- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

BAGHDAD — A suspected al Qaeda in Iraq suicide bomber smashed a truck loaded with TNT and toxic chlorine gas into a police checkpoint in Ramadi yesterday, killing at least 27 persons — the ninth such attack since the group’s first known use of a chemical weapon in January.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, which asserts fealty to Osama bin Laden, was thought 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 exposed a growing and deep split among even the most radical Sunni groups, which are linked under the umbrella organization called the Islamic State of Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, 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.

The decision was made during a Cabinet meeting late last month, according to Mr. al-Maliki’s office. It was not clear why the information was only released yesterday.

The bombing in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province and an insurgent stronghold, left many people nearby with breathing difficulties and some needed hospitalization, police said. Police opened fire as the suicide bomber sped toward a checkpoint three miles west of the city, police said.

The first known chlorine attack took place Jan. 28, also in Ramadi. It killed at least 16 persons.

In low exposures, chlorine irritates the respiratory system, eyes and skin. Higher levels can lead to an 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 the Internet feud, the Islamic Army in Iraq gave a rare glimpse of deep discord inside the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization for militant groups.

In a Thursday posting, the Islamic Army charged that al Qaeda — a key group inside the Islamic State — was killing fighters of the Islamic Army and other militant Sunni groups if they did not pledge loyalty to al Qaeda.

It also charged that al Qaeda had killed Harith Dhaher al-Dhari, a field commander of the 1920 Revolutionary Brigades, another organization under the Islamic State umbrella.

“All Sunni people have become targets for them (al Qaeda), especially the wealthy. They either have to pay or be killed. Anyone who criticizes al Qaeda or disagrees or points out its mistakes is killed,” the posting said.

The U.S. military reported the death of a 20th service member so far this month — a soldier killed in a shooting Thursday in Kirkuk province.

Nearer to Baghdad, Iraqi forces backed by American paratroopers swept into the troubled, predominantly Shi’ite city of Diwaniyah before dawn and killed three militia fighters, the U.S. military said. Twenty-seven militants were captured and two Iraqi and one U.S. soldier suffered wounds.

Residents reported heavy fighting between the U.S. and Iraqi forces and gunmen of the Mahdi Army militia in the city, 80 miles south of Baghdad.

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