Iraq Insurgents Turn to Chlorine Bombs

For the third time in a month, Iraqi insurgents have set off a make-shift chemical bomb. All three have used chlorine, which can kill if inhaled and can burn the eyes and skin. The use of chemicals in attacks is a new tactic, reflecting the adaptibility of insurgent groups.

The U.S. military confirms that a pickup truck carrying canisters of chlorine exploded in southwestern Baghdad Wednesday, killing at least five and sending dozens more to hospitals. On Tuesday, a bomb destroyed a tanker truck filled with chlorine north of the capital, killing nine and spewing fumes that made more than 140 sick, including women and children.

There has been at least one other attack with chlorine. In late January, 16 were reportedly killed after a pickup truck with the gas blew up in Sunni-dominated Anbar province.

Killings and bombings have decreased in the center of Baghdad following the beginning of new security operations, but Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the chief American military spokesman, said surrounding areas have since seen an increase.

Meanwhile, another U.S. helicopter was brought down by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The military says all nine people aboard were evaucted safely after making a hard landing north of the captial in Diyala province. The Mujahadeen Army, a Sunni insurgent group in the area, immediately claimed credit on the Internet.

It was the eighth helicopter shot down since Jan. 20 — more than the total number of coalition aircraft shot down in all of 2006. Twenty-eight troops and civilians have been killed. Six of the helcopters were U.S. military aircraft. Two belonged to a private American seucrity company contracted to protect U.S. diplomats.

U.S. officials say they have evidence indicating the recent attacks against American helicopters are the result of a carefully planned strategy by insurgents to concentrate on the Air Force.

Caldwell said there are 2,700 additional American soldiers now in Baghdad, with five more brigades expected by the end of May. He said the military was considering moving at least one brigade 20 miles north, to Diyala, where violence has been picking up.

Rape allegations by a Sunni woman against a Shiite-dominated Iraqi police force continue to ignite anger, with Shiite and Sunni politicians exchaning charges and counter charges. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has dismissed the allegations and he has fired a top Sunni official who called for an international invetigation of the charges.

A spokesman for the prime minister claims the allged rape victim was aiding and abetting Sunni insurgents. He released what he said was a U.S. medical report indicating no signs of rape.

Caldwell has confirmed the woman was treated at a U.S.-run medical facility, but he said the U.S. had not released her records and had launched an investigation into the woman's allegations.

Appearing to disagree with the Iraqi government's dismissal of the charges, Caldwell said this incident needs to be looked into very carefully. Contradicting the prime minister, he said the U.S. takes the woman's allegations very seriously.

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