Iraq car bombings up 30 percent: U.S. general

WASHINGTON Fri Mar 30, 2007 6:27pm BST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. general on Friday said suicide attacks and car bombings soared 30 percent since the start of a security crackdown in Iraq last month, and that insurgents had used a child in a second suicide attack last week.

Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero, deputy director for regional operations in the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, also characterized the rising use of chlorine bombs in Iraq as "poison gas attacks."

"Chlorine is a poison gas. It is a poison gas being used on the Iraqi people. Before these attacks, the last time poison gas was used on the Iraqi people was by Saddam Hussein," Barbero told reporters at the Pentagon.

According to the general, a teenage boy was used in a suicide bombing in Haditha on March 21.

Barbero said Iraqi police were pursuing a suspicious vehicle. As the police drove past a 12- to 14-year-old boy on a bicycle, a bomb in the teenager's backpack detonated, killing him instantly, he said.

That came three days after insurgents in Baghdad detonated a car bomb with children in the backseat, Barbero said.

"These acts -- the use of poison gas and the use of children as weapons -- are unacceptable in any civilized society and demonstrate the truly dishonorable nature of this enemy," he said.

Violence throughout Iraq surged over the past week, killing 300 people. The past week was the bloodiest since the start of the U.S.-backed security crackdown in Baghdad in mid-February.

Barbero said there has been no drop in the level of attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces after the crackdown.

"High-profile attacks, especially suicide vests and vehicle attacks, have increased by about 30 percent," he said.

Asked if the Shi'ite Mehdi Army militia was increasing activity in response to Sunni attacks on Shi'ite civilians, Barbero said the U.S. military had seen some early signs.

"We have seen some indicators of some increased activity but it's a very dynamic situation and I'd be reluctant to draw a conclusion this early," he said.

Despite increased violence over the past week, Barbero said the security crackdown had led to fewer attacks against civilians and fewer civilian deaths in Baghdad and nationwide.

He said attacks against civilians were down 20 percent in Baghdad and throughout the country. The number of civilians killed was down 30 percent in Iraq and down 50 percent in the capital compared with the six weeks preceding the crackdown, Barbero said.

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