No evidence

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was appropriately cautious in reacting to the discovery of a suspected nerve-agent weapon in Baghdad last week. There have been myriad false alarms in the thus-far fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. At this point no one can be certain whether the artillery shell rigged as a roadside bomb really did contain deadly sarin and, if so, what significance that may have.

The shell was discovered by an US convoy last Saturday. It partially detonated before an ordnance team could disable it, dispersing a small amount of the chemical contents. Indeed, they speculate that whoever made the bomb may have had no idea that the shell contained chemical agents rather than explosives. The lack of lethality may simply indicate that the agent had long ago lost its punch.

If laboratory tests confirm the presence of sarin, that finding may not tell us much about whether Saddam Hussein retained a hidden chemical arsenal after supposedly destroying it. The dwindling band of die-hards who remain convinced that Hussein squirreled away stockpiles of illicit weapons worry that insurgents may use them against US forces. But finding some residual weapons that had escaped a large-scale destruction program would be no great surprise — and if the chemicals had degraded, no major threat. — The New York Times