DoD Closes Investigation of Iraq's Post-War Chemical Use Against Civilians

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2000 (GulfLINK) - The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses released today an environmental exposure close-out report for its investigation into the possible post-war use of chemical warfare agents by Iraq against civilians. To date, investigators have found no substantiated evidence to support these claims. The Presidential Special Oversight Board reviewed the preliminary findings and concluded additional investigation would provide no further insight into this matter.

The purpose of the investigation was to determine if Iraq used chemical warfare agents to suppress the Shiia rebellion in southern Iraq after the Gulf War, and if U.S. military personnel may have been exposed to these agents as the result of any such use. The investigation resulted from the reports of Gulf War veterans who believed they saw Iraqi forces use chemical warfare agents against Iraqi civilians involved in uprisings after the Gulf War cease fire. Although it can't be ruled out with absolute certainty, investigators found no evidence to confirm the use of chemical warfare agents.

Witnesses remembered seeing an Iraqi helicopter dropping large canisters that released a yellow substance over the rebel-held city of An Nasiriyah. They recalled that later they saw civilians with blisters, some being treated by U.S. military medical personnel.

Staff from the special assistant's office interviewed more than 100 doctors, physicians assistants and nurses who were most likely to treat front-line soldiers and refugees. None recalled seeing or treating any patients they believed had been exposed to chemical warfare agents. They did emphasize the difficulty in assessing such injuries based upon observation alone.

In addition to the medical specialists, investigators interviewed hundreds of nuclear, biological, chemical warfare specialists. Those interviewed included senior NBC officers of U.S. Army divisions deployed along the military demarcation line. None of these servicemembers were aware of any possible use of chemical warfare agents in their areas of operations. The 82nd Airborne Division NBC officer responsible for the area where witnesses reported the An Nasiriyah spraying, and believed the Iraqis had been dispensing white phosphorous and tear gas. These sustances can cause injuries similar to chemical warfare agents, a factor that adds to the difficulty of identifying the cause of the injuries without specialized tests. Investigators were also told that NBC detection systems were not employed in the nearby areas under Iraqi attack because U.S. forces were unable to enter these areas to employ those systems.

The Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency independently concluded that Iraq's post-war use of chemical warfare agents against civilians was unlikely.

The lack of conclusive evidence, eyewitnesses accounts of reported attacks, possible victims or their medical records, prevents a definite finding. Investigators concluded that continued efforts would not yield additional insights. The Presidential Special Oversight Board agreed and recommended discontinuation of the investigation.

"Although this investigation is closed," said Bernard Rostker, the special assistant, "if anyone believes they have other information that would change this report, please contact my office by calling (800) 497-6261."

The close-out report, "Possible Post-War Use of Chemical Warfare Agents Against Civilians by Iraq," is available on GulfLINK at ( http://www.gulflink.osd.mil ) along with 14 case narratives and seven information papers.