Deadly chemicals are found dumped in river
By David Harrison in Nasiriyah
Mustard gas and cyanide have been found in river water in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, coalition forces said yesterday.
The poisonous substances are believed to have been dumped in the Euphrates either by Iraqi soldiers fleeing from American troops or local factories that produced weapons of mass destruction.
A spokesman for the United States marines, based just outside the city, described the quantities of chemical agents found as "significant" and claimed that it was further evidence that Saddam Hussein has produced weapons of mass destruction.
He said yesterday: "I think this discovery shows what kind of guy is running this country.
"This stuff is just dumped in the Euphrates without any concern for the many people who drink and wash with water from the river."
The poisons were discovered by the marines' scientists who were testing the quality of water taken from the Euphrates before purifying it and distributing it to the residents of Nasiriyah, a city of 250,000 people.
It follows the discovery of hundreds of gas masks and chemical warfare suits at a military base near the city.
Weapons found at the site included rocket launchers, machine-guns and rifles, bayonets and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Yesterday the site was deserted except for a few American soldiers examining the contents of the armoury, picking their way carefully through grenades and a huge amount of other explosives packed in boxes or strewn in and around the storerooms.
Among the boxes were papers with details of Iraqi soldiers, each with a small black-and-white passport photograph attached. There were also dozens of unused black berets of the sort worn frequently by Saddam Hussein.
The marines returned to the Euphrates in Nasiriyah yesterday to distribute purified water to hundreds of Iraqis who formed an orderly queue on the river bank.
Under the watchful gaze of heavily armed troops, the water was taken directly from the river, cleaned and then piped into buckets and jerry cans of all shapes and sizes.
Most residents were pleased that water was being provided, although some pointed out that the water problem only arose at the beginning of the war when American aircraft destroyed the city's treatment plant.
Abdul Ahmed, 33, said: "We are grateful for their help but we only have this problem because of the American bombings."
He added: "Before that we had water from the taps in our houses so we are still worse off than we were before the start of the war."