Over at Stratfor, they are talking chemical weapons. hat tip Scott
Geopolitical Diary: Chemical Strikes -- the Beginning of a Trend?
A chlorine-filled truck exploded outside a restaurant at a rest stop near Taji, north of Baghdad, on Tuesday. This is the second incident involving chlorine gas in only a few weeks. In Ar Ramadi, Iraq, a tank of chlorine in a garbage truck exploded Jan. 30; however, the chemical aspect of the attack went largely unnoticed because no casualties were attributed to the chlorine.
Regardless of what was actually used, the deaths from the attack are surprisingly low. Bulk chlorine is a target of militants worldwide. It seems this attack was poorly executed, since the device probably exploded prematurely. Though it is easy to attach an explosive charge to a tanker truck, it is not easy to rupture the tank in order to maximize dispersal without burning up the chemical agent that needs to be dispersed.
That said, chlorine gas is not a weapon of mass destruction capable of taking out an entire city. Even with the most modern chemical weapon delivery systems, chlorine gas is incapable of inflicting massive casualties. These incidents are not in any way indicative of a new technical capability, merely of a new tactic. The only technical capability these attacks have demonstrated is that of placing chlorine tanks and explosives in close proximity -- and this has not been done with skill. There are several reasons the most recent attack could have failed; there perhaps were too many explosives, an insufficient concentration or quantity of chlorine and it might have occurred in a sparsely populated area.
However, a trend is starting to emerge that will only be reinforced by a psychological and human toll that insurgent operational planners will not overlook -- some 150 injuries associated with chlorine gas exposure, including respiratory irritation and vomiting, and five fatalities. And improvements in the techniques of employing even these improvised devices could nevertheless send casualty tolls much higher.
Hardened U.S. troops are ill at ease even about chemical strikes they are trained to deal with. But such strikes are even more terrifying to Iraqi civilians with no training or equipment. If the fear of being blown up at the market turns into a fear of being subjected to a chemical attack, a new degree of hostility toward the Sunni insurgency could develop.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops could be increasingly spotted with gas masks on their left hips. With the sanitation situation as poor as it is in Iraq, chlorine will continue to be necessary, although some precautions could be taken to better protect large shipments. Ultimately, this has not yet become a meaningful opposition to the U.S. surge and it has certainly not indicated a new technical skills set. Nevertheless, the psychological impact of chemical weapons use in Iraq should not be underestimated.