Suicide bombers set off trucks carrying chlorine
Suicide bombers sent another chilling message to Sunni tribal leaders who have rebuffed al-Qaida, blowing up three trucks loaded with chlorine-laden...
Los Angeles Times
BAGHDAD -- Suicide bombers sent another chilling message to Sunni tribal leaders who have rebuffed al-Qaida, blowing up three trucks loaded with chlorine-laden explosives in Anbar province, the military said Saturday. At least two people were killed, and more than 350 were sickened, including seven U.S. troops.
Since January, suspected Sunni insurgents have waged six attacks involving a combination of explosive devices and chlorine, killing 26 people. One of the bombings was in Ramadi, the provincial capital, in an attack that left 16 people dead.
The latest bombings appeared to be part of a vicious campaign being waged by Sunni insurgents against local sheiks who once harbored them but who turned against them last fall in the face of relentless attacks against Iraqi civilians. Caught in the middle are the province's overwhelmingly Sunni population, whose mosques, homes and roads have been targeted in retaliation for their elders' decision to work with the government and the U.S. military.
Last month, at least 37 Iraqis were killed in a bomb attack as they were leaving a Sunni mosque in the province. A preacher at the mosque in Habbaniya, 40 miles west of Baghdad, had delivered a blistering sermon a day earlier condemning al-Qaida activities in Iraq, an official in the town said.
Witnesses said one of the latest attacks targeted the home of a sheik who is part of the newly formed Anbar Salvation Council, a Sunni group that has led calls to oppose al-Qaida.
Another council member, Sheik Hameed Farhan Hayis, described the attacks as the last gasps of al-Qaida. "This is the end of Qaida in Anbar province," he said. "There is nothing left for them but these cowardly acts."
U.S. and Iraqi officials have praised the leaders of the area's various tribes for turning their backs on the insurgents. Last week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, visited Ramadi to encourage their continued cooperation.
Iraqi deaths: A suicide bomber drove a car loaded with explosives through a checkpoint in a Baghdad neighborhood on the outskirts of the highly fortified Green Zone on Saturday. At least four people died, including three Iraqi police officers. Police also said they had found the bodies of 19 men scattered across Baghdad, apparent victims of Shiite death squads preying upon Sunni men.
U.S. soldiers slain: Five American soldiers were killed in Iraq on Saturday, including four in a single incident, the U.S. military said today. A roadside bomb killed four soldiers while they were on patrol in western Baghdad. Another soldier died in a noncombat-related incident. On Friday, a roadside bomb killed a soldier and wounded three others on a foot patrol south of Baghdad.
Seattle Times news services
But the violence resulting from their turnabout is bound to increase pressure on U.S. and Iraqi officials to improve security in Anbar at a time when the military is struggling to keep a lid on Baghdad's bloodshed.
The issue of security came up during al-Maliki's talks with the sheiks last week, said Sheik Abdul-Sattar abu Risha, one of those who met with the prime minister.
"Because he has authority, we want him to ensure the laws are being followed," the sheik said after the meeting. "How can a country be re-established if there are not security forces and security?"
The latest bombings, which occurred Friday but were not announced until Saturday, hit targets near Ramadi and Fallujah. The military said the first bomb went off at a checkpoint a few miles east of Ramadi. The second explosion occurred two hours later south of Fallujah, in the town of Amariya. About 40 minutes later, another bomb exploded farther to the south.
Amariya police said two Iraqi police officers died in the attack. Altogether, the military said about 350 Iraqis and seven U.S. troops were sickened and treated for skin and lung irritations and nausea. Seven children and four adults were injured seriously enough to require treatment at a U.S. military medical facility.
The bombs sent suffocating clouds into the air. Chlorine-gas weapons, whose use in warfare dates to World War I, can burn the eyes, nose and throat and cause dizziness and nausea. High doses can cause fatal lung damage.
Military officials say growing disillusionment with al-Qaida can be seen in the number of police recruits, which they say soared to more than 4,500 in Anbar province from about 100 a year ago.
Los Angeles Times reporters Suhail Ahmad, Saif Hameed and Saif Rasheed contributed to this report.
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