Poisoning Suspected After Hundreds Fall Ill at Iraqi Post

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

BAGHDAD, Oct. 9 -- Hundreds of Iraqi army and police officers became violently ill after breaking their Ramadan fast Sunday evening at a base in southern Iraq, in what authorities are investigating as a possible mass poisoning attack.

At least 10 people died and 1,200 were sickened at a base in Numaniyah after eating a chicken dinner that may have been laced with cyanide, according to recruits and an army colonel with knowledge of the investigation. He said the food was undergoing laboratory tests.

Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi armed forces, said the head of the base's mess hall and several other employees there had been arrested. But he said that only 350 to 400 people fell ill, that four had to be treated at a hospital and that none died.

The U.S. military announced the deaths of four troops, a soldier who was killed Monday morning by small-arms fire in eastern Baghdad and three Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7 who were killed Sunday in Anbar province, the volatile Sunni insurgent stronghold.

In the southern city Diwaniyah, clashes continued Monday between U.S. troops and militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric and political leader Moqtada al-Sadr. The two sides battled a day earlier in a skirmish that the American military said left 30 militiamen dead.

Abdul Razaq al-Nadawi, the head of Sadr's office in Diwaniyah, said three people were killed at sunset when an American convoy tried to arrest a cleric loyal to Sadr. Members of Sadr's Mahdi Army responded by detonating a roadside bomb and opening fire on the convoy.

Earlier in the day, armed men connected with the Mahdi Army attacked an Iraqi police checkpoint in the northern part of the city, killing 12 officers and wounding three others, according to Brig. Gen. Hazim Mohammed Ameen of the Interior Ministry. He said joint Iraqi-American patrols cordoned off the area and all roads leading into the city and arrested 20 suspected fighters.

In Baghdad, armed men assassinated the brother of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, one of the country's most prominent Sunni Arab politicians. The killing of Amir al-Hashimi makes him the third sibling of Hashimi to be assassinated this year.

Also in the capital, armed men in four pickup trucks without license plates kidnapped 11 Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint in Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite Muslim slum, Ameen said.

The genocide trial of deposed president Saddam Hussein resumed Monday after a two-week break, with a 31-year-old Kurdish woman accusing Hussein's regime of burying her family alive. Prosecutors have accused Hussein of trying to annihilate the country's Kurdish population during the 1980s.

In Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, statements were distributed threatening widespread violence and civil disobedience if the government does not remove the commander of the 5th Iraqi Army Division and bring him to court for unspecified crimes allegedly committed during a military operation last week.

The statements, signed by "the Mujaheddin of Diyala," said that if these demands were not met, they would fire rockets and mortars at government buildings, force the closure of all schools, bar government officials from going to work and shutter all gas stations.

"And we call on all citizens who were robbed of any valuables to submit a complaint to the criminal court in the province," the statement concluded, "and they will find honorable, honest judges there who will give them back their rights."

Special correspondent Saad Sarhan in Najaf and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company