WASHINGTON -- A respected chemical-weapons researcher who had been mysteriously dismissed from a special White House panel said on Thursday that he believed that Iraq might have attacked American troops with chemical weapons during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, contrary to repeated denials by the Pentagon.
The researcher, Jonathan Tucker, a former arms specialist at the State Department, said "eyewitness accounts, declassified intelligence records and operational logs all suggest that Iraq deployed chemical weapons" to the front lines during the war "and may have employed them in a sporadic and uncoordinated manner against coalition forces."
Tucker's statements, in testimony before a House Government Reform subcommittee, contradicts the findings of the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, which have insisted that there is no evidence to show that the Iraqis used chemical weapons during the gulf war.
The government has said that if American troops were ever exposed to chemical weapons, it was as a result of the demolition of an Iraqi ammunition depot in March 1991, a few days after the war.
But Tucker, who is now the director of the chemical weapons nonproliferation project at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, in Monterey, Calif., said that the demolition of the Kamisiyah depot was "just the tip of the iceberg," and that he was able to document dozens of other incidents in which Iraqi nerve agents and other chemical weapons might have been released.
Tucker was dismissed in December 1995 from the special White House panel, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses. The committee has refused to discuss the reasons for Tucker's dismissal. Tucker has said that he believes he was dismissed because he refused to limit his investigation to evidence gathered from the Pentagon and other official sources.
In a report issued in January, the advisory committee was harsh in its criticism of the Pentagon, insisting that the Defense Department had failed to carry out a credible investigation of possible chemical exposures during the war. But the panel also found that chemical weapons were unlikely to be the cause of the health problems of gulf war veterans. Wartime stress, it found, was far more likely to be the cause of their ailments.
In his testimony, Tucker said that he continued his research even after leaving the White House panel, and that his review of declassified combat logs and other documents from the war had convinced him that Iraq might well have fired chemical weapons during the war.
"Considerable evidence suggests that the Iraqi forces engaged in sporadic, uncoordinated chemical warfare during the gulf war," he said, citing Iraqi documents captured after the war showing that the Iraqi military had authorized front-line commanders to fire chemical weapons once the American-led offensive began.
"This denial of the facts," he said, "has meant the abandonment of tens of thousands of sick veterans who served their country loyally and well and who need to know the cause of their illnesses."
Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company