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Turkish Sale to Iraq Concerns U.S.

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.

One official said substantial quantities of the antidote, known as atropine, already have been delivered, but another official said it was unclear whether any shipments had taken place. The officials spoke on condition they not be identified.

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 there was no record of an Iraqi request for atropine in his agency’s records.

Mustafa Karpuzcu, general director of Drogsan, a Turkish company which 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. Among other purposes, atropine is frequently used to resuscitate heart attack victims.

One official said the 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 in the event that 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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