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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