Lawsuit Claims 3 Firms Sold Poison Gas to Iraq Under Saddam's Regime

Three companies illegally sold materials to Saddam Hussein's regime in the 1980s for making chemical weapons that were used to carry out attacks against thousands of Iraqi Kurds and ultimately caused scores of chronic ailments, according to a federal lawsuit.

The complaint filed Tuesday in Baltimore by five Iraqi expatriates and the Nashville, Tenn.-based Kurdish National Congress seeks class certification for an estimated 100,000 Kurds. The Republic of Iraq is also named as a defendant.

The lawsuit alleges that as a result of the attacks, thousands of Kurds suffered chronic disabilities including respiratory ailments, fatigue, joint pain, rashes, vision problems and sleep disorders, making it difficult for them to hold steady jobs.

The group is seeking unspecified damages from VWR International LLC of West Chester, Pa.; Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., of Waltham, Mass.; and Alcolac Inc., of Cumberland, Md.

The 10-count complaint also asks the U.S. District Court to establish a company-funded medical monitoring program for all Kurdish people exposed to chemical weapons or nerve gas in Iraq in 1998, and their heirs and family members.

Plaintiffs' attorney Kenneth F. McCallion, of New York, said he filed the complaint in Maryland because all three companies have operations there.

Alcolac pleaded guilty in 1989 to federal charges of knowingly violating export laws by shipping thiodiglycol, a mustard-gas ingredient that ultimately went to Iran. That case was prosecuted in Maryland.

The complaint alleges that during the 1980s, Alcolac's predecessor company shipped more than 300 tons of thiodiglycol to Iraq through a Jordanian intermediary, Nu Kraft Mercantile Corp.

The lawsuit alleges that in 1986, VWR, then called BDH, sold chemicals to Saddam Hussein's regime that were used to make chemical weapons.

Thermo Fisher's Oxoid Ltd. unit, based in Cambridge, England, allegedly sold laboratory materials to Iraq that were used to make chemical weapons in 1986, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Geneva Conventions of 1925, which banned chemical weapons; five U.N. Security Council resolutions; and customary international law.

Information supporting the claims came to light in 2002, when the plaintiffs said they obtained a copy of a document on the chemical warfare program prepared by the Iraqi government for the United Nations Special Commission prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The Iraqi army carried out numerous attacks on Kurdish rebels in the late 1980s, killing thousands of Kurds. Prosecutors in Saddam Hussein's trial alleged some 180,000 people died during the Operation Anfal crackdown in northern Iraq, many of them from poison gas.

Thermo Fisher spokesman Vaughn Harring declined to comment Thursday, citing company policy regarding pending litigation.

David Klucsik, a spokesman in Cranbury, N.J., for Alcolac's parent company, the Paris-based Rhodia Group, also declined to comment, saying the company hadn't yet been served.

VWR didn't immediately return a telephone call and an e-mail from The Associated Press.