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Chemicals Signal Change Of Tactics In Iraq

U.S. troops raided a car bomb factory west of Baghdad with five buildings full of propane tanks and ordinary chemicals the military believes were to be used in bombs, a spokesman said Thursday, a day after insurgents blew up a truck carrying chlorine gas canisters.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said the chlorine attack Wednesday — the second such "dirty" chemical attack in two days — signaled a change in insurgent tactics, and the military is fighting back with targeted raids.

"What we are seeing is a change in the tactics, but their strategy has not changed. And that's to create high-profile attacks to instill fear and division amongst the Iraqi people," he told CNN. "It's a real crude attempt to raise the terror level by taking and mixing ordinary chemicals with explosive devices, trying to instill that fear within the Iraqi people."

Experts in propaganda, the insurgents were quick to capitalize on the new threat by releasing a video on a Jihadi Web site, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan. It shows their fighters wearing gas masks, and claims they're assembling chemical warheads.

But Caldwell suggested the strategy was backfiring by turning public opinion against the insurgents, saying the number of tips provided by Iraqis had doubled in the last six months.

One of the tips reportedly received by Iraqis recently led U.S. troops to five separate buildings near Fallujah on Thursday, where they found the munitions containing chemicals, three vehicle bombs being assembled, including a truck bomb, about 65 propane tanks and "all kinds of ordinary chemicals," Caldwell said. He added that he believed the insurgents were going to try to mix the chemicals with explosives.

A pickup truck carrying chlorine gas cylinders was blown up Wednesday, killing at least five people and sending more than 55 to hospitals gasping for breath and rubbing stinging eyes.

In other developments:

  • Four Iraqi soldiers have been accused of raping a 50-year-old Sunni woman and the attempted rape of her two daughters in the second allegation of sexual assault leveled against Iraqi forces this week, an official said Thursday. A lieutenant and three enlisted men denied the charge but later confessed after they were confronted by the woman, a Turkoman.

    Three Iraqi insurgent groups, including al Qaeda in Iraq, have threatened to intensify their attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces to avenge the alleged rapes of women by security force members, according to Web statements purportedly posted by the organizations on Thursday.

  • U.S. troops battled insurgents in fierce fighting that killed at least 12 people in the volatile Sunni city of Ramadi, U.S. officials said Thursday. Iraqi authorities said the dead included women and children. The six-hour firefight began after the U.S. troops were attacked by insurgents with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades early Wednesday evening in eastern Ramadi, a Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Shawn Mercer said.
  • The New York Times reported Thursday that the Pentagon is planning to ship more than 14,000 National Guard troops back to Iraq next year, a year or two earlier than they were due to return to the war. The change in rotation was made to accommodate President Bush's new security plan for Iraq which includes an influx of about 21,000 troops, according to the report.
  • A mortar attack struck Baghdad's predominantly Sunni western neighborhood of Adil, leaving a crater in the ground and wounding at least four people, including a child, police said.
  • On Tuesday, a bomb planted on a chlorine tanker left more than 150 villagers stricken north of the capital. More than 60 were still under medical care on Wednesday. Chlorine causes respiratory trouble and skin irritation in low levels and possible death with heavy exposure.

    Brig. Gen. Qassim Moussawi, an Iraqi military spokesman, said the investigation into the attack was still under way.

    "But what is obvious to us that the terrorists are adopting new tactics to cause panic and as many casualties as they can among civilians. But our plans also are always changeable and flexible to face the enemy's new tactics."

    Meanwhile, Logan reports the U.S. military is looking into unconfirmed reports from Arabic media channels that another American helicopter has been shot down north of Baghdad. If confirmed, it would be the ninth helicopter downed here in less than two months.

    The U.S. military has captured two suspects in the recent spate of helicopter downings, the No. 2 American commander there said Thursday.

    Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno also said the military has noted similarities in some of the helicopter incidents in the past month in which aircraft were either shot down or landed under fire. A few of them might have been ambushed, he said.

    Odierno declined to say what other similarities there might have been in tactics and techniques used, but said officials are studying them closely to try to better protect the aircraft and capture militants from the cells involved, which he said he believes are "al Qaeda-associated cells."

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