U.S. forces have uncovered a chemical-weapons plant in An Najaf, some 90 miles south of Baghdad, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.
The discovery of the chemical plant was also later confirmed by Fox News.
A senior Pentagon official told network correspondent Bret Baier that coaltion forces discovered a ”huge” chemical-weapons factory near An Najaf.
But U.S. officials later backed away from the initial reports, calling them premature.
“It is a place we believe might have been a chemical weapons storage factory years ago, but nothing current,” a U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, official told Fox News. “Checking it out, no great belief it’ll turn out as initially reported.”
During a press conference in Doha, Qatar, CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks would not confirm whether chemical weapons were found but said he would not be surprised.
“It would not surprise me if there were chemical weapons in the plant and if there weren’t chemical weapons found,” he said.
Franks said coalition forces have received “handfuls of bits of information” about several potential locations of weapons of mass destruction in the last 3 to 4 days.
“Some of these are in areas where we have control and some of them we have not yet gone into,” he said.
Franks described these exploratory missions as SSE, or Sensitive Site Exploitation.
Citing Defense officials, Fox News reports two generals in charge of the facility were captured and are now providing “good information” about Iraq’s weapons program.
At least 30 Iraqi troops, including a general, surrendered today to troops with the 3rd Infantry Division within minutes of U.S. forces entering the area to capture the sheet metal-lined chemical weapons production facility.
One U.S. soldier was wounded when a booby-trapped explosive went off at the 100-acre complex, which is surrounded by an electrical fence.
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The Post states the surrounding barracks resemble an abandoned slum and the facility was camouflaged in sand-cast walls to make it look like the surrounding desert, in an apparent attempt to keep it from being
U.N. weapons inspectors are not aware of any large-scale chemical sites which could be used to make chemical weapons in Najaf, a spokesman for the inspectors, Ewen Buchanan, told the Associated Press.
U.N. inspectors visited a cement plant there earlier this year but did not report finding anything.
If the plant is confirmed as a chemical weapons factory, it would be the first find by the U.S.-led invasion force validating U.S. allegations that Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction.
Iraqi officials have insisted they destroyed all of the chemical and biological weapons they made after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.