NBC Weapons: Blowback in Iraq

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NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS

February 23, 2007: For the third time in a month, Sunni terrorists in Iraq have set off bombs that included cylinders of chlorine. This is a chemical normally used to purify water, or as a disinfectant or bleach. But when you put a lot of it into the air, people can be killed or injured by inhaling the fumes (a thousand parts per million, which is a pretty thick concentration.) The terrorists are basically targeting children here, as kids are the most vulnerable to chlorine fumes. So far, these "chlorine bomb" attacks have not caused massive casualties, but over a hundred children have been injured.

Breathing Chlorine fumes has the same effect as the military poison gas, phosgene. It turns to concentrated hydrochloric acid and burns the lungs out. There is no antidote once that happens, and you can only treat the symptoms. The only good news is that chlorine gas non-persistent. It settles into low areas and breaks down from exposure to sunlight and moisture in the air.

The terrorists have not boasted about their use of "chemical weapons," perhaps realizing that this would make them more hated than they already are. Since 2004, when Sunni terrorists (both Saddam followers and foreigners from al Qaeda) began attacking Iraqi Shia Arabs in a big way, opinion polls throughout the Moslem world have shown a sharp decline in support for Islamic terrorism. Historically, chemical weapons have proved better at terrorizing than killing. Chlorine, and its wartime cousin, phosgene, fit this pattern. It's not known if the terrorists are aware of this angle. The Iraqi terrorists have frequently not worked out their plans thoroughly, and they may be expecting more terror, and less revulsion and loathing, from their use of improvised chemical weapons.

 


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