Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iraq: Suicide Bombers Sow Death And Fear

Can suicide bombers be stopped? Suicide bombers set off a wave of blasts in Iraq yesterday, killing at least 71 people and injuring more than 100. The blasts highlight a growing trend in which such attacks are becoming commonplace at Iraqi Army sites, police-recruitment centers, marketplaces, and crowded city streets. Most of those killed in the suicide bombings are innocent civilians, who live in constant fear of their lives and who increasingly distrust the new authorities' ability to cope with the situation.

Prague, 12 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Samiya lives in an area of central Baghdad that was considered relatively safe a year ago. Not any more.

The neighborhood's tranquility was shattered recently when a suicide bomber rammed his automobile into a U.S. military vehicle just meters from Samiya's home. The bomber struck in broad daylight while her entire family, including children, were home.

She described the aftermath of the attack as hell. "[There were] pieces of human bodies in [our] garden," she said. "Our neighbors next-door were picking them [up] and putting [them] in a sack. I don't know [to whom these remains belonged] -- to an American soldier or the stupid one who did that [carried out the bombing]. I don't know. Just pieces of meat, of human bodies in the garden."

Samiya added that her home was badly damaged. "Not a single [piece of] glass was safe. Even the doors [were broken]," she said. "I mean it was a catastrophe. I mean, I cannot describe it. We were screaming as crazy people. We did not know where to go or what to do because all over around was just glass crushing; all over us. Even the water pipes -- they have been broken."

Samiya says suicide bombings are now an everyday occurrence in her neighborhood. She is afraid to let her daughter go to school. "I do not know if she will come [home] alive. Iraq was never such a hell as now," Samiya said.

Jeremy Binnie, a Middle East analyst with Jane's Sentinel in London, says suicide attacks are clearly on the rise and little can be done to stop them. Many believe foreign fighters intent on entering Iraq to confront U.S. forces are to blame for the attacks. Binnie says that U.S. forces are doing what they can to secure the country's borders -- particularly with Syria -- but they are faced with an extremely difficult task.
Despite the attention being paid to foreign fighters, one analyst says it would be wrong to believe that members of the former secular Iraqi regime are not somehow involved in the rise of suicide attacks.

This has led some to suggest that to quell the insurgency the United States should concentrate less on military operations and more on winning the hearts and minds of Iraqi civilians. But Binnie warns that greater popular support will not necessarily result in fewer suicide bombings.

"In Iraq, it is going to be very hard to prevent this continuing suicide bombing. Even if you win over the majority [of the] Sunni population, if there is still a hard-core left in there who can operate clandestinely they can still funnel bombers through and carry on attacks," Binnie said.

Binnie says it doesn't take a lot of people to carry out a successful suicide operation, making the threat very difficult to counter. The sophistication and scale of some of the attacks appears to be increasing, including the use of tandem bombings, in which one device is timed to go off soon after rescuers rush to the scene of an initial blast.

Despite the attention being paid to foreign fighters, Binnie says it would be wrong to believe that members of the former secular Iraqi regime are not somehow involved in the rise of suicide attacks. He says differences between the various resistance and ideological groups in Iraq are becoming blurred.

"A bit of information was revealed about this over the last week," Binnie told RFE/RL. "They [U.S. troops] raided a safe house in Baghdad and found this letter from a Yemeni foreign fighter and he was sort of moaning about his commanders to [Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Mus'ab al-]Zarqawi. The way the whole cell worked was that this guy volunteered to fight with Zarqawi and then he has been channeled into Baghdad where he has been directed to a cell run by a Saudi militant who was specializing in building car bombs. But that Saudi guy was actually working for an Iraqi guy who was a former member of the regime."

Binnie says that suicide bombing as part of Islamic militancy goes back to the 1980s, when Lebanese Hizballah members targeted U.S. and French military targets. The tactic gained notoriety following Palestine suicide bombers' success in carrying out suicide attacks against Israel.

Efforts to curb the phenomenon are further complicated because suicide bombers have usually undergone religious indoctrination and have social approval of their mission. In some Muslim countries radical local imams encourage suicide missions and those who die fighting infidels are often greatly admired.

"There have been funerals in places, you know, like Jordan [where] there was a controversial funeral a few months back when the whole family come out and praise him as martyr, praise the guy who blew himself up -- even though he killed lots of civilians. And so his family were generally proud of him. So, you can't see it as necessarily being the work as madmen," Binnie said.

The analyst says that while the occurrence of suicide attacks is not widespread in the West, it would be wrong to assume it is problem that is confined to the Middle East. He notes that the secular rebel group Tamil Tigers uses suicide attacks on a regular basis in Sri Lanka.

For the latest news and analysis on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".