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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

[CRS Issue Brief for Congress]

Iraqi Chemical & Biological Weapons (CBW) Capabilities

          98-129 F    Iraqi Chemical & Biological Weapons (CBW)
             CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
                        LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

NUMBER:     98-129 F

TITLE:          Iraqi Chemical & Biological Weapons (CBW)
Capabilities

AUTHOR:     Steve Bowman
DIVISION:   Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
DATE:         February 17, 1998

TEXT:

Summary
          The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) has
        destroyed large  amounts of CB weapons and materials in
        Iraq since 1991.  UNSCOM  has reported no firm evidence
        that Iraq still retains weapons or materiel, but the Iraqi
        government has not provided adequate evidence to support
        its claim all its CBW arsenal has been destroyed, nor has
        it accounted for CBW production materials known to have
        been in its possession.  These factors, coupled with Iraqi
        obstruction of UNSCOM inspections has led to strong
        suspicions.  U.S. and British intelligence agencies believe 
        that Iraq still may possess  tons of chemical warfare
        agents and the necessary materials to produce thousands of
        liters of biological agents.  In addition, UNSCOM and U.S.
        intelligence believe Iraq may still have hidden from 2-10
        warheads designed to deliver chemical or biological agents. 
        UNSCOM and U.S. intelligence differ in their estimates of
        the number of missiles that may still be in Iraq.  The
        Iraqi chemical warfare arsenal has included nerve agents
        (Sarin and VX), blister agents ("mustard gas"), and
        psychoactive agents (so-called Agent 15).  Biological/toxin
        warfare agents produced by Iraq include anthrax, botulinum,
        aflotoxins, ebola virus, bubonic and pneumonic plague,
        ricin, and clostrdium perfringens.  Reconstitution of
        militarily significant production capability using
        materials unaccounted for to UNSCOM could take only a
        matter of weeks.  During the week of February 23, the
        Senate is scheduled to consider S.Con.Res. 71, calling on
        the President to take all necessary and appropriate actions
        in response to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end
        its lethal weapons program.
    
          Iraq's Chemical and Biological Arsenal
   In April 1991, the United Nations Security Council established
the ceasefire conditions  for the conflict in the Persian Gulf. 
Iraq accepted Security Council Resolution 687, which  required the
destruction or neutralization of 1) all nuclear, chemical, and
biological  weapons, and 2) all ballistic missiles with a range over
150 kilometers (90 miles).  SCR 687 also prohibited Iraq from future
development, production, or use of such weapons in the future. 
Subsequent Security Council Resolution 715 established the United
Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) to monitor and verify Iraqi
compliance with these disarmament requirements.  (See CRS Issue
Brief Iraqi Compliance with Ceasefire Agreements, 92117)
   Since 1991 UNSCOM inspectors in Iraq have overseen the
destruction of :
     --  38,000 chemical munitions     --  480,000 liters of
chemical warfare agents and precursors     --  48 ballistic missiles 
   --  6 missile launchers     --  30 CBW missile warheads
   During the last six years of inspections, the Iraqi government
has made many declarations concerning the volume and deposition of
chemical and biological weapons programs   all of which have been
proven or judged to be inaccurate or incomplete.  No admission, for
example, of their extensive biological weapons program was made
until Iraqi defectors forced acknowledgment.  Iraq then claimed that
all BW agents and materials had been destroyed   a claim rejected
by both UNSCOM and Western intelligence agencies.  As incomplete as
they may be, Iraq declarations indicate a very extensive CBW
program.  UNSCOM guidelines require the confidentiality of its
reports, and it is only recently that some details have been
released by the U.S. and British governments.  Information released
so far indicates that prior to the Persian Gulf conflict Iraq
produced (and claims to have destroyed):
     --  4 tons of VX persistent nerve agent     --  19,000 liters
of botulinum toxin     --  8,400 liters of anthrax spores     -- 
unspecified amounts of the nerve agent Sarin and the blister agent
"mustard gas"
   Iraq has also acknowledged that prior to the Persian Gulf
conflict it manufactured 100 botulinum bombs, 50 anthrax bombs, and
7  aflatoxin bombs.  In addition, 16 missile warheads were filled
with botulinum, five with anthrax bacillus, and four with aflatoxin.
   U.S. and British intelligence agencies believe that Iraq has
hidden stores of CBW agents, production equipment, ballistic
missiles, and missile warheads.  UNSCOM  has reported no firm
evidence that Iraq still retains weapons or materiel, but the Iraqi
government has not provided adequate evidence to support its claim
that all its CBW arsenal has been destroyed, nor has it accounted
for CBW production materials known to have been in its possession. 
These factors, coupled with Iraqi obstruction of UNSCOM inspections,
have led to strong suspicions.  U.S. and British intelligence
agencies believe  that Iraq still may possess  tons of chemical
warfare agents and the necessary materials to produce thousands of
liters of biological agents.  UNSCOM and U.S. intelligence differ in
their estimates of the number of actual missiles that may still be
in Iraq.  Again information is sketchy.  In part, this is because
much is classified, but even the classified information is
reportedly incomplete.  A recent report issued by the British
government, however, provided some  information [Foreign and
Commonwealth Office   
[http://193.114.50.5/texts/1998/feb/04/iraqppr.txt].
     --  British intelligence believes that up to ten  SCUD missiles
capable of carrying CBW warheads remain hidden.     --  UNSCOM
reports that between 40-70 CBW-capable missile warheads are
unaccounted for.     --  Iraq possessed enough growth medium to
produce over 16,000 liters more anthrax spores than has been
acknowledged.     --  4,000 tons of CW precursor chemicals are
unaccounted for; enough to produce several hundred tons of CW
agents.     --  31,000 CW munitions remain unaccounted for.     -- 
Essential CW production equipment remains unaccounted for.     -- 
It is believed that Iraq may retain undetermined amounts of Ebola
virus, bubonic and pneumonic plague bacteria, and the toxin ricin.
The current debate over the advisability of airstrikes has
highlighted two significant challenges in the efforts to eliminate
Iraq's CBW arsenal: 1) the great difficulty of locating and
destroying CBW stocks, if they exist, through air power alone, and
2) the relative ease of reconstituting a CBW production program
after such attacks, particularly if the goal is relatively small
amounts suitable for terror attacks.  The estimates have ranged from
weeks to months,  unless  a close monitoring regime is maintained. 
Recent press reports indicate that even under the UNSCOM regime and
the U.N. embargo on CBW-related equipment, Iraq may have been able
to acquire equipment that could be used to produce biological
weapons in a clandestine purchase from Russia. (See Endnote 1.) 
Were such assistance to continue, reconstitution of a significant
CBW capability would be relatively simple.  Production of smaller
amounts of CBW agents for terrorist use would be proportionately
easier, and employment need not involve sophisticated delivery
systems.
   Another concern regarding airstrikes is the probability and
effect of releasing CBW agents into the air as a result of bombing. 
There is a high degree of unpredictability in any such estimate. 
This has been exemplified by the difficulties that those
investigating the so-called Persian Gulf War Syndrome have
experienced in determining how many U.S. troops may have been
exposed to some level of nerve agent after the U.S. destruction of 
an Iraqi munitions depot shortly after the Persian Gulf conflict. 
A variety of factors would affect whether contamination would be
localized or widespread, temporary or long-term.  These include:
type of CBW agent, type of munition, target location, population
density, wind, humidity, level of sunlight, and temperature.  There
are U.S. munitions in the experimental stages intended specifically
to reduce collateral contamination by penetrating bunkers before
detonating or by destroying CBW agents through incineration rather
than explosion.  It is not clear, however, whether these weapons
will be deployed to the Persian Gulf while still under development.
   For the purposeful use of chemical and biological weapons,
predictive models of lethality do exist.  In 1993, the Office of
Technology Assessment developed the following estimate using the
District of Columbia as the hypothetical target under three
different weather conditions.  The scenarios assumed aerosol agent
distribution by an aircraft flying a line along the western city
limit.  Estimated fatalities resulting from the dispersal of
approximately one ton of Sarin nerve agent or 220 lbs of anthrax
spores were:

 
Clear sunny
day, light
breeze
Overcast or
night, moderate
wind
Clear calm
night

Sarin
300-700
400-800
3,000-8000

Anthrax
130,000-140,000
420,000- 1.4
million
1-3 million
Source: Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Assessing the
Risks, Office of Technology Assessment.  1993.
   Press reports and commentaries which carry even more
distressingly high fatality estimates are generally
calculated simply by determining how many lethal "doses"
of agent could be supplied by the Iraqi stockpile.  This
type of estimate does not take into account any of the
factors affecting  actual employment.
     Chemical and Biological Agent Characteristics
Nerve Agents   These agents disrupt normal functioning
of the central nervous system.  They are colorless,
tasteless, and odorless.  Sarin is delivered as an
aerosol and evaporates rather rapidly.  Inhalation of 100
milligrams is lethal.  VX is a persistent agent
(effective for days or weeks depending upon climactic
conditions) Absorbed through the skin, 5-10 milligrams
are lethal.  Exposure to nerve agents results in nausea,
diarrhea, pulmonary edema, and convulsions leading to
death by respiratory arrest in within one to fifteen
minutes, depending on the concentration.
"Mustard Gas"   "Mustard gas" is actually an oily brownish
liquid with a smell similar to garlic.  It is a vesicant
or blister agent.  It is generally severely
incapacitating rather than lethal, though intense or
prolonged exposure can lead to fatal pulmonary edema.  An
incapacitating dose is about 200 milligrams, and 1,500
milligrams inhaled is sufficient to kill.  Mustard gas
damages any tissue it contacts, causing extensive and
large blisters which last several weeks.  Permanent
damage to the lungs and eyes can result.
"Agent-15"   The British government recently asserted
that Iraq developed large stocks of an incapacitant gas
dubbed "Agent-15".  It is apparently a glycollate similar
in effect to the agent BZ, an incapacitant once produced
by the United States.  If this is correct, exposure to
about 100 milligrams in aerosolized form would be
sufficient to incapacitate.  Symptoms, which begin within
30 minutes of exposure and may last several days, include
dizziness, vomiting, confusion, stupor, hallucinations,
and irrational behavior.  The U.S. Army considered BZ to
be too unpredictable in its effectiveness to be useful on
the battlefield, and all U.S. stocks were destroyed.
Anthrax   Anthrax is a disease caused by the bacillus
Anthracis.  Infection can result from inhalation,
ingestion, or absorption through the skin.  Most
effectively dispersed as an aerosol, anthrax spores decay
in a matter of days in sunlight, but can contaminate soil
for decades.  10,000 to 20,000 spores is a lethal dose  
"something smaller than a speck of dust," according to a
DOD biological warfare expert (See Endnote 2.).  Symptom
onset occurs 3-4 days after exposure, and initially
resembles that of a common cold.  Symptoms do not become
identifiable as anthrax until the fatal phase of the
disease, when vomiting, severe head and joint aches, and
respiratory distress lead to death within 1-3 days. 
Vaccines are available against some forms of anthrax, but
their efficacy against abnormally high concentrations of
the bacteria is uncertain.  Antibiotic treatment can be
effective, but only if administered prior to the onset of
symptoms, otherwise the fatality rate can exceed 90%.
Aflatoxin   Aflatoxins are toxins produced by the
aspergillus flavis and aspergillus parasiticus fungi. 
They occur naturally on moldy grains and foodstuffs.  The
toxic dosage for humans has not been determined, but one
type is considered a potent cause of liver cancer.
Botulinum Toxin   Botulinum, produced by the clostridium
botulinum bacteria, causes the food-poisoning "botulism". 
In pure form, it is a white crystalline substance, that
is readily dissolvable in water, but decays rapidly in
the open air.  The symptoms of botulism begin 12-72 hours
after exposure depending upon whether it is inhaled or
ingested.  Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, paralysis
of the throat, and convulsions, followed by death due to
respiratory arrest.  Vaccines are available, but again,
their efficacy against abnormally high toxin dosages is
uncertain.  Early diagnosis and palliative treatment can
prevent fatality.
 
Clostridium Perfringens   Clostridium Perfringens is a
widespread bacterium which causes gas gangrene if allowed
to grow in wounds or damaged tissue, The bacteria produce
gases that cause intense swelling and toxins that kill
muscle tissue.  If not treated the bacteria enter the
bloodstream causing fatal systemic illness.  Early
antibiotic treatment is effective, if undertaken before
significant amounts of toxins have accumulated in the
body.
                          ENDNOTES
1.  "Did Russia Sell Germ Warfare Equipment?", Washington
Post, February 12, 1998.  P. 1.
2.  Transcript, Department of Defense press conference,
November 14, 1997.

                        END OF FILE



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