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 people. It was the ninth such attack since the group's first known use of a chemical weapon in January.
Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is loyal to Osama bin Laden, was believed 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, meanwhile, 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.
Including those killed in Ramadi, 46 people died or were found dead in sectarian violence nationwide yesterday.
Also yesterday, Iraqi forces backed by American paratroopers swept into Diwaniyah, a troubled, predominantly Shi'ite city, before dawn and killed three militia fighters, the US military said. Twenty-seven militants were captured and two Iraqi soldiers and one US soldier were wounded.
Residents reported heavy fighting between the US and Iraqi forces and gunmen of the Mahdi Army militia in Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad.
The bombing in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province and an insurgent stronghold, left many people with breathing difficulties and some were sent to a hospital, according to police Major Jubair Rashid al-Nayef. Most were released in about 30 minutes. Thirty other victims were hospitalized with wounds from the explosion.
Police opened fire as the suicide bomber sped toward a checkpoint three miles west of the city, police Colonel Tariq al-Dulaimi said. Nearby buildings were heavily damaged, and police were searching the rubble for more victims.
The first known chlorine attack took place Jan. 28, also in Ramadi. Pentagon officials first disclosed the attack, which killed at least 16 people.
In low exposures, chlorine irritates the respiratory system, eyes, and skin. Higher levels can lead to accumulation of fluid in the lungs and other symptoms. Death is possible with heavy exposure, according to the US 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 US military yesterday reported the death of a 20th service member this month -- a soldier killed in a shooting Thursday in Kirkuk Province. The military said that the death is under investigation, and indicated the soldier did not die in combat. Lieutenant Colonel Michael Donnelly, a military spokesman, said he could give no further details.
An average of four soldiers have died or been killed in each of the first five days of the month. If that pace were to continue, the monthly toll would be 120 and the highest since November 2004, when US forces were besieging Fallujah, then another insurgent stronghold in Anbar Province.
In the deep south of the country, the Basra police commander said the type of roadside bomb used in an attack that killed four British soldiers Thursday had not been seen in the region previously. Major General Mohammed al-Moussawi's description of the deadly weapon indicated it was a feared Iranian-designed explosively formed penetrator.
Two more of the bombs were discovered planted along routes heavily traveled by US and British diplomats in Basra. Weeks earlier, the American military had claimed Iran was supplying Shi'ite militia fighters in Iraq with the powerful weapons, known as EFPs. The bombs hurl a molten, fist-sized copper slug capable of piercing armored vehicles.
Moussawi said two similar bombs were discovered yesterday morning; one on the road leading to Basra Palace, a compound that houses a British base and the British and US consulates.
The second was uncovered in the western Hayaniyah district where Thursday's attack occurred. The area is known as a stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.