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Iraqi chemical arms are still a threat

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CNN'S FALSE STORY about American troops using nerve gas in Vietnam almost 30 years ago has distracted the country's attention from a true evil: Saddam Hussein's hidden chemical agent stockpile and his use of such weapons in the past.

Though CNN has retracted the story and publicly apologized, Vietnam veterans and other CNN critics charge the story is evidence of an anti-American, left-wing bias by the network and Arnett, a grudge that some have held since Arnett reported from Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War.The most decorated veteran from that war, Col. David Hackworth, charged on CNBC that he suspected the mindset for the flawed report came from Ted Turner's wife, Jane Fonda. During the Vietnam War, she traveled to Hanoi and made propaganda broadcasts for America's enemy. "I think that there's an influence from Jane Fonda, his wife, to vindicate her for what she did nearly 30 years ago in Vietnam. If nerve gas was used, and we're just like Saddam Hussein, then she's vindicated for going to North Vietnam."

We've found no evidence that Turner or Fonda had anything to do with the program, but it did serve to distract Americans from our bona fide enemy, Saddam Hussein, and his own chemical weapons-making efforts.

One U.S. intelligence source told our associate Dale Van Atta that "there's no way we've discovered where he's hidden all that chemical agent he had." In fact, that's why it was necessary to have a showdown with Saddam not long ago over allowing free travel of U.N. inspectors.

Saddam's chemical weapons effort began in a major way during his Five Year Plan from 1976 to 1980, which, under the heading "Chemical Industries," called for the construction of a pesticides plant at Samarra capable of manufacturing 1,000 tons a year of organic phosphorous compounds. Most Western nations had stopped using these highly lethal compounds for pest control years before because of their high toxicity. Organic phosphorous chemicals form the basis of nerve gas compounds such as sarin and tabun.

Iraqi Gen. Amer al-Saadi, a German-trained chemist, decided to go back to the land he knew best for help: Germany. According to Karl Heinz Lohs, the director of the Leipzig Institute for Poisonous Chemicals in what was then East Germany and a frequent lecturer in Iraq, al-Saadi knew what he wanted from the very start.

"You Germans have great expertise in the killing of Jews with gas," al-Saadi told him once. "This interests us in the same way . . . How (can) this knowledge . . . be used to destroy Israel?" Lohs was horrified at the suggestion and backed out of cooperation. But companies in East and West Germany, perhaps unwittingly, were found to help build the Samarra and other chemical weapons plants.

It remains a puzzle why Western European companies could so easily and thoughtlessly provide Saddam Hussein with precursor agents and the kind of equipment he needed for this deadly work, under whatever guise.

Iraq extensively used chemical weapons against both the Iranians and the Kurds in the 1980s. By the time of the gulf war, the Iraqis could produce 1,000 tons of chemical agents annually. The United Nations has inventoried more than 46,000 missiles, bombs and other munitions filled or ready to be filled with nerve and mustard gas, and destroyed most of them.

But though the United Nations has destroyed all major known chemical and biological warfare facilities, it is believed that Iraqi chemical warfare agents could still be produced almost immediately, since much of the hard-to-get production equipment was removed and hidden before Operation Desert Storm began.

United Feature Syndicate Inc.