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ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. Marines on Tuesday captured a hospital in An Nasiriyah, Iraq, that Iraqi paramilitary troops were using as a staging area, according to U.S. Central Command officials.

Marines from Task Force Tarawa had been fired on from the hospital on Monday, a CENTCOM release on the capture said. The building was clearly marked as a hospital by a flag with a red crescent, which is used by the Society of the Red Crescent (the Muslim equivalent of the International Red Cross) as its symbol.

The task force, which includes the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, captured about 170 Iraqi soldiers “who were not armed and wearing a mixture of mostly civilian clothing, with parts of military uniforms,” the release said.

The Marines used loudspeakers to direct staff and patients to evacuate the hospital before storming the facility, and no civilians were in the hospital when it was seized, CENTCOM officials said.

Marines found inside the hospital “further evidence” that the Iraqi regime possesses weapons of mass destruction and its intent to use them, Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, CENTCOM’s deputy director of operations, said Wednesday during a press conference from the forward command’s headquarters at Camp as Sayliyah, Qatar.

Inside the hospital, the Marines found and confiscated more than 200 weapons, stockpiles of ammunition, more than 3,000 chemical protection suits and masks, and Iraqi military uniforms. The Marines also found a T-55 tank on the compound.

“What we found [Tuesday] night inside that hospital reinforces our concern” and assertion of the regime’s possession of the weapons, Brooks said.

Col. Ron Johnson, TF Tarawa’s operations officer, told CENTCOM officials that the Iraqi soldiers were probably being bused into An Nasiriyah in civilian clothes, then going to the hospital to draw both weapons and uniforms before fighting coalition forces in the city.

Marked hospital facilities are protected against military strikes by the Geneva Conventions. In the past two days senior U.S. defense officials have repeatedly condemned the Iraqi military’s use of such protected symbols to conduct a guerrilla warfare campaign.

The 170 soldiers captured at the hospital bring the task force’s enemy prisoner of war captures to about 500 since the war began last week, the release said.

Staff reporter Sandra Jontz contributed to this report.

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