At least seven U.S. military helicopters in Iraq have been shot down or forced to land because of hostile fire in the past month. And now the insurgents have added a new weapon: chlorine gas.
In a teleconference briefing from Baghdad on February 22, Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon that he's adapting his own tactics to meet the new threat.
Odierno said he believes the insurgents using these new tactics are affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
"That's just another way they're trying to adapt to cause some sort of chaos here in the country," Odierno said. "And we'll continue to adapt toward those. As I said, when we found this factory a day and a half ago, we found chlorine cylinders there. So we'll continue to work against that."
Odierno pointed to a recent U.S. raid on a bomb factory near Al-Fallujah as a way his forces are fighting the insurgents' new tactic.
Chlorine causes respiratory trouble and skin irritation in low levels and is sometimes lethal with heavy exposure.
On February 21, a small truck carrying canisters of chlorine blew up in Baghdad, killing at least five people and dispersing the poison gas. At least 50 people suffered from shortness of breath and burning eyes.
A day earlier, insurgents north of Baghdad exploded a bomb attached to a tanker truck carrying chlorine. In that attack on February 20, a bomb planted on a chlorine tanker left more than 150 villagers stricken. More than 60 were still under medical care the next day.
Odierno also was asked about Britain's decision, announced on February 21, to withdraw about 1,600 troops from Iraq, most of them from the southern city of Al-Basrah.
The U.S. government says the move shows the success the coalition has had in stabilizing that region. And Odierno said he will closely watch events in Al-Basrah.
"What we want to do is see how they're going to go to operational overwatch," he said. "And this is sort of the plan we have for the entire country, once we get the violence to the level that we believe is acceptable. What I mean by acceptable: can be contained by Iraqi security forces. So in a lot of ways, they're going to be the first ones to do this, although we have done it [in] some other provinces, but Basra is the second largest city in Iraq."
Odierno was asked about U.S. accusations that Iran's elite Quds force has been helping some of the warring factions in Iraq. He replied that he believes the Iranian group is supplying training, funding, and weapons to some Shi'ite militias, but stressed that he has no evidence that the Quds force was, in his words, "propping up" any of the Iraqi groups.
Odierno said he also has no evidence that senior official in the Iranian government are supporting Iraqi insurgents.
The Imam Al-Mahdi Army on parade (epa)
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