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As the U.S. contemplates another war on Iraq in the coming weeks, most Americans expect relatively few casualties among the U.S. troops – just like the first Gulf War.

The Gulf War was remarkable, as U.S. conflicts go, for the strikingly low number of U.S. dead and wounded – 148 killed and 467 wounded.

But the truth is nearly two of every five of the approximately 540,000 Gulf War vets are on disability as a result of illnesses they believe they sustained during that conflict.

About 161,000 Gulf War veterans are receiving disability payments from the U.S. government. About 209,000 have filed VA claims.

A report made public earlier this month details which chemical weapons Iraq declared and the companies they claim supplied them. The disclosure is providing ammo for vets who say they have Gulf War Syndrome – a mysterious illness many believe is connected to the use of chemical weapons by Iraq.

More than 5,000 veterans are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that accuses companies of helping Iraqi President Saddam Hussein build his chemical warfare arsenal. The plaintiffs are among the tens of thousands who came down with Gulf War Syndrome, a debilitating series of ailments that can include chronic fatigue, skin rashes, muscle joint pain, memory loss and brain damage.

Now, plaintiffs’ attorneys have acquired, for the first time, what they believe is strong evidence of which companies supplied Iraq the chemicals that might have been used to produce mustard gas, sarin nerve gas and VX.

The supplier list is included in Iraq’s 1998 weapons declaration to the United Nations, parts of which were resubmitted to weapons inspectors last month. The Iraqi list names 56 suppliers of chemicals and equipment to process them. A majority are based in Europe.

The lawsuit, originally filed by plaintiff attorney Gary Pitts in a civil court in Brazoria County, Texas, in 1994, alleges that companies knew “products and/or manufacturing facilities supplied … were to be used to produce chemical and biological weapons.”

The suit seeks at least $1 billion in damages for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering.

Germany is home to the top suppliers listed in Iraq’s 1998 U.N. declaration. The Netherlands and Switzerland each are home to three companies on the list. France, Austria and the United States each are home to two. The declaration says Singapore was the largest exporter of chemical weapons precursors.

Neither American company listed – Alcolac International, based in Baltimore, and Al-Haddad Trading, based in Nashville, are still in business. Alcolac paid a fine in 1989 under U.S. law for one charge of exporting thiodiglycol, a chemical that could be used to make mustard gas, but that shipment was destined for another country.

If indeed that many U.S. soldiers were really sickened as a result of exposure to chemical weapons in Iraq, U.S. casualties were nearly as high as those claimed by Iraq.

Baghdad put its losses at 75,000 to 100,000 soldiers killed in action and 35,000 to 45,000 civilians killed by allied bombing. U.S. officials estimated 100,000 Iraqi soldiers killed and 300,000 wounded, and 2,500 to 3,000 Iraqi civilians killed by bombing.

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