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Iraqi units may have orders to use chem/bio weapons

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Coalition forces have seen indications that Iraqi units have been given the freedom to use chemical weapons, Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said today.

Brooks, deputy director of operations at CENTCOM's deployed headquarters in Qatar, told a press conference that intelligence sources indicate that once coalition troops reach a certain point Iraqi forces may use these weapons of mass destruction.

"Orders have been given that at a certain point, chemical weapons might be used," Brooks said. "We've seen chemical protective equipment in a number of areas south of where we thought that red line might be."

Coalition forces found 3,000 chemical- and biological-agent protective suits in Nasiriyah, and there have been similar discoveries further south. "As we put just those two pieces together, we certainly have indications," he said.

But officials don't believe there is a definitive order to begin using the weapons. "I have not seen anything that says an order has been given to fire," Brooks said. "We know that the capability does indeed exist. We know that the will exists. And we take it very, very seriously at this point, and we'll prepare ourselves accordingly."

Brooks said coalition land forces "consolidated territory gained over the last couple of days and conducted active security operations to eliminate identified terrorist death squads." The death squads, irregular forces devoted to Saddam Hussein, have been attacking coalition forces.

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is beyond the city of Qalat Sikar, Brooks said. The Army's V Corps defeated paramilitary attacks north of Najaf. Reports said the attackers were the regime death squads strengthened by Special Republican Guard members. Both the Army and Marine units continue to reposition in anticipation of further attacks.

In the south, British forces prevented any Iraqi reinforcements from reaching Basra, the general said. Also, the first relief ship, the logistics ship HMS Sir Galahad, arrived at the port of Umm Qasr filled with humanitarian supplies.

In the north, he said, "coalition forces maintained pressure on regime forces while maintaining stability" in the region.

Brooks said Republican Guard units are repositioning in order to avoid attack. He does not think that any movements the units make are aimed at improving their defensive positions. He said the Guard units have been under attack for several days and will remain under attack.

Defense officials said many of the 500 strike sorties coalition aircraft flew March 27 were aimed at the Medina and Hammurabi Republican Guard divisions. The Medina Division is dug in south of Baghdad, while the Hammurabi unit is covering the northern approaches.

Coalition aircraft flew around 1,500 sorties in total March 27. Clearing weather conditions helped the air effort.

"It's helping us fly and coordinate with land forces both north and south," an official said. "(The clearing weather) is really letting us push the hunt for weapons of mass destruction sites and theater ballistic missile sites in the west."

Brooks said the Iraqis have fired a total of 12 missiles at Kuwait. "All of the threatening launches (were) intercepted by Patriot missiles," he said. "In addition, we have established combat air patrols near the areas where most of the launches have been occurring."

He said coalition forces are proceeding well and are setting the conditions for future operations in Iraq. "We remain focused on the key objectives of removing the regime and disarming Iraq," he said. (Courtesy American Forces Press Service)

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