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Iraqi Chemical Attack on Dissidents Reported

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From Times Wire Services

An Iraqi chemical attack on an enclave of Shiite dissidents has killed or injured hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians and troops, according to unconfirmed reports Friday.

The reports of a chemical weapons attack this past week came indirectly from people fleeing across the Iraq-Iran border, a British lawmaker active on behalf of the Shiites, and an Iraqi dissident group.

The British Foreign Office said it had not received independent confirmation of an attack but it “viewed the reports with great concern given the past experience of the Iraqi regime.”

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Iraq has used chemical weapons against its rebel Kurds and in its 1980-88 war against Iran.

The country’s southern marshlands are home to many of the Shiite Muslims whose uprising against Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War was brutally crushed.

The area falls within a “no-fly” zone patrolled by U.S. and other Western aircraft and established to protect the dissidents from aerial attacks. But ground assaults on the rebels continue.

In Washington, acting State Department spokesman David Johnson said he had no independent confirmation of the report.

The London spokesman for an Iraqi opposition group based in Iran claimed at least 2,000 fatalities and casualties from the attack.

But a British official said he believed that it is unlikely that chemical weapons were used, although he added that it is possible a chemical called white phosphorus may have been used.

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“It . . . is not classified by us as a chemical weapon, though it can be pretty nasty,” the official said.

He added that U.N. weapons monitors had destroyed all Iraq’s known nerve gas by last March and have nearly destroyed all its stocks of mustard gas. They could not, however, be sure Iraq had declared all its chemical weapons for destruction.

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