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Iraq: Politicians, Activists Say U.S. Needs Local Help To Combat Bomb Attacks

  • Valentinas Mite

A suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad today, the latest in a string of bomb attacks aimed at Western and international targets in Iraq. Iraqi politicians and religious activists say foreign fighters and Saddam Hussein loyalists are behind the attacks. And they say properly trained and armed Iraqi forces, not U.S. troops, would be more effective in dealing with the militants.

Baghdad, 14 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi politicians and religious activists are pointing the finger of blame at Saddam Hussein loyalists, acting in concert with foreign fighters, for the recent string of bomb attacks in Baghdad, including today's bombing near the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad.

At least two employees of the Turkish mission were wounded in the attack, which came just a week after Turkey decided to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq.

On 12 October, two cars crashed through a security barrier near the Baghdad Hotel, which is used by senior coalition officials and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. Six Iraqis were killed in that attack. On 9 October, a Spanish diplomat in Baghdad was shot and killed outside his home, while a suicide car bomb at a police station in the capital killed three policemen and five civilians. Two bomb attacks targeting the UN in Baghdad killed more than 20 in August and September.

Ibrahim al-Janabi is a member of the political council of Iraqi National Accord (INA). He is responsible for security affairs on the council and works closely with Iraqi Interior Minister Nuri al-Bedran, who is also a member of INA's political council.

Al-Janabi believes many groups are behind the attacks but that the main culprits are likely foreign fighters. "First of all, there are some terrorists who came to the country from the neighboring countries to Iraq -- from the west or from the east or south," he said. "Some of them may be linked with the Al-Qaeda, some of them with some subsidiary organizations closely related to Al-Qaeda, like Ansar al-Islam."

Al-Janabi said Iraq's borders are badly controlled and that it is easy to enter the country illegally. He also noted that, just before the war, President Saddam Hussein invited foreign fighters to come to Iraq to help fight U.S. and British troops, who were set to invade the country. Coalition forces say they have apprehended dozens of foreign fighters since the war began last March.

Sheikh Abd al-Jabbar Menhal, who represents the powerful Shi'a movement Al-Hawza Al-Ilmiyah in Baghdad, offered a similar explanation. "Al-Qaeda and some external forces from neighboring countries [are responsible for the bombings]," he said. "They don't want Iraq to be safe."

Menhal said foreign fighters are coming to Iraq from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other neighboring countries. But foreign fighters would largely be powerless in Iraq without substantial local support. Both Menhal and al-Janabi agree that Saddam Hussein loyalists or other anti-American groups in the country are probably involved in organizing and directing the attacks.

Al-Janabi said one aim of the bombings is to deliver the message to the rest of the world that Iraq is not stable, six months after the U.S.-led invasion. He said Iraqi police and security forces need to be given more arms, vehicles, and better equipment in an effort to prevent further attacks.

Al-Janabi said it has only been because of the help of Iraqis that high-ranking officials in Hussein's ousted regime have been captured by coalition troops. "You know, [U.S. forces] are walking in the streets [and] they are soldiers or low-rank officers. So they don't know who is [former Vice President] Taha [Yassin] Ramadan or [former Defense Minister] Ali Hassan al-Majid ["Chemical Ali"] -- [who is] this guy or that guy. With the help of Iraqis, of course, they can know [if this or that person] is on the list or not," he said.

As the attacks continue, Baghdad's hotels, banks, and other so-called "soft targets" are taking extra security precautions.

Five months ago, it was easy to enter Baghdad's Al-Hamra hotel. Cars were permitted to park near the entrance. Almost anyone was allowed inside. The hotel -- with its swimming pool and crowds of Westerners drinking beer -- was an oasis. No longer. Security is now tight around the hotel, and it looks more like a military post than a place where Western journalists and representatives of nongovernmental organizations are based.

Ahmad Ali, the head of security at the hotel, told RFE/RL that the owners were sure something tragic was going to happen and the 12 October explosion at the Baghdad Hotel proved they were right. "We increased the security measures. We have increased the security personnel," he said. "Now we have more than enough security guards. The second step -- we closed all the streets leading to the hotel, and cars are not allowed to enter the surroundings of the hotel. Only the cars of people who live in the hotel and cars owned by the hotel are allowed to go in."

Omar Sherif owns a carpet shop on Khalrada Street in the Iraqi capital. He said his business is being affected by the continuing attacks. "The American people here don't visit us like before. It is very difficult for us here -- some bomb here, some bomb there. So the Americans cannot buy from as before because the situation is not good now," he said.

Sherif said fewer and fewer foreigners are walking the streets of Baghdad. "Maybe there are less foreigners in the country," he said. "Or maybe they are too scared to go out. I don't know."