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Iraqi chemical weapons may well be responsible, panelist now think

New York Times

WASHINTON-Nearly half the members of a special White House committee on the illnesses of gulf war veterans say they will urge that the panel reverse itself and conclude that Iraqi chemical weapons may be an important factor in the veterans' health problem.

Their views suggest a dramatic turnaround in the final report by the panel, whch said in an interium report to President Clinton in January that chemical weapons were "unlikely" to be the cause of the illnesses reported by thousands of veterans of the Persian Gulf War. The committee instead singled out wartime stress as a likely cause of the ailments.

In interviews, five of the 11 members of the panel, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, said they were impressed by new evidence showing that clouds of gases from chemical weapons might have traveled much farther across the battlefield than previously reported by the Defense Department.

A Pentagon report isssued last month estimated that nerve gas wafted over as many as 98,000 troops-one of every seven Americans who served in the region-from the demolition of the Kamisiyah ammunition depot in southern Iraq in March 1991, shortly after the war. Some of the panel members said they also were intriged by studies, published last January in The Journal of the American medical Association, in which University of Texas researchers said the illness of gulf war veterans appeared to be the result of exposure to a combination of chemicals, including nerve gas.

The six other members of the White House panel either did not return calls or referred the calls to the committee. At least some of these members are expected to stand behind the earlier conclusion that chemical weapons are unlikely to be the cause of illnesses among the veterans.

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