Much confusion followed the reported poisoning of several hundred Iraqi Policemen in Numaniyah this morning. The report was initially denied by Wasit provincial authorities. Today, however, it has been learned that indeed a chemical attack has taken place, but not much information was released as the case is under investigation.
The U.S. military sent ambulances and helicopters to carry the injured police officers to three hospitals in the Shiite town 60 miles (120 km) south of Baghdad, and to the nearby city of Kut, revealed an official of the Interior Ministry who remains anonymous because he was not authorized to release information to the press. The Commander of the National Police, Gen. Adnan Thabit, confirmed that members of the National Police 4th Div, had been the target of a poisoning attack. He did say that up to 40% of the 1700 man Division had been affected and they may have been sickened by drinking the water. Wasit Governor Hamad al-Latif said the food and water at the base is furnished by an Australian contractor with Iraqi sub-contractors, but did not name the Australian or Iraqi companies.
A short time ago, the Irish Examiner, reported police have arrested four cooks at the base. They are suspected of contaminating the food and water for the iftar meal that breaks the daily Ramadan fast. The facts in the case are not clear, so Prime Minister al'Maliki has ordered an investigation to determine if the poison was an attack or an accident.
Facts on the casualties also remain murky. A spokesman for the military denied there were any fatalities. Brigadier Qasim al-Musawi said at a news conference,
“Only 350 to 400 people were poisoned, they were given medical treatment instantly and four were taken to a nearby hospital and everyone has returned to normal.”Lieutenant-Colonel Hasan Nima disagreed, however. Nima was at the base and insisted 1350 of the 2000 policemen at the base became ill just minutes after the meal and were hospitalized. Other police officers said that only 7 deaths had occurred, not the 11 earlier repoted.
Though the facts are in dispute, as first reports are always sketchy. It does appear 60 - 80% of the 4th Police Division were felled, and 7 to 11 officers died as a result of ingesting some kind of substance that may have been poison administered deliberatly.
What we do know is an investigation into the actions of the four cooks is being carried out, the food and water are being tested to identify the agent, and the police officers are receiving appropriate care in hospitals. Under Saddam Hussein the four cooks would already be dead as well as their families, their homes burned to the ground, and hundreds of other people rounded-up and shot just to be sure all of the "rebels" were dealt with. It's good to see the rule of law was the first response.
The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.