BAGHDAD, Iraq - A roadside bomb containing deadly sarin nerve agent exploded near a U.S. military convoy, the U.S. military said Monday. It was believed to be the first confirmed finding of any of the banned weapons upon which the United States based its case for the Iraq (news - web sites) war.
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Two people were treated for "minor exposure," but no serious injuries were reported.
The deadly chemical was inside an artillery shell dating to the Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) era that had been rigged as a bomb in Baghdad, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman in Iraq.
U.S. troops have announced the discovery of other chemical weapons before, only to see them disproved by later tests. A dozen chemical shells were also found by U.N. inspectors before the war; they had been tagged for destruction in the 1990s but somehow were not destroyed.
"The Iraqi Survey Group confirmed today that a 155-millimeter artillery round containing sarin nerve agent had been found," Kimmitt said. "The round had been rigged as an IED (improvised explosive device) which was discovered by a U.S. force convoy.
"A detonation occurred before the IED could be rendered inoperable. This produced a very small dispersal of agent," he said.
The incident occurred "a couple of days ago," he said.
The Iraqi Survey Group is a U.S. organization whose task was to search for weapons of mass destruction after Saddam's ouster.
The round was an old `binary-type' shell in which two chemicals held in separate sections are mixed after firing to produce sarin, Kimmitt said.
He said he believed that insurgents who rigged the artillery shell as a bomb didn't know it contained the nerve agent, and that the dispersal of the nerve agent from such a rigged device was very limited.
"The former regime had declared all such rounds destroyed before the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites)," Kimmitt said. Two members of a military bomb squad were treated for minor exposure to nerve agent, but none was injured.
It was unclear if the sarin shell was from chemical rounds that the United Nations (news - web sites) had tagged and marked for destruction before the U.S. invasion.
Prior to the war, U.N. inspectors had compiled a short list of proscribed items found during hundreds of surprise inspections: fewer than 20 old, empty chemical warheads for battlefield rockets, and a dozen artillery shells filled with mustard gas. The shells had been tagged by U.N. inspectors in the 1990s but somehow not destroyed by them.
In 1995, Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult unleashed sarin gas in Tokyo's subways, killing 12 people and sickening thousands. In February of this year, Japanese courts convicted the cult's former leader, Shoko Asahara, and sentence him to be executed.
Developed in the mid-1930s by Nazi scientists, a single drop of sarin can cause quick, agonizing choking death. There are no known instances of the Nazis actually using the gas.
Nerve gases work by inhibiting key enzymes in the nervous system, blocking their transmission. Small exposures can be treated with antidotes, if administered quickly.
Antidotes to nerve gases similar to sarin are so effective that top poison gas researchers predict they eventually will cease to be a war threat.
The Bush administration cited allegations that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as a main reason for launching the war in Iraq last year, but no evidence of such weapons has been found.
Since the war ended, the U.S.-led coalition has found several caches that tested positive for mustard gas but later turned out to contain missile fuel or other chemicals.
In January, troops discovered 36 mortar rounds believed to hold a blister agent, but later tests showed there was no such chemical inside.
What if the Hokey Pokey is what it is all about?