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9 Dead In Tanker Attack North Of Baghdad

Children stand amid debris in front of a car parts shop after a fuel truck exploded in Taji, some 12 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007. Two people died and more than 150 people were hospitalized complaining of breathing problems.
AP Photo/Karim Kadim
A hidden bomb ripped through a tanker carrying chlorine gas Tuesday, killing nine people and filling hospital beds with more than 150 wheezing and frightened villagers after noxious plumes covered homes and schools north of Baghdad.

The attack was part of a string of blasts — including a suicide bomber who killed seven mourners at a funeral — that further rattled officials marking the first week of a major security crackdown seeking to calm the blood-soaked city. U.S. forces, meanwhile, called in air strikes during intense clashes against insurgents in strongholds northwest of Baghdad.

With the death toll in the Baghdad area climbing above 100 since Sunday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tried to court some rare upbeat publicity with an even rarer event — leaving his heavily guarded quarters for a visit to the city's streets and markets.

The fanfare of the security plan's launch Feb. 14 has been swept aside by a steady roll of attacks, most blamed on Sunni extremists targeting the majority Shiites. Many Sunnis believe they are being sidelined by al-Maliki's government and under growing threat from Shiite militias, which the prime minister refuses to confront.

The bombing of the tanker took place near Taji, 12 miles northwest of Baghdad. A military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Qassim Moussawi, said a bomb was planted under the tanker, but it was not known whether it had a timer or was remotely detonated. His remarks contradicted earlier reports that a roadside bomb blew up the truck.

Hospitals were soon flooded with terrified people — including many children — complaining of breathing problems, vomiting and stinging eyes. Most of the people treated were released after several hours and there was no apparent life-threatening cases, hospital officials said.

Chlorine gas in low exposure irritates the respiratory system, eyes and skin. Higher levels can lead to accumulation of fluid in the lungs and other symptoms, and death is possible with heavy exposure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Authorities were left questioning whether the bombing could signal a new tactic by militants to try to spread greater panic with chemical fallout.

The attacks in the capital began during the busy morning rush for goods and fuel.

A car rigged with explosives tore through a line of vehicles at a gas station in the Sadiyah district in southwestern Baghdad. At least six people were killed and 14 wounded, police said. The neighborhood is mixed between Shiites and a Sunni minority.

Later, a suicide attacker drove a bomb-laden car into a vegetable market near a Shiite enclave in southern Baghdad. At least five people were killed and seven injured, police said. The same market in the mostly Sunni Dora district was targeted last month by three car bombs that killed 10 people.

The suicide blast at the funeral came after the mourners filled a tent in a mostly Shiite district of eastern Baghdad. The attacker, wearing a belt packed with explosives, also left 15 people wounded.

In other developments:

  • Prime Minister Tony Blair will announce on Wednesday a new timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, with 1,500 to return home in several weeks, the BBC reported. Blair will also tell the House of Commons during his regular weekly appearance before it that a total of about 3,000 British soldiers will have left southern Iraq by the end of 2007, if the security there is sufficient, the British Broadcasting Corp. said, quoting government officials who weren't further identified.

  • Statistics show states with small populations like Delaware are bearing a disproportionate burden of the Iraq war. According to an Associated Press analysis, Vermont ranks first in the nation in terms of the number of Iraq casualties in comparison to the population of the state. South Dakota is second, followed by Alaska, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Delaware, Montana, Louisiana and Oregon. Small towns are also quietly bearing a disproportionate burden of war.

  • A U.S. soldier pleaded guilty Tuesday to rape and murder in the death of a 14-year-old girl and her family last year in Iraq. A judge has not yet accepted the plea. The military court still must decide whether the killings were premeditated and will hear evidence Wednesday. The court will consider whether Sgt. Paul E. Cortez of Barstow, Calif., should be found guilty of premeditated murder and whether he is guilty of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, defense lawyer William Cassara said Tuesday.