- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

BAGHDAD - U.S. troops said yesterday that they had found two large caches of nitric acid a highly corrosive substance with chemical weapons potential in abandoned houses used by Sunni insurgents in western Baghdad.

Other chemically laced bombs used in terrorist attacks recently have been spiked with chlorine.

Acting on a tip from neighbors, members of the Stryker Brigade’s Alpha Company found 31 barrels of nitric acid Saturday in the walled-off front yard of a house that had been raided less than two weeks earlier.

Members of the same company were clearing another abandoned house a few hundred yards away when they found an additional two 5-gallon containers of nitric acid.

They also discovered four 50-pound bags of an unknown powder, artillery casings filled with the powder, several buckets for mixing, zinc oxide and benzene.

Nitric acid “is one of the chemicals used to make homemade explosives,” said Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Wallace, battalion medic for the 2nd battalion, 3rd infantry regiment of the 3-2 Stryker Brigade.

“It’s an acid and causes chemical burns to the skin and burns the lungs and esophagus if it is inhaled,” Sgt. Wallace told The Washington Times.

Capt. Jon Fursman of the Stryker Alpha Company said that eight men had been arrested at the first house and that neighbors had alerted U.S. forces to the chemicals.

“All were clearly labeled in English, with standard hazmat labels,” said Capt. Fursman.

The finds came amid unremitting terrorist attacks to defeat a two-month-old U.S. effort to pacify Baghdad with thousands of additional U.S. troops.

Six bombs exploded in predominantly Shi’ite sections of the capital yesterday, killing at least 45 persons, the Associated Press reported.

On the political front, beleaguered Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suffered another blow when two officials close to the radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said his followers would quit their Cabinet posts today, raising a threat that the government could collapse, AP said.

The bomb-making materials were discovered in the upscale and predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Mansour, next to the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the U.S. Embassy, the Iraqi parliament and many government agencies.

Several of the nitric acid containers had been punctured or opened, requiring explosives-ordinance specialists to dispose of the chemicals.

Eleven troops were later treated for exposure to the chemicals and were released within hours.

While clearing a second house in the same neighborhood yesterday, the team discovered another abandoned house that appeared to be a bomb-making factory with two more 5-gallon containers of nitric acid.

“We found two different off-white substances in large feed bags that looked almost like granulated sugar and also another white substance on an impromptu drying mat that was a fine white powder,” said Capt. Fursman.

In other developments yesterday:

Two British helicopters crashed north of Baghdad killing two troops.

The U.S. military said two U.S. soldiers and one Marine had been killed.

In the Shi’ite city of Karbala, officials raised the death toll to 47, with 224 wounded, from a bombing of one of the sect’s most sacred shrines one day earlier, AP reported.

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