Chlorine is suspected to have been used in a May 15 car bombing in Iraq — this time in Abu Saydah, a Shiite village in Diyala province. If this latest attack did involve chlorine, the uncertainty over its use a day later suggests the chemical effects still are not reaching particularly lethal levels. This is a further indication that there has been no major shift in insurgent/jihadist capability in this regard. Nevertheless, the perpetuation of the trend is a matter of concern.
A car bomb that ripped through an open-air market in Iraq's Diyala province May 15 could have contained chlorine gas, according to conflicting reports May 16. As many as 45 Iraqis were killed and 60 were wounded in the blast, which occurred in the Shiite village of Abu Saydah. An Iraqi police spokesman said May 16 that local doctors were dealing with injuries and illnesses consistent with exposure to chlorine gas, but the Iraqis have since backed away from this claim. The U.S. military has yet to release a statement on the subject.
Although Anbar province has witnessed the bulk of explosions incorporating chlorine gas, the mixed Sunni/Shiite Diyala province has seen increasing levels of violence over the last few months as the U.S. troop surge pushes some insurgent and militia activity outward. Baqubah, the provincial capital and Sunni insurgent stronghold, might have served as an operational base and helped facilitate the May 15 attack. In other words, regardless of whether chlorine was involved, this latest attack does not appear to mark a major shift in targeting. Ultimately, the chlorine gas trend is cause for concern among Iraqis as well as coalition troops. Its continued use serves as a reminder of its attractiveness to al Qaeda and other jihadists, especially when such attacks can be used to further erode support in the United States for the war effort or to further shake up the fractious Iraqi political scene. At this point, however, chlorine remains a weapon of fear because, even though casualties from incidents involving chlorine gas have been rising recently, the casualties are a direct result of the explosions and not the chemical. A shift in this pattern would indicate increased sophistication among the jihadists and insurgents operating in Iraq. If this latest attack did involve chlorine, the continuing uncertainty about its use suggests the chemical effects are still not reaching particularly lethal levels, a further indication that there has been no major shift in insurgent or jihadist capability in this regard. Nevertheless, the perpetuation of the trend is a matter of concern — as techniques refined through experience in Iraq will proliferate elsewhere.