Attacks Kill 17 U.S. Soldiers in Iraq

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 4, 2007; 6:56 AM

BAGHDAD, June 4 -- A car bomb attack outside a major U.S. military base in Iraq discharged a gaseous cloud that sickened dozens of people Sunday, punctuating a flurry of violence that left 16 American soldiers dead during the first three days of June.

A 17th U.S. soldier, Staff Sgt. Juan Campos, died Friday in a military hospital in Texas, according to local news reports there. He had been injured by a roadside bomb near Baghdad in May.

The noxious gas cloud emanated from a bomb that exploded Sunday near the main gate of Forward Operating Base Warhorse, the largest U.S. military facility in Diyala province, a restive territory north of Baghdad. An Iraqi employee on the base said the bomb unleashed chlorine gas. The U.S. military cited an "unconfirmed report of off-color smoke" that caused soldiers to complain of "minor respiratory irritations and watery eyes," according to a statement. Soldiers were rushed to the clinic on base for treatment, but there were no deaths..

"Something made them feel ill," said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. "What it is specifically, we haven't figured that out yet."

The use of chlorine gas has become a regular weapon in the Sunni insurgent arsenal but rarely has been used against large numbers of American soldiers. The attack typified the difficulties soldiers face in Diyala, the scene of some of the most deadly fighting in the country in the past few months.

About 3,000 additional U.S. soldiers were recently deployed to Diyala to battle a complex mix of Sunni and Shiite militant groups, and the American death toll there has risen steadily in recent weeks. Earlier Sunday in Diyala, a car bomb exploded as an Iraqi police patrol transported prisoners to a station in Balad Ruz, killing 15 people, including 11 police officers, and wounding 35, according to Lt. Mohammed Hakman of the provincial police.

On Sunday, the U.S. military announced that a series of other bombings and shootings, most of them in and around Baghdad, took the lives of 15 soldiers and wounded at least 22 since Friday. The independent website, which tracks U.S. military deaths, said another soldier also had been killed during the that time frame.

May was the third-deadliest month for American troops in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and the casualties reported over in the past few days indicate that the insurgency shows no sign of abating.

"This is going to get harder before it gets easier. We're fighting a determined, adaptive enemy that's trying to derail the security plan and kill as many American soldiers as it can," Garver said. "This is how we're going to get to long-term security, through this short-term upswing in contact with the enemy."

U.S. military officials cite many reasons for the recent rise in fatalities, including the growing use of deeply buried, powerful roadside bombs that can blast through armored vehicles and the more aggressive tactics of American troops who are patrolling in greater numbers in unexplored areas.

The counterinsurgency strategy launched by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has moved soldiers off the sprawling, fortified American bases into smaller, more vulnerable outposts in violent neighborhoods to bring them into more sustained contact with the people they want to protect. But their presence creates more potential targets, as combat operations have expanded with the addition of five brigades of soldiers in Iraq, part of President Bush's troop buildup.

Most of the U.S. casualties since Friday resulted from roadside bombings, the deadliest weapon Americans face in Iraq. A roadside bomb northwest of Baghdad killed four soldiers on patrol Sunday, and two more soldiers were killed Saturday by a roadside bomb in Nineveh province, north of Baghdad.

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