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American forces report surrender of Iraq's 'Dr. Germ'

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Coalition forces have taken custody of the Iraqi scientist known as "Dr. Germ" for her work in making biological weapons, according to Pentagon officials, who said they also had field reports that the head of Saddam Hussein's military has been captured.

American officials were hoping the latest Iraqis captured might provide information about Saddam's regime and its unconventional weapons programs, though former Iraqi leaders previously taken into custody have largely continued to deny the country had such weapons.

The scientist, Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha, had been negotiating her surrender for days and turned herself in over the weekend, said Maj. Brad Lowell of the U.S. Central Command.

U.N. weapons inspectors nicknamed Taha "Dr. Germ" because she ran the Iraqi biological weapons facility where scientists worked with anthrax, botulinum toxin and aflatoxin. A microbiologist, Taha holds a doctorate from the University of East Anglia in Britain.

Also reported captured was Armed Forces Chief of Staff Ibrahim Ahmad Abd al Sattar Muhammad al Tikriti, Pentagon officials said, citing initial reports from the region. He is No. 11 on a list issued last month of the 55 most wanted former members of Saddam's regime and the jack of spades in a card deck issued to troops looking for regime leaders.

No details of his capture were available.

Taha is not on the list of the 55, but among 200 Iraqis that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said are sought but who have not all been named publicly.

Taha once said in a radio interview that Iraq was justified in producing germ weapons for its self-defense.

Taha is married to Amer Rashid, who held top posts in Saddam's missile programs and was oil minister before the war. Rashid surrendered to U.S. forces April 28, 12 days after that Baghdad raid. The couple was married in 1994 and has a young daughter.

Rashid was the six of spades in the deck of cards.

Current and former inspectors who interviewed Taha in the mid-1990s described her as difficult and dour.

The Iraqis presented her as the head of the biological program, but inspectors suspect she may have been fronting for someone more senior. She met with U.N. teams before the war on technical issues.

Officials have captured a number of former officials who they had hoped would give information on the unconventional weapons programs the Bush administration has said the regime had.

Last week they reported the capture of Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, among the 55 most wanted and a woman officials believe played a key role in rebuilding Baghdad's biological weapons capability in the 1990s.

Nearly two dozen of the top 55 also are in custody, officials have said.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said last month that Taha and her husband, Rashid, would be among "the most interesting persons" for the Americans to question. Blix's teams pulled out of Iraq shortly before the war began after 3 1/2 months work.

The Bush administration, which bitterly disagreed with Blix over whether Iraq has chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, has not invited U.N. inspectors to take part in a continuing U.S.-led hunt for weapons. The U.N. Security Council's cease-fire resolution after the first Gulf War -- which evicted Saddam forces that had invaded Kuwait -- included stringent demands for the destruction of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and payment of war damages to Kuwait.

The main reason the administration cited for going to war was to disarm Saddam of unconventional weapons, which the regime denied having.

In an interview broadcast in February, Taha said Iraq was justified in producing germ weapons in the 1980s and 1990s to defend itself. She told the British Broadcasting Corp., she was involved in producing Iraq's final weapons declaration to the United Nations. She said Saddam's regime was telling the truth when it said it no longer had any chemical or biological weapons.

Taha told the BBC her country never planned to use the biological agents it produced in the 1980s and early 1990s.

"We never wanted to cause harm or damage to anybody," she said. "Iraq has been threatened by different enemies and we are in an area that suffers from regional conflict. I think it is our right to have something to defend ourselves and to have something as a deterrent."

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