Archive for February 22nd, 2007|Daily archive page

(Updated) Spin Cycles and Chlorine


Not only are the reports on the newest form of attacks in Iraq, those using chlorine gas, very worrying, the approach being taken by the various national news agencies is bizarrely different.

While the Washington Post runs the story (on page A12) with the headline “3 Killed, 25 Injured In Chlorine Attack,” the actual reporting on the event seems limited to the lead.

A tank truck carrying chlorine exploded in western Baghdad on Wednesday, killing three people and wounding at least 25 in the second such attack in as many days, according to a spokesman for Iraq’s Interior Ministry.

Brig. Gen. Sadoun Abdul Karim said that several people exposed to the fumes were taken to hospitals and that the explosion set vehicles and shops on fire.

The chlorine attacks appear to be among deadly tactics adopted by insurgents in recent weeks as the U.S. military and the Iraqi government launch a security plan that will include the deployment of thousands of soldiers to outposts in Baghdad. Insurgents have also displayed new prowess in shooting down U.S. helicopters.

After that the article moves on to discuss the very confusing case of a Sunni woman who is claiming to have been raped by (Shi’ite) Iraqi security forces. Due to number of claims vs. counter claims in a plethora of sectarian screeching, it is difficult to glean any amount of truth. (At the moment I would assume the claim is true because, in the Iraqi (Sunni) blog Baghdad Burning the point is clearly made that the woman was willing to use her name. This is in Islamic religious countries nothing short of amazing. Thus, I am leaning towards believing the victim right now.) But to be honest this looks like the Washington Post really burying the rape story and downplaying the chlorine story.

The German online news source Spiegel Online takes an entirely different tack. They headline with “Insurgents in Iraq target chemical transports.”

In week after the start of the US offensive in Baghdad, evidence is increasing that insurgents are changing strategies. On Wednesday, for the second time this week, a chorine gas transport has been attacked. In addition the rebels have shot down another US helicopter. On Thursday morning repeated explosions could be heard in Baghdad.

Insurgents blew up a truck loaded with cylinders filled with chlorine gas. According to police reports, at least 5 persons lost their lives; more than 55 people needed to be taken to hospital. One day earlier, in northwest Baghdad, a bomb attack was carried out on a tanker carrying a chlorine substance. [my translation]

The article then goes on to highlight Cheney sniping at the Democratic leadership while visiting Japan with the inevitable return snip by Pelosi. The rape allegations from Sabrine Al Janabi had already been reported on Tuesday, the first day they surfaced.

But the point is that Spiegel, while pointing out that chemicals have been involved in multiple attacks, isn’t highlighting the use as a bomb component, especially in Tuesdays attack/bomb.

Which brings me to the New York Times today; they headline the chlorine story and prominently covered the rape allegations on Tuesday. But the coverage of the chlorine attacks is much different.

A truck bomb that combined explosives with chlorine gas blew up in southern Baghdad on Wednesday, and officials said it might represent a new and deadly tactic by insurgents against Iraqi civilians.
Insurgents have shifted tactics to focus on helicopters, and on Wednesday one group forced down an American Black Hawk helicopter, the eighth such incident since Jan. 20. Roadside bombs have been adapted to punch through heavily armored Humvees. Attacks on Americans also now include coordinated assaults from multiple locations, with a mix of weapons and in at least one case, counterfeit American uniforms and vehicles.
The bombing involving chlorine gas on Wednesday followed an explosion on Tuesday north of Baghdad of a tanker filled with chlorine that had been rigged to explode, killing nine people and wounding 148, including 42 women and 52 children. At least one other attack with chlorine took place on Jan. 28, according to the American military’s statements. Sixteen people were killed in that attack, in the Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, when a dump truck with explosives and a chlorine tank blew up in Ramadi.

This is much different, both in tone and substance from the information being produced by Spiegel Online. First, they are highlighting the bombs themselves. This is the top story on today’s front page. Second, Tuesday’s explosion is explicitly being made up to be, not an attack on a chemical transport, but a deliberate, premeditated bomb using a chemical tanker. I would argue, that makes an amazing difference in the feel of panic the story is trying to push.

I am having trouble trying to figure out who is spinning what. Both the WP and Spiegel playing the stories down while the NYT is decrying chaos and mayhem?

Maybe. But I find the difference amazing. Almost like reading about two different weeks.

But the dead and injured won’t get any better, no matter how this gets spun.

Update: Be sure not to miss the take over at Noah Schachtman’s new blog the Danger Room at Wired. Jason Sigger does an excellent job of putting this into perspective. Which is of course what I would have done were I as intelligent, well connected, eloquent (and perhaps, I don’t know, good looking?) Jason Sigger is.