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Iraq Orders Antidote for Nerve Gas

November 12, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Iraq has ordered 1.25 million doses of an antidote for nerve agents in what could be an attempt to protect its military personnel if Saddam Hussein uses those weapons on the battlefield, administration officials said Tuesday.

At least some of the doses were ordered from Turkey, and U.S. diplomats are discussing the issue with Turkish officials.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, briefing reporters late Tuesday, said it was not clear whether Iraq has received any deliveries of the antidote, known as atropine.

``This is not something you would want to be selling to Iraq at this time,″ Powell said.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who joined Powell at the briefing, said the United Nations, in enforcing its economic embargo against Iraq, must be careful about permitting the export of items that have both military and nonmilitary uses.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, ``Any Iraqi orders for more atropine than needed to meet normal humanitarian requirements would be of concern, since that could indicate preparations to use chemical weapons by preparing to protect their own forces from the consequences of such use.″

In Turkey, Health Ministry spokesman Ebubekir Akkaynak said his agency had no record of an Iraqi request for atropine.

Mustafa Karpuzcu, general director of Drogsan, a Turkish company that manufactures atropine, said the firm had no commercial ties with Iraq and had not received any request.

The Iraq interest in the purchase of atropine was first reported in Tuesday’s editions of The New York Times.

There were differing accounts among officials as to whether the 1.25 million doses far exceeded normal needs of the Iraqi medical community. Atropine is frequently used to resuscitate heart attack victims.

One official said the Bush administration had not evaluated whether the size of the Iraqi request suggests the atropine will be used as a battlefield antidote. Another official said the large quantity clearly suggests an attempt to protect military personnel if nerve agents are used against an invading enemy.

Iraq has been enhancing its defense posture in anticipation of a possible U.S.-led invasion to disarm the country of weaponry barred by the United Nations.

Atropine is not on the U.N. list of products that Iraq is barred from importing.

Officials said Iraq submitted a contract to the United Nations for the purchase of the atropine. This was part of normal reporting procedures required under U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iraq.

Iraq is not a signatory to an international chemical weapons convention. The United States has renounced the use of weapons banned in the convention and says it does not maintain these arms in its arsenal.

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