During his unannounced visit to Baghdad, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon felt the shockwaves of a nearby rocket attack while giving a press conference. Ban and his staff left the press meeting shaken but unscathed. Iraqi deputy prime minister Salam al-Zubayi is undergoing surgery for stomach and shoulder wounds after being injured in a bomb attack while he was attending prayers near the Green Zone in Baghdad. (Madrid11, March 23)
Meanwhile, some 1,600 US and Iraqi troops are conducting houe-to-house raids in the Baghdad Sunni neighborhoods of Ghazaliyah and Amariyah. At least 30 have been detained, and a cache of weapons including containers of chlorine reportedly found. In central Anbar province, US and Iraqi forces backed by warplanes battled Sunni insurgents for a third day March 23. (Newsday, March 22, AP, March 23)
An al-Qaeda umbrella group in Iraq purportedly denied March 23 that chlorine was used in the recent bombings in Anbar province, but warned that it would target all tribes and politicians supporting U.S. efforts in Iraq. The “Islamic State of Iraq” said its duty was to “purify these tribes from those outlaws” who support the US-backed government. But it denied using “poisonous gas” against civilians, calling the chlorine claims propaganda.
“There are some people who choose to be helpers to the crusader occupiers and their stooges, those who try to save the crusaders and they were the last card used by the U.S. army in its war against the true mujahedeen,” the group said in an Internet statement. The statement said it was targeting members of the Albu Issa tribe who had recently denounced al-Qaeda for a March 20 raid on a police station in Amiriyah, east of Fallujah. (AP, March 22)
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