A suspected al Qaeda in Iraq suicide bomber smashed a truck loaded with TNT and toxic chlorine gas into a police check point Friday in Ramadi, killing at least 27 people — the ninth such attack since the terrorist organization's first known use of a chemical weapon in January.
Al Qaeda in Iraq, which asserts fealty to Osama bin Laden, was believed to be hitting back at Sunni tribesmen who are banding together to expel foreign fighters from their territory.
An Internet posting by the Islamic Army in Iraq, meanwhile, exposed a growing and deep split among even the most radical Sunni groups, who are linked under the umbrella organization called the Islamic State of Iraq.
And despite a hail of mortar rounds that wounded about a dozen people nationwide, the number of civilians reported killed or found dead was among the lowest — 19 — since the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown began more than seven weeks ago.
The bombing in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province and an insurgent stronghold, left many people nearby with breathing difficulties and some need hospitalization, according to police Maj. Jubair Rashid al-Nayef. Most were released in about 30 minutes. Thirty other victims were hospitalized with wounds from the explosion.
Police opened fire as the suicide bomber sped toward a checkpoint three miles west of the city, police Col. Tariq al-Dulaimi said. Nearby buildings were heavily damaged and police were searching the rubble for more victims.
In the first known chlorine attack on Jan. 28, also in Ramadi. Pentagon officials first disclosed the attack that killed at least 16 people. In low exposures, chlorine irritates the respiratory system, eyes and skin. Higher levels can lead to accumulation of fluid in the lungs and other symptoms. Death is possible with heavy exposure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In other developments: A declassified Pentagon report released Thursday concludes that Saddam Hussein's government did not cooperate with al Qaeda prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The report was based on interrogations of the deposed leader and two of his former aides, well as seized Iraqi documents. Iraq's prime minister on Friday ordered pension payments for senior officers of Saddam Hussein's military and offered a return to service for lower-ranking soldiers, a major step aimed at defusing the Sunni insurgency and meeting U.S. benchmarks for his government Several National Guard brigades are expected to be notified soon that they could be sent to Iraq around the first of next year, according to a senior Defense Department official. It would be the first time full Guard combat brigades have been sent back to Iraq for second tours. A federal appeals court refused to intervene Friday in the case of a U.S. citizen facing a death sentence in Iraq for his role in the kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad. A three-judge panel said it is unable to step into the case because Muhammad Munaf was convicted by an Iraqi criminal court. Infiltration of arms and fighters from Syria into Iraq has slowed, but a major reason is that the terrorists of al Qaeda in Iraq now need less foreign help, a senior U.S. general said Friday. In an about-face by the U.S. government four years into the war in Iraq, America's fallen troops are being brought back to their families aboard charter jets instead of ordinary commercial flights, and the caskets are being met by honor guards in white gloves instead of baggage handlers with forklifts. That change — which took effect quietly in January and applies to members of the U.S. military killed in Afghanistan, too — came after a campaign waged by a father who was aghast to learn that his son's body was going to be unloaded like so much luggage.A British-led raid on a police intelligence headquarters in southern Iraq last month ignored orders of an Iraqi judge, violated Iraq's sovereignty and violated a U.N. Security Council resolution, the government said on Friday. The report of an investigation into the raid said the commander of the U.S.-led Multi-National Forces should "officially apologize to the Iraqi people, the residents of Basra and the Interior Ministry."
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