Iraqi bombers poison 350 with toxic gas

Bombers detonated explosives on three trucks carrying a toxic gas amid traffic in western Iraq, killing at least two police and leaving 350 civilians needing treatment, the United States military said on Saturday.

All three attacks were carried out between 4.11pm and 7.13pm local time on Friday, two of them just south of the town of Fallujah and one north-east of the nearby city of Ramadi, both hotbeds of al-Qaeda militants.

“Approximately 350 Iraqi civilians and six coalition force members were treated for chlorine gas exposure,” said Lieutenant Roger Hollenbeck of the US-led Multinational Division West, based in Ramadi.

Iraqi state television reported that at least six people were killed in the blasts, but the US military could initially only confirm the deaths of two Iraqi police officers in the second explosion, in Ameriyah, outside Fallujah.

“Coalition forces confirmed that the Ameriyah citizens exposed to the chlorine were treated locally for symptoms ranging from minor skin and lung irritation to vomiting,” Hollenbeck said in a statement.

In each attack, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives and gas canisters near police and civilian targets in crowded areas, a tactic that has become a hallmark of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Iraqi Interior Ministry operations director Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf confirmed the bombings and suggested they may have been carried out in revenge for recent government successes against insurgents in Ramadi.

The attacks brought the number of such bombings since January 28 in western Iraq’s Anbar province—the heartland of the insurgency—to five. Two similar dirty-bomb blasts been reported in the capital Baghdad.

Iraqi and US forces have launched a large-scale operation in and around the capital to root out insurgents and quell sectarian violence.

Meanwhile, a coalition of Sunni tribes from Anbar has united in opposition to al-Qaeda, sending thousands of young men to join the government security forces and cooperating with US and Iraqi commanders.

In response, the insurgents have modified their tactics, adding gas bombs to their arsenal and striking soft targets in the belt of small towns around the capital that are thus far beyond the reach of the security plan.—Sapa-AFP

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