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UK: Chemical suits found in Iraq

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British military officials said Thursday they found chemical weapons protection suits when Iraqi infantry abandoned a headquarters facility in the oil fields of southern Iraq.

Adm. Sir Michael Boyce, the chief of British Defense Staff, told reporters that Iraqi soldiers assigned to the abandoned building, left their posts in a hurry leaving behind their equipment and paperwork which is currently being examined by coalition intelligence staff.

"There were numerous chemical weapons, protection suits and respirators left behind and this kit was effective, well-cared for and in good working order," Boyce said.

Boyce said that coalition forces would "have to ask themselves why Iraqi commanders felt that infantry in this part of Iraq should be issued with weapons of mass destruction equipment and protection."

Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed said coalition leaders "make up" allegations about chemical protection equipment.

But in an apparently contradictory statement he added: "Every Iraqi soldier carries his own gear, including chemical gear, in order to protect himself."

While British military officials conceded that no weapons of mass destruction were found at the abandoned facility, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon maintains they do exist.

Hoon said the discovery of the protective suits showed "categorically" that Iraqi troops were prepared for the use of such "horrific weapons."

Hoon went on to say that "any Iraqi commander who sanctions the use of weapons of mass destruction is committing a war crime and will be held personally responsible for his actions," he said.

"Ultimately it will be the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime that will guarantee disarmament."

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