A major reason for the heavy American bombing and cruise missile attacks Wednesday was that Iraq had a formidable chemical weapons stockpile, including something that Col. Frank J. Cox, commander of Dugway Proving Ground, says America doesn't have.
That weapon, said Cox said in a Deseret News interview Wednesday, is "a capability to put a chemical warhead on a ballistic missile."Cox said that during the eight-year war that Iraq fought with its neighbor, Iran, the Iraqis used a Scud ground-to-ground missile provided by the Soviet Union.
Iraq modified the Scud, allowing it to take a chemical warhead and extending its range. Originally this missile could hit a target 250 miles away, but with the upgrading military planners assume it may reach about 440 miles.
During the war with Iran, the Iraqis were short on manpower compared with their opponents, according to Cox. "So the Iraqis started during the '80s . . . to develop own chemical capability."
Unlike the United States, which has had chemical arms since World War I, the Iraqis had to build up a stockpile and develop delivery systems nearly overnight. It's not easy to produce a chemical agent, put it in a weapon and use it, he said.
The Iraqis went into the world marketplace and hired experts to help develop the weapons. Several countries provided expertise. The first chemical produced in great enough volume to be used in weapons was mustard, a blister agent.
Mustard was used often during World War I. It creates itching and blistering, resulting in open sores, particularly where parts of the body rub against each other, as in armpits or the crotch. "Severe burning and blistering around your joints" can result, Cox said.
Infections can break out, and the soldier can be immobilized, if he is exposed badly enough. If mustard gets into his eyes, he can be blinded; if enough is inhaled, it scorches the lungs and kills.
However, mustard is not designed to be fatal. Its main use is to incapacitate.
"It is a very effective chemical weapon in the desert, where it is hot and people are sweating," he said. During the war, Iraq used it against Iran.
As their chemical weapons became more sophisticated, "the Iraqis fielded a non-persistent nerve agent," he said. That is a clear liquid that looks like water and evaporates much like water. In America, the chemical is called GB.
A village of Kurds reportedly was wiped out by the Iraqis using GB, according to some indications.
"They developed this nerve agent in enough quantities that they could use it," he said.
"The nerve agents are fatal and they work very, very fast. They inhibit muscles from properly doing the job. Muscles around the heart, muscles around the lungs, can no longer work.
"So your heart stops beating and you die."
American soldiers in Operation Desert Storm carry injectors of atropine and a compounds called 2-pamchloride, which can revive a victim of chemical agents.