Al Qaeda's Chlorine Attacks: The Dirty War in Anbar


Two Killed, over 350 treated for exposure in multiple attacks in Anbar; leader of Anbar Salvation Council targeted

Al Qaeda in Iraq conducted a three pronged suicide car bomb attack using chlorine gas in Anbar province. On March 16, three suicide truck bombers armed with chlorine gas struck at targets in the cities of Ramadi, Amiriya, and Fallujah, according to a Multinational Forces Iraq press release. Two police were killed in the attack, and over 350 were treated for symptoms related to chlorine gas exposure. "The second bomber [in Amiriya] targeted a tribal leader opposed to al Qaeda," Reuters reports, while the attack south of Fallujah targeted the entrance to a large housing complex."

While the attacks haven't been claimed by al Qaeda, the attacks show the hallmarks of an al Qaeda operation. The attacks were carried out within hours of each other, used methods designed to cause mass casualties and mass media attention, and targeted a tribal leader opposed to al Qaeda's operations in the region. Multinational Forces Iraq breaks down the timing and targets:

The first suicide truck bomb containing chlorine detonated at a check point northeast of Ramadi at 4:11 p.m., injuring one Coalition service member and one Iraqi civilian.

The second explosion occurred at 6:36 p.m., 17 km south of Fallujah near the town of Amiriyah. The Amiriyah Police Department reported that two policemen were killed in the blast and estimated that as many as 100 local citizens showed signs of chlorine exposure.

The third explosion occurred 37 minutes later at 7:13 p.m., 5 km south of Fallujah in the Albu Issa region when a suicide bomber detonated a dump truck containing a 200 gallon chlorine tank rigged with explosives. Coalition Forces responded to the attack and found approximately 250 local civilians suffering from symptoms related to chlorine exposure.

One item of note: The Albu Issa tribe, which is largely settled in the Albu Issa region of Fallujah, is supportive of the Iraqi government and U.S. forces. Several of the senior officers and a quite a few policemen I met while embedded with the Military Transition Team in Fallujah were from the Albu Issa tribe.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has targeted Sunni opposition in the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah and Amiriya in the recent past. The Ramadi home of Shiekh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, the leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, was targeted with a multi-pronged suicide attack on February 19th. On March 1st, Amiriya was the scene of a mass attack by al Qaeda in Iraq against a leader of the Anbar Salvation Council. The Anbar Salvation Council is spreading into Fallujah, where al Qaeda has conducted a campaign to collapse the local police and Iraqi Army since U.S. forces withdrew from the city late last year.

Al Qaeda has issued instructions and implored its operatives to use chemical weapons in the past.

On February 20, five were killed and 140 sickened after a chlorine attack in Baghdad. On February 21, a chlorine attack in Taji killed 9 and made 150 sick. On January 28, 16 were killed in chlorine bombing attack in Ramadi. "Suicide car bombers have used chlorine against Iraqis in Al Anbar a total of five times since January 28," notes the Multinational Forces Iraq press release. Chlorine gas is readily available in Iraq as it is used for water purification and a wide variety of industrial uses.

Two chlorine bomb factories were discovered in Karma and Fallujah by Coalition forces on February 21. Karma has increasingly become a hot spot in Anbar province. A Marine CH-46 was shot down with an al Qaeda anti-aircraft missile in Karma, and the follow on task force of U.S. Army engineers sent to secure the wreckage lost three soldiers in a sophisticated IED strike.

As the Anbar Salvation Council continues to oppose al Qaeda's presence in the province, al Qaeda's attacks will become more deadly. The chlorine attacks will not abate anytime soon.



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READER COMMENTS: "Al Qaeda's Chlorine Attacks: The Dirty War in Anbar"

Posted by RJ at March 17, 2007 1:02 PM ET:

This is good news, though sad in totality. Perhaps now more Americans will realize how evil our enemies intend to be if given the chance. As to those Iraqis sick from the gas, perhaps they will move more to the freedom fighting side than before. One could also suggest that perhaps AQ is becoming more desperate in their efforts. Of course, the next question would be: Would AQ use serious gas; like nerve gas, if available in this theatre of war? I think they would, in a second if possible.

Posted by Michael at March 17, 2007 1:35 PM ET:

RJ,

You're right. They would use it in a second and our media should be all over this use of chemical weapons.

Our President, our Congress should be on this. They do not care who they murder or harm. Women, children and innocents.

This is the disgusting reality.

Posted by Mike Rentner at March 17, 2007 1:37 PM ET:

It's unbelievable to me that the enemy is using chemical weapons and it's not on the banner of every newspaper in the world.

Posted by Mike Rentner at March 17, 2007 1:39 PM ET:

I'm not sure why RJ would say that chlorine is not a "serious" gas.

Posted by DJ Elliott at March 17, 2007 1:46 PM ET:

Chlorine was the first Chem Weapon used in WWI.

If you think it is not a "real" chemical weapon, then go test it on yourself.
After your lungs are scared and unable to process oxigen you will die.
Painfull death.

If you do not die then you probably will have lung problems the rest of your life and may be blinded by it.
Those photos of collumns of blind soldiers marching to the rear from WWI were of chlorine victims...

Posted by DJ Elliott at March 17, 2007 1:51 PM ET:

P.S.
Nerve gas is mostly derivatives of pestacides and insecticides. That is why you do not stay in your apartment when you set off a bug bomb. It is low-grade nerve gas.

Zyclon-B was used in the camps. It was an off-the-shelf pesticide. Cyanide based.

If your criteria for "real" is single use exclusive to warfare, then there is no such thing as chemical weapons. All of them came from other industrial/agricultural/home uses...

Posted by Michael at March 17, 2007 2:23 PM ET:

I understand you guys want to keep this blog clear of inappropriate behavior. But I don't understand why it is wrong to post the Gathering of Eagles news and pictures of the veterans gathering in DC in support of our troops. I did not make any derogatory remarks of either side, just factual statements of those supporting our troops.

Your site states in the title,
Fourth Rail: History, Politics, and the War on Terror.

To be clear I appreciate your efforts and am not trying to cause any problems on purpose. I'm confused at what is allowable and not. I know you're trying to keep this site balanced in your reporting, accurate and I think you do an excellent job.

But I'm uncertain why politics is in the title of your site if we cannot comment on some aspects of it during these critical times of support for our nations direction.

If it is a site to discuss only War on Terror, technical issues, and military applications of war, troop movements, enemy movements only, then I understand.

But if we are to be technical, the sub-title needs to be updated and remove 'politics.'

Thanks and I'll try to be more careful.

Posted by Mwalimu Daudi at March 17, 2007 2:35 PM ET:

Michael said:

...our media should be all over this use of chemical weapons.

Fat chance. The MSM has been the #1 cheerleader for al Qaeda in Iraq, so I doubt that they will suddenly grow a conscience at this point.

This AP story, for example, tried to portray the chemical attack as somehow all the fault of the US. Par for the course.

Posted by Bill Roggio at March 17, 2007 2:38 PM ET:

Michael,

I've warned you privately about this in the past. Read the comments policy. It specifically says:

Discuss the issue at hand and do not go off topic. The comments section is not a place for a political discussion.

http://billroggio.com/comments/

I'm not sure this could be more clear, Michael, or you would be confused about why I deleted it. What does a pro-war event have to do with a chlorine attack? Don't answer, the tautology doesn't interest me. The comments section isn't a message board. If I let you do this, I have to let everyone do this.

The banner will change, I don't have the knowledge to do it myself. I've been working on a site redesign for an endless amount of time.

Since I've warned you about this privately, I'm confused why you answered publicly. Ask future questions via email and I will address.

And this entire thread is blown because you couldn't respond to my email.

Posted by Mwalimu Daudi at March 17, 2007 2:38 PM ET:

Incidently, AP and others keep refering to al Qaeda as "insurgents". Just what does a group have to do these days to get itself called a terrorist group by AP and the rest of the MSM?

Posted by RJ at March 17, 2007 2:46 PM ET:

Of course, chlorine is both a serious and deadly gas. My comment was taking into consideration what--most likely, the modern American citizen would know about gassing: Nerve gas would be higher on the list than chlorine (I suspected). For me, I will never forget the face of my shipmate who died from poison gas...not a nice way to go at all!

Posted by Snowflake at March 17, 2007 3:23 PM ET:

I would agree with RJ, Chlorine is serious, but it is non persistent and fatal only in relatively large doses. Approximately 1,000 ppm, IIRC. Fortunately for us and the Iraqis, chlorine isn't more "serious", as it is fairly common throughout Iraq. I believe the fatality rate in WWI resulted from living in a trench, where the heavier than air chlorine tended to settle.

Posted by Another Gal at March 17, 2007 3:36 PM ET:

I wondered "Where's the outrage?" when I saw the news. We were supposed to have used white phosphate (I may have the exact chemical wrong -- not my field)in Fallujah -- what -- a year ago? It was all over the news how terrible that was, that the US had been using "chemical warfare and how we had violated the Geneva Convention etc. etc....

I read about the chlorine gas attack MSNBC version of the story this morning: "Chlorine gas was used as a weapon in World War One but its use in guerrilla attacks in Iraq has particular resonance for Iraqis."

Not one single word about it being "chemical warfare." (Sometimes you have to s-p-e-l-l it out for people!) Or that it was a violation of international law.

And no outrage. Just (some of) the facts m'am.

We get more outrage over underproducing attorneys who hit the end of their 4 year contracts and are not renewed than terrorists killing people with chlorine gas.

I give up. Actually I gave up. I just do not do MSM "news" unless I fall across a headline online that I follow up on. It is so under-informing.

Posted by GK at March 17, 2007 3:50 PM ET:

Al-Qaeda will continue to see what they can get away with. Now, it is Chlorine Gas. Next, it will be some other type of more deadlier chemical weapon.

We will lose through their measured incrementalism.

Posted by steveH at March 17, 2007 5:26 PM ET:

Further regarding chlorine used as a war gas; sub-lethal effects can last for, literally, decades.

When I was in college in the early 70s, the Veterans's home at Yountville, CA, a few miles from Napa, had some WW1 veterans who at the time were still living with low-level chronic cases of chlorine-induced pneumonia. And none of them completely recovered for the remainder of their lives.

It may not be as bad, or effective militarily, as other war gasses, but it's more than bad enough.

Posted by Michael Whitehead at March 17, 2007 5:34 PM ET:

I was in Iraq the first year of the war and during the March-April period we had 5 constant companions: our weapon, protective mask, JLIST (chemical protective gear), helmet and body armor. We may not be wearing pants but we better have those 5 items on us or within easy reach. This was the uniform INSIDE and OUTSIDE the perimeter, by the way.

Eventually they changed the uniform to soft cap and weapon inside the perimeter, with the other items accessible within 10 minutes. What a relief! It was like removing a ball and chain.

If they haven't already, I imagine that these recent chemical attacks have brought back the ball and chain of chemical protective gear, with mask, nerve agent antidote and other miscellaneous items. To be really effective, the troops must have these items with them 24/7, which makes visits to the portalets especially crowded.

This isn't something they can't deal with, but carrying these items is cumbersome and adds extra weight. And with the furnace of the Iraqi summer looming, the misery will be that much worse.

My heart goes out to our troops over there. One more damn thing to put up with.

Posted by Steve-o at March 17, 2007 5:39 PM ET:

It sounds like the checkpoint where one attack took place was effective in lowering the toll of that attempt. I wonder how Al Qaeda is acquiring this much chlorine. I hope they don't have an ongoing supply source. If the enemy can get one of these trucks upwind of and near a US base, we are in big trouble.

In Iraq, these attacks will only make the enemy less popular and more resisted. In some American and European media, the USA will be blamed for the use of chemical weapons. "It would not have happened if the USA had just stayed out of there, and so on."

Al Qaeda should be classified as a war criminal enterprise (hello, UN?), and should be given no quarter.

Posted by The Fop at March 17, 2007 5:50 PM ET:

When the Israelis accidently killed a bunch of innocent Lebanese during their recent skirmish with Hezbollah, the MSM wanted us all to grieve over the loss of innocent life.

Yet when innocent Iraqis are killed by terrorists in an effort to prevent democracy from gaining traction in an Arab country, the MSM doesn't want us to grieve. They just want us to think "it's a mess, it's chaos, it's a huge failure, bring our troops home now, let the Iraqis deal with this mess themselves".

It's disgusting how these treasonous, traitorous swine try to brainwash us into picking and choosing which victims of Islamic terror we should care about or not care about, according to their anti-American, anti-Israel agenda.

I accidently had my TV tuned to 60 minutes last Sunday. They were doing a story about all these Iraqis who were fleeing the country because of death threats from terrorists. At no point during the story was it suggested that the Iraqi people must choose between fleeing for their own personal safety or confronting an enemy that wants to impose it's will on the Arab world, the Muslim world, and the rest of the world. No suggestion that this was the crux of the Iraq war and the War On Terror in general. Instead the implicaton was that it was all so much easier for these people when Saddam Hussein was in power.

Posted by Mike Rentner at March 17, 2007 5:53 PM ET:

White phosphorus is not a chemical weapon any more than gunpowder is. It is used primarily for marking, but it's preferred for marking because it is also destructive. It starts fires and it burns things and people at the same time it makes white smoke. That's a good thing.

If you want to say WP is a chemical weapon, you'd be wrong, but you should also say that any flame or explosive is a chemical weapon.

Posted by Neo-andertal at March 17, 2007 6:20 PM ET:

Yes, this does bring up a few issues.

This is obviously not local insurgents terrorizing the local population. These are people from outside bringing punishment upon the locals. The local population knows who these guys are and will tell you so. The local insurgents have increasingly complained about these sort of tactics and in return have received absolutely no understanding or mercy from the Al Quada. In fact the local populous will tell you that this has been an Al Quada led insurrection at least since the Fallujah uprising in 2004. There have been plenty of local Sunnis that have taken part in the uprising along with former Baathists. Al Quada has long called the shots though. Many former Baathists signed on to help, but it was made clear early on, that AQ was in charge. Their leadership is absolute, they are not in the business of sharing anything. Those that couldn't follow along have been systematically liquidated.

Of course many of you have brought up the media issue in this context. I'm afraid we have a case of what is referred to a cognitive dissonance. The fact that Al Quada has been not just a player but the primary mover behind the Sunni insurrection does not quit fit within the dominant thesis that this is a classic local insurrection against a foreign occupation. Those that hold to the "local insurrection against occupation" theory argue that Al Quada and the resistance of neighbors are supportive of the native insurrection and are also reactive byproduct of the US presence. The competing hypothesis is that the insurrection has been not only joined but co-opted by preexisting extremist movements and antagonistic neighboring governments.

The co-option hypothesis presents a number of problems for adherents of the "local insurrection" hypothesis. First, it puts the war in Iraq into the context of a more general fight against preexisting belligerents, Al-Quada, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Mahdi army, Iran's revolutionary guard, and the state players of Syria and Iran. This doesn't make the local insurrection go away but if outside forces are a major driving force behind the violence than this presents a much different situation. This also means that we are in the midst of a war broadly escalated against us, irregardless of our attempts to contain the theater of conflict. The question whether the war in Iraq was advisable still remains, but the context shifts from an isolated conflict to one theater within a broader conflict. Whatever our reasons were for getting into this conflict out enemies have long since successfully tied this war to the greater regional conflict.

There are other petty excuses the media sticks to it's version of events, and won't believe sources that say otherwise. Unfortunately, military sources are only deemed legitimate when passing along bad news. The WMD fiasco plays into this, along with long held animosity between the media and press. Why much of the media also ignores local sources on the ground for information frankly bothers me. Anyone who isn't entirely antagonistic to the US is considered suspect. Opting instead to use stringers with long known enemy ties. Frankly, I think some in the media need to check their own hostile biases. Anyway, I doubt the current introduction of chemical terror will change many views. People are pretty adamant in their views of war and peace. Any old timer will tell you we have been through this several times before. I could run the whole cold war version of this by you, but that's getting too far afield.

I hope that is close enough to today's topic and not too long winded.

Posted by Neo-andertal at March 17, 2007 6:25 PM ET:

Ooops!

That was supposed to say "long term animosity between the military and the press."

Posted by Jim Hurley at March 17, 2007 7:56 PM ET:

If you think gassing people with Chlorine gas is not as bad as using mustard gas or something else that is more deadly and generally kills, think again. The Japanese used wooden bullets during the second world war so people would not die, but the need to take care of their injuries would become a heavy burden on the people that the Japaneese were fighting. The debilitation has a greater demoralizing effect over a longer peorid of time that quick death has.

Posted by Tony at March 17, 2007 8:32 PM ET:

One noteworthy item I read is that chlorine gas tends to be less toxic in the warm weather. The report did not say why; perhaps the rising warm air makes it disperse more rapidly, or perhaps the heat transforms it into less toxic compounds.

This was stated as a reason for the comparatively few number of deaths, however tragic, which did occur from these attacks.

As we head into the warmer months attempting to come up with effective countermeasures, this fact will act in our favor.

The clear implication being that the attacks will be more deadly several months from now during the Iraqi weather.

But hopefully in the meantime we can buy a little time to develop an effective strategy against this recent development.

Posted by Kip Watson at March 17, 2007 9:23 PM ET:

For the record, the lines of blindfolded gas victims in photos of WWI were victims of mustard gas. Contrary to popular belief, they were not blinded -- wrapping the eyes in a wet bandage was a battlefield treatment for the corrosive effects of mustard gas on the eyes. Most of them probably recovered their vision.

Having said that, all these gases were disgusting and cruel weapons. They were designed not primarily to kill, but to incapacitate and maim their victims in painful and horrible ways -- true terror weapons.

Posted by crosspatch at March 17, 2007 10:21 PM ET:

"I wonder how Al Qaeda is acquiring this much chlorine."

Look at records for the water treatment plants in the area and pay attention to the plant that has been ordering more chlorine that it is supposed to.

Posted by Neo-andertal at March 18, 2007 12:43 AM ET:

As a last note. Since we have been doing a little complaining about some of the reporting work we should give credit when someone does a fair, balance, and complete account. Including answering a few questions seen here.

Chemical blasts sicken hundreds in Iraq

That's a competent write up.

Posted by hamidreza at March 18, 2007 3:08 AM ET:

I wonder how Al Qaeda is acquiring this much chlorine. I hope they don't have an ongoing supply source. If the enemy can get one of these trucks upwind of and near a US base, we are in big trouble.

The lack of a proper intelligence service results in such tragedies.

No authority will bother to find out how these tankers were procured and who is the importer of this gas.

Most likely some al-Qaeda facilitator is in the business of importing chlorine for this purpose. Or possibly, some technician at the water treatment plant is handing the tankers over to the terrorists.

Until the US puts it on its agenda to create an effective Iraqi intelligence service, the war cannot be won. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a ruthless intelligence service, as long as it does not become a political tool for a faction and as long as its job is to promote the democratic constitution.

Furthermore, dialog in despotic cultures, is 80% propaganda. Propaganda does not mean lies and sloganeering or ideological indoctrination. It means exposing the facts at the right time to the right audience in an effective manner. This is the job of an effective intellegince service.

Posted by Luke Willen at March 18, 2007 7:03 AM ET:

The Coalition should make as much anti Al Qaeda propaganda out of this as possible

The other problem, as many people on this blog have said is the anti war bias of the media. I recall in depth footage of the chemical attack, by Saddam Hussein, on Halabja. Yet these chlorine attacks barely rate a 15 second announcement on the BBC news.

I wonder how much comment would be made in the event that a really serious chemical weapon was used by Al Qaeda with thousands of casualties.

If AQ are going to use chemical weapons then it should be made clear to them that in future they will be given no quuarter except for captured leaders who will face a war crimes trial and the death penalty when convicted.

Posted by Jesse at March 18, 2007 8:54 AM ET:

I'd guess there is a lot of chlorine moving around in Iraq for legit uses and the amount getting used in these attacks is a very small percentage of the total. That doesn't mean it would be hard to track where it came from, I think the problem might be in the manpower available to track it.

Posted by Michael at March 18, 2007 9:29 AM ET:

Bill,

My email address changed recently and not sure why its not forwarded to new one. My apologies, did not realize you sent me an email. I'll clear up the problem or create a new one on yahoo or other account.

For a lack of words, you run a tight ship. Not sure what the Army equivalent is, but I admit not being use to it, or undiciplined as the term may be applied to some of my post.

As I said, I appreciate your efforts here. I just got excited about the events of the day.

Posted by ISNJH at March 19, 2007 2:19 AM ET:

chlorine if I remember correctly was one of the chemicals under the Sadam goverement that was regulated by the international community of goods that could be sold to Iraq becouse it can be used as a WMD. Al Qaeda in Iraq using these chemicals in these recent attack I feel show two things. 1. that they are now willing to use chemical weapons on the battle field and are raising the bar to the next leval. second the fact they are using chemical could also mean they are having problems getting ahold of explosives and artillery shells from stock piles and are now trying to make the most of what explosives they have and are now supplementing them with chemicals to try and make them do the most damage as they can. It also shows the efforts to secure weapon stockpiles from the old Iraqi army around Iraq are succeeding and the terrorist are being forced to try and find other ways to cause damage.