By: E&P Staff
Although evidence was sketchy, The New York Times reached for the scare button late Wednesday afternoon, with a headline at the top of its Web site: “Militants Using Chemical Bombs in Iraq”
The deck also held no qualifier: “For the third time in a month, insurgents used a chemical bomb combining explosives with poisonous chlorine gas.”
The opening for the article also stated it as fact: “For the third time in a month, insurgents deployed a new and deadly tactic against Iraqi civilians today: A chemical bomb combining explosives with poisonous chlorine gas.”
The Times had a change of heart a little after 5 p.m., softening the headline to: “Iraqi Militants Use Bomb With Chlorine Gas.”
A little later, this was changed significantly again — to “Iraqi Militants Use Chlorine in 3 Bombings.”
It also changed the lede to: “A truck bomb that combined explosives with chlorine gas exploded in Baghdad on Wednesday, and officials said it may represent a new and deadly tactic by insurgents against Iraqi civilians. It was at least the third such attack in a month.”
Sources were military or Iraqi spokesmen.
The Los Angeles Times, in a report form Baghdad on its Web site, referred to the chlorine element as “a crude chemical weapon.” But the Washington Post seemed to play down the attacks, placing a report as a small part of a long wrapup and refraining from using the term “bomb” or “chemical weapon.”
The Associated Press also reported the same three incidents, attributing the information entirely to three unnamed sources. “All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information,” AP said, without explaining why this was so sensitive.
The AP story related: “The military has also detected another deadly insurgent tactic in recent weeks –the spreading of toxic chlorine gas by combining it with explosives.
“In Washington, two Pentagon officials said the tactic has been used at least three times since Jan. 28, when a truck carrying explosives and a chlorine tank blew up in Anbar province west of Baghdad. More than a dozen people were reported killed.
“On Tuesday, a tanker filled with chlorine exploded and noxious plumes covered homes and schools north of Baghdad. Nine people were killed and 150 people were wounded, said one of the officials. A day later, a pickup truck exploded near a diesel fuel station in southwestern Baghdad, the official said.
“A third defense official said the U.S. has been concerned about militants’ ability to acquire weapons like chlorine bombs. But so far, the official said, bomb makers in Iraq haven’t been able to disperse a chemical such as chlorine in an effective way.”