UK to train Iraqi chemical weapons disposal teams

Suspected Iraqi chemical weapons laboratory in 2003 The remnants of Iraq's chemical weapons factories have to be destroyed under an international treaty

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UK scientists are to train Iraqis on how to dispose of the remnants of chemical weapons created during Saddam Hussein's regime.

Thousands of tonnes of weapons were produced by the dictator's government and most were destroyed after the first Gulf War - but some remain.

The Ministry of Defence will be providing training at its facility in Porton Down, Wiltshire.

Defence minister Nick Harvey said the UK was "glad to support" Iraq.

The chemical materials are contained in two sealed bunkers at the old Al Muthanna Chemicals Weapons Complex, a large site in the western desert 80km north-west of Baghdad.

This was the principal manufacturing plant for chemical agents and munitions during Saddam Hussein's rule, the MoD says.

Iraq used these weapons during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988 and against the Kurds in Halabja in 1988, an attack which killed between 3,200 and 5,000 people.

'Challenging'

The Chemical Weapons Convention requires that although Iraq'a remaining material is unusable and does not pose a significant security risk, it must be destroyed.

The MoD said the process would be "difficult and technically challenging".

The training, at Porton Down later this year, will involve teaching personnel how to handle toxic chemicals safely, as well as advice to medical staff.

Mr Harvey said: "We were glad to support Iraq when it joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2009. One of the key obligations of member states is to destroy any chemical weapons it possesses, so the UK is delighted to be able to help Iraq by providing world-leading expertise and high-quality training to Iraqi personnel involved in this difficult and dangerous task."

The issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was central to the case put for UK involvement in the 2003 war, but no significant stockpiles of usable chemical or biological weapons were ever found.

The issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction has been examined in a series of UK inquiries - including the Chilcot inquiry, which is due to report next year.

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