LONDON – The discovery of chemical protection suits at an Iraqi command post suggests that Iraq was prepared to use weapons of mass destruction against advancing coalition forces, British officials said Thursday.
Soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment found about a hundred chemical weapons protection suits and respirators in an Iraqi command post, said Adm. Michael Boyce, chief of the defense staff.
"This kit was effective, well cared for and in good working order," Boyce told a news conference.
"Now we have to ask ourselves why Iraqi commanders thought that infantry in this part of Iraq should be issued with weapons of mass destruction equipment and protection," Boyce said.
"We already know from Iraqi prisoners of war that protective equipment was issued to southern Iraqi divisions," Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon added.
Hoon said reports of a large Iraqi armored column, with up to 120 vehicles, moving out of Basra Wednesday night proved to be wildly exaggerated.
"It turned out to be three tanks advancing out of Basra. Those tanks were dealt with. They were destroyed," Hoon said.
Two dead bodies shown in television footage from Iraq probably are those of British soldiers reported missing in action, Hoon said.
"We have yet to be able to undertake a formal identification. But I do regret to say that we do believe that the pictures are of two of our servicemen who up to now have been listed as being missing," Hoon said.
He condemned film footage of the dead British servicemen released by the Iraqi government and shown Wednesday on the Arab satellite station Al Jazeera.
"This is a flagrant and sickening breach of the Geneva Convention. This is typical behavior of Saddam Hussein and his regime," Hoon said.
The Ministry of Defense earlier said the bodies likely were those of the servicemen who disappeared after their Land Rover was ambushed Sunday at Az Zubayr, near Basra.
Twenty-two British troops have now been killed since the conflict in Iraq began -- 14 in accidents, four by "friendly fire" and four in combat.
The Al Jazeera video showed bloodied bodies in uniform lying on a dusty road. It also showed two prisoners, one with dreadlocked hair, whom the station said might be Kenyans working for the British.
The video prompted anger from the British tabloid press. The Sun branded the footage "sickening."
Group Capt. Al Lockwood said the soldiers' next of kin had been identified. The men have not been identified, though newspapers reported they were attached to the "Desert Rats," Britain's 7th Armored Brigade, which has been in the thick of fighting around Basra.
Two journalists from Britain's ITN television news also have been missing in southern Iraq since Saturday, when their car came under fire on the way to Basra. ITN correspondent Terry Lloyd was killed in the attack, which ITN blames on "friendly fire" from British or American soldiers.