Chemical attack sickens 350

At least 2 Iraqis dead as bombers detonate chlorine-laden trucks

March 18, 2007|By Christian Berthelsen and Tina Susman | Christian Berthelsen and Tina Susman,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- 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 yesterday. At least two people were killed, and more than 350 were sickened by the noxious clouds, including seven U.S. troops.

Since January, suspected Sunni insurgents have waged six attacks involving a combination of explosive devices and chlorine, killing a total of 26 people.

The latest bombings appeared to be part of a vicious campaign being waged by Sunni insurgents against local sheiks who once harbored them but turned against them last fall in the face of relentless attacks against Iraqi civilians. Caught in the middle is the province's overwhelmingly Sunni population, whose mosques, homes and roads have been targeted in retaliation for the 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 at the time.

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.

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 latest bombings, which occurred Friday but were not announced until yesterday, hit targets near Ramadi and Fallujah.

Also yesterday, 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. At least four people died, including three Iraqi police officers.

Police said they had found the bodies of 19 men scattered across Baghdad, apparently victims of Shiite death squads preying upon Sunni men.

Tina Susman and Christian Berthelsen write for the Los Angeles Times.

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