Saddam Hussein's front-line units were provided with rocket-propelled grenades armed with chemical or biological weapons for use against allied troops, a former Iraqi colonel claims.
Lt-Col al-Dabbagh's description of the "secret weapon" issued on the Iraqi dictator's orders appeared to back Tony Blair's claim that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed an imminent threat to British interests.
He told The Sunday Telegraph he commanded an air-defence unit in the western desert and claimed to be the source of the intelligence used by MI6 and the Prime Minister to bolster the case for war.
He insisted that the weapons of mass destruction could have been deployed in half an hour, faster than the 45 minutes made famous by the Government's controversial dossier on Iraq's WMD.
He claimed they were not used because the bulk of the Iraqi army chose not to resist the allied advance. "If the army had fought for Saddam Hussein and used these weapons there would have been terrible consequences," he said.
However, in Baghdad last night there were doubts expressed about his version of events. His commanding officer said that he had no knowledge of his men being supplied with WMD warheads.
A senior Iraqi general in charge of air defences during the war, who was part of a committee that reported directly to Saddam on the supply and training of air defence units, said: "This lieutenant colonel wanted to scare the Western world."
The general, who would not give his name, conceded that authority may have been bypassed but said the frontline troops he visited were in a shambolic state and were unlikely to have received any additional weapons.
"We were very low on equipment," he said. "There certainly wasn't any talk of chemical warheads."
Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, told Sky News: "The claim is that battlefield weapons of mass destruction were available.
"That's not what the Government told us at the time. The Government told us that WMD could be deployed in 45 minutes and that was a misleading claim."