Its a disturbing development in the Iraq insurgency. So far, 2007 has marked the first time al Qaeda terrorists made good on their promise to use chemical weapons on U.S. troops, Iraqi forcesand Iraqi civilians.
Since January, al Qaeda operatives have detonated six vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDs, using chlorine gas. Three were employed last week alone. Though a Marine source in al Anbar where most of the attacks have taken place downplays the new tactic, it raises the possibility of U.S. troops having to don their hot, uncomfortable chemical warfare gear once again.
Our friends over at Stratfor have put together a pretty good intel brief on AQIs new weapon of mass destruction.
The use of chlorine in chemical VBIEDs is attractive to militants because the chemical is widely available in Iraq and around the world. The problem, as Iraqi militants are finding, however, is dispersing the chemical with a VBIED while maintaining an effective concentration of the gas
Regardless of these bombs’ effectiveness as mass killers, however, insurgents like them because the immediate chlorine odor incites fear. Witnesses of the Iraqi attacks, for example, reported nasty smells and a white plume of smoke that turned black and blue. Furthermore, these attacks are valuable to insurgents as tests for future operations elsewhere. Whether this method of attack is the fixation of a particular insurgent leader or it represents an emerging doctrine by al Qaeda in Iraq, the attacks will allow the insurgents to gain tactical expertise and learn to construct more effective chemical bombs. The attackers also could be conducting these attacks to gauge security weaknesses or to divert attention from a different location where an operation is planned
Chemical VBIED attacks are likely to continue in Iraq and to spread as those responsible for them export the knowledge gained throughout the region and beyond. Al Qaeda units in other locations followed the lead of al Qaeda in Iraq as it increased its use of tactics such as employing roadside bombs and conducting beheadings — and the use of chlorine bombs could be next
Because chlorine is so common, movement of the chemical cannot be severely restricted. This is especially true in areas where the state already has a weak hold on the security situation. Therefore, Iraqi insurgents are likely to continue refining their technique — and their allies and sympathizers beyond the state will start to adopt the tactic themselves.