- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military warned yesterday that insurgents are adopting new tactics in a campaign to spread panic after troops uncovered a car-bomb factory with propane tanks and chlorine cylinders — potential ingredients for more chemical attacks after three explosions involving chlorine.

Those blasts and a spate of attacks against helicopters have raised fears that insurgents are trying to develop new ways to confront U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 American commander in Iraq, said he did not think the attacks signaled a more capable insurgency. Instead, he said, they were merely an attempt to provoke fear.

“What they’re trying to do is … adapt in such ways where they can continue to create instability,” Gen. Odierno said.

The general also said at least two suspects have been arrested in the downing of eight helicopters since Jan. 20, but he gave no further details.

Also yesterday, an Iraqi official said four Iraqi soldiers were accused of raping a 50-year-old Sunni woman and the attempted rape of her two daughters — the second charge of sexual assault leveled against Iraqi forces this week.

Brig. Gen. Nijm Abdullah said the purported attack took place about 10 days ago in the northern city of Tal Afar during a search for weapons and insurgents.

A lieutenant and three enlisted men denied the charge but later confessed after they were confronted by the woman, a Turkmen, Gen. Abdullah said. He said a fifth soldier suspected something was wrong, burst into the house and forced the others at gunpoint to stop the assault.

The leader of al Qaeda’s wing in Iraq vowed attacks to avenge the purported rape, Reuters news agency reported, citing an audiotape posted on the Internet.

“More than 300 militants asked to go on martyrdom [suicide] operations in the first 10 hours of hearing the news,” said the speaker on the tape, identified as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

The car-bomb factory was raided late Tuesday in the volatile western province of Anbar, U.S. authorities said. U.S. troops discovered a pickup truck and three other vehicles that were being prepared as car bombs, as well as detonation material in five buildings.

“We also found ingredients to be used to devise or enhance explosives, such as fertilizer and chlorine cylinders,” Gen. Odierno told Pentagon reporters by video link.

Insurgents have detonated three trucks carrying chlorine canisters since late January. The most recent attack occurred Wednesday in Baghdad, killing five persons and sending more than 55 to hospitals.

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 Wednesday.

A suicide bomber driving a dump truck filled with explosives and a chlorine tank also struck a quick-reaction force and Iraqi police in the Sunni city of Ramadi on Jan. 28, killing 16 persons.

U.S. and Iraqi officials pledged to adapt to fight the evolving insurgent tactics.

“What is obvious to us is that the terrorists are adopting new tactics to cause panic and as many casualties as they can among civilians,” Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Qassim Moussawi told reporters. “But our plans also are always changeable and flexible to face the enemies’ new tactics.”

Although relatively few people have been killed or seriously injured in the chlorine blasts, such attacks are unnerving and can cause panic among people suffering severe psychological strains after nearly four years of war.

With low levels of exposure, chlorine, which was used as a weapon in World War I, can cause breathing problems and irritate the skin. At high levels, it is fatal.

The car-bomb factory was discovered Tuesday in the town of Karmah, 50 miles west of the capital.

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