Jalal Ghazi

Evolution of the Suicide Attacker

The war in Iraq has enabled insurgent groups to develop the relatively modern innovation of suicide bombs into a strategic weapon.

Suicide operations, the signature weapon of the Iraqi insurgency, have evolved into a tactical method of warfare used by insurgents around the world. These "moving and thinking bombs" are more effective, numerous, adaptable and sophisticated -- able to carry out both mass killings and targeted political assassinations -- and are harder to counter since women and children are being used to carry them.

A study by the Gulf Research Center, a Middle East think tank, analyzes these operations from a technical perspective. The report, "Security and Terrorism: Suicide Bombing Operations," published in Arabic and English, focuses on suicide operations in Iraq, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Israel.

Although the study does not provide evidence of direct relations between insurgent groups operating in different countries, their similar tactics strongly suggest that they are learning from each other. The Iraq war has served as a suicide operations school for insurgent groups around the world, Dr. Mustafa Alani, director of Security and Terrorism Studies at the Gulf Research Center, told the Dubai-based Al Arabiya television network.

Suicide bombings in Afghanistan increased from one attack in 2001 to 118 in 2006, according to Hekmat Karzai, director of the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul. Half of all operations carried out by the Taliban in Afghanistan are now suicide operations.

The Taliban has successfully used these operations to undermine the Kabul government. This was evident in the latest attack on a police bus in the heart of Kabul on Tuesday, which killed 13 officers and civilians. Immediately after the attack, Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered the Taliban several posts in his government if leader Mullah Omar agreed to enter into negotiations with him. The Taliban refused the offer, a clear indication that they have the upper hand.

Suicide operations have evolved into a strategic weapon, Alani writes, because "in many cases, the suicide bombing technique has proved to be smarter than the high-tech Smart Bomb." These "human-driven bombs" can reach their targets like no other weapon, making them effective in targeted assassinations as well as mass killings. This is attributed to two unique characteristics of these so-called "moving and thinking bombs," Alani adds. "Moving bombs" refer to vehicle-born bombs, while "thinking bombs" refer to person-born bombs.

Mass killing suicide bombings are designed to maximize the number of causalities and psychological impact of the operation. Techniques such as the "trap combination attack" involve two suicide bombers: one detonates in a confined place, while a second bomber detonates near the exits as victims seek escape. "The rule is that the higher the number of human casualties inflicted in the attack, the better and higher the rate of gain and the impact generated for the group and its interests," Alani explains.

Nicole Stracke, a researcher in the Gulf Research Center's Security and Terrorism Program, studied 550 cases of suicide operations that took place between 2003 and 2006. She reached a similar conclusion: "Suicide attacks in Iraq appear to be a successful technique," she writes, "as the insurgent groups utilizing this method have developed a flexible approach and responsive, adaptable tactics in their operational planning." Stracke adds that these attacks have weakened the Iraqi government, prevented its legitimacy, limited the freedom of movement of American soldiers and restricted their interactions with ordinary Iraqis.

According to Alani, up to 150,000 Iraqis have fallen victim to suicide bombing attacks. Many American soldiers in Iraq have also been killed in suicide bombings. The most lethal attack took place on Dec. 21, 2004, when a suicide bomber detonated his bomb in a mess tent on an American base in Mosul, killing 14 U.S. soldiers.

Suicide operations are increasingly being used to assassinate high-level officials in Afghanistan. In 2001, two Al Qaeda members pretending to be journalists blew themselves up near commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance and strongest opponent of the Taliban. In 2006, the list of assassinated Afghan officials included the late governor of Paktia, Hakim Taniwal, former governor of Helmand, Muhammad Daoud, and Member of Parliament Pacha Khan Zadran.

In Iraq, suicide operations have been used both in both mass killings and targeted assassinations. On Aug. 29, 2003, a suicide bomber detonated an ambulance loaded with explosives outside Imam Ali Mosque, killing 126 people. Since then, many high-level Iraqi officials have been assassinated. The latest of these was on Sept. 13, 2007 when Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, an alliance of tribes who declared their support for the Iraqi government and U.S. forces, was killed just 10 days after he met with President Bush and one day after General Petraeus addressed Congress about U.S. progress in Anbar.

One of the techniques used to increase the success rate of suicide operations is the use of women and children, who are less likely to be searched and detected.

Mia Bloom, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., writes that "between 1985 and 2006, there were more than 220 women suicide bombers, representing about 15 percent of the total number of such attacks."

The number of women suicide bombers is especially high among Chechen insurgents. Forty-two percent of all Chechen suicide operations between 2000 and 2006 were carried out by women, according to Faryal Leghari, a researcher in security and terrorism at the Gulf Research Center. Of the remaining 58 percent perpetrated by men, some suicide bombings were mixed operations.

In the Dubrovka Theater operation in October 2002, 19 out of the 41 Chechen hostage takers were women. Although the mission was not a suicide operation, the women were wearing explosive seat belts. They wrote notes before carrying out the operation, saying that they were willing to die fighting the Russian crimes committed against the Chechens. These women were dubbed by the media as Chechnya's "black widows."

Iraqi and Palestinian insurgent groups use women in supporting roles such as information gathering, target selection and observation, transporting suicide bombers, and detracting suspicion. Between 2002 and 2004, seven Palestinian women carried out suicide attacks in Israel. Seven women have carried out suicide operations in Iraq.

According to Alani, some insurgent groups are beginning to recruit children through tactics adopted from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, who collect children from refugee camps, many of whom have lost their families. The children, who range from 10 to 13 years old, are brought up in the "Red Garden" in complete isolation from everything except for their leader. Similar tactics are now being used by insurgents in Algeria and Afghanistan, says Alani, who points out that both the Taliban and Al Qaeda's new affiliate in North Africa, called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have used children in their latest attacks.

But the high number of suicide bombings carried out by Muslims gives the wrong impression that Islam promotes such operations. In fact, only 43 percent of the 384 suicide attackers between 1980 and 2003 in Sri Lanka, Israel, Chechnya, Iraq and New York, were affiliated with religious groups, according to Suggeeswara Senadhira, a consultant director in the Government Information Department and former associate director of the Regional Center for Strategic Studies in Colombo, Sri Lanka. "Strikingly," he writes, "during the Lebanese civil war, some 70 percent of suicide attackers were Christians (though members of secular groups)."

A significant number of suicide operations are carried out by non-Muslim insurgent groups such the Tamil Tigers, whose members are mainly Hindus and Marxists, as well as the Marxist Kurdistan Workers Party.

Islamist insurgent groups have adopted their suicide operations from these secular groups. Islamic insurgencies faced the challenge of convincing their followers to violate traditional Islamic principles that ban suicide and the targeting of unarmed civilians. However, Islamist insurgents have managed to get around this by introducing new religious ideologies such as "defensive Jihad," "Istihlal" and "Takfirism" to justify suicide operations.

Although mainstream Muslims oppose these extreme ideologies, Islamist insurgents have managed to use Islam to recruit large numbers of suicide bombers for two reasons. First, prominent Muslim scholars and intellectuals have failed to take a clear and vocal stance against suicide operations that target civilians, especially when the victims are Israelis. Second, Islamist insurgents have successfully used the widespread resentment among Muslims, to what they perceive as tremendous injustices committed in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya to break Islamic traditions and cultural norms that oppose suicide operations and the targeting of civilians.

Arab Media on Iraqi Elections

As the dust settles after the Iraqi vote, Arab media are pronouncing it a triumph for the United States. But also for Iran – and even the Sunnis. This goes to show that the road is not going to be easy for Bush's vision of post-Saddam secular government.

Almost no Arab media contested the view that holding the Iraqi elections on time was a great success for the Bush administration. Abu Dhabi television also pointed out that the Iraqi police and national guards are getting better – they were able for the fist time to protect the lives of Iraqis – and, thus, the United States and Britain can now start thinking about an exit strategy.

However, Al Quds Al Arabi, an independent newspaper based in London, pointed out the elections were also a success for Iran, which was as enthusiastic about holding them on time as the United States. According to the newspaper, Iran won because a significant number of its supporters ran and most likely will hold seats in the new national assembly and government.

An Al Quds Al Arabi commentator wrote, "It is now clear that most of the national assembly seats will go to the two major Shiite lists, and this majority will form the new Iraqi government that will include two camps: the first and the strongest will be made of U.S. loyalists, the second will be made of Iran's loyalists."

Iran has maintained good relations with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Higher Council for the Islamic revolution, al Dawa Partry, the Iraqi National Congress led by Ahmad Chalabi and Al-Sadr supporters. All these Shiite political forces were united under the umbrella of the Ali Sistani's United Iraqi list, which is expected the get the highest number of votes.

Al Alam television, a 24-hour Arab news channel based in Tehran, has been very supportive to the United Iraqi alliance and opposed to the Iraqi list led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Nevertheless, an article appeared in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-financed newspaper, with the headline, "The Shiite coalition will dissolve after the elections," referring to Ali Sistani's United Iraqi list. The article says some of the Shiite parties on this list have little in common and in some cases are competing against each other in municipal elections. They are likely to fight over seats in the new national assembly.

The strings that hold these different Shiite forces together in the "Shiite House" were woven by Iran. Their common objective was winning as many votes as possible in order to replace current Prime Minister Allawi. Al Alam television reported that the Iranian former president Hashem Rafsanjani accused the United States of trying to use fraud in the elections and questioned why it is taking so long to announce the final results.

On the other hand, Abu Dhabi has been critical of the way Ali Sistani has utilized religion to gain political power, like issuing a religious decree telling Iraqis to vote and at the same time endorsing the United Iraqi Alliance.

Other Arab countries like Jordan and Egypt share this position, because they see the secular and U.S.-backed Allawi government and its election list as a better alternative to the clerical, Iranian-backed coalition. In addition, while the secular Interim government's list emphasizes its links with neighboring Arab countries, the religious United Iraqi Alliance emphasizes its Shiite link with Iran.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish Alliance list – the umbrella of the two major Kurdish parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Massoud Barazani and the Patriotic Union Of Kurdistan of Jalal Talabani – will most likely win the overwhelming majority in the autonomous Kurdish areas of Iraq, especially because many Arabs in those areas boycotted the elections.

A spokesman for the Islamic Party of Iraq, the largest Sunni party, told Abu Dhabi television, "The Kurds want to make it look like they are a majority, but they are not. Kirkuk is 45 percent Arab, 45 percent Kurd, and the rest are Christians and Turkmen."

Of course, Turkey shares this position because it fears that if the Kurds are able to add oil-rich Kirkuk to their areas of influence it would give Kurds significant financial power, which they may use to advance their separatist aspirations. These fears were exacerbated by an exit poll showing Kurdish voters supported the idea of an independent Kurdistan 10 to 1.

Marwan Beshara, a regular commentator on Abu Dhabi television, says the Sunnis are the only ones who can pull Iraq together. This explains why Bush and many Iraqi officials have invited Sunni parties, even those that boycotted the elections, to participate in the political process.

Significant Sunni political representation in the new Iraqi government is seen as a counter-balance to Kurdish separatism. On the other hand, the Kurds may agree to adding Sunni representatives in the new Iraq government to counterbalance Shiite domination, especially if the government is going to be a religious one.

So, after all is said and done, even the Sunnis won in the elections, without having to participate.

Wolfowitz Doctrine Sinks in the Iraqi Quagmire

The pre-emption doctrine of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz helped fuel the war in Iraq. Wolfowitz argued that the United States should "shape," not just react, to the world, acting alone when necessary and using its military and economic hegemony to foster American values and protect U.S. interests. But the outcome of the Iraq war has brought about the opposite: the quagmire has stymied aggressive U.S. unilateral action and forced Washington to work with European allies and even an old foe, Iran.

In his Jan. 2001 State of the Union address, President Bush announced that the primary U.S. objective in Iraq was "regime change," not destroying weapons of mass destruction, which became the main justification for ousting Saddam. Bush made it clear he would no longer negotiate with Baghdad when he included Iraq in the "axis of evil" along with Iran and North Korea.

Now, seven months after the official end of the Iraq war, Bush says, "Not every situation needs to be resolved through military action. And I would cite to you North Korea and Iran." Why the change?

The United States has come to realize it can't bring order to Iraq without the help of Iran and its influence over Iraq's majority Shiite population.

This wasn't the original post-war plan. Initially, Jay Garner, U.S. interim administrator for Iraq, adopted an occupation strategy that would circumvent the need for cooperation with Iran. This model was designed to replace only the top layer of the Iraqi power structure. U.S. administrators would replace senior Baath officials, but the police, ministries, intelligence agencies and army would be maintained. This plan was modeled after the U.S. occupation of Germany and Japan after World War II.

The strategy planned to neutralize opposition from the Sunni elite, which had controlled the power structure for 35 years, because most Sunnis would keep their jobs and status. But it created much resentment among Iraq's Shiite population. Images of angry Shiites yelling, "We do not want Saddam's police," became a regular feature on Arab satellite television.

Shiites are a transnational force in the Middle East, with loyalty toward spiritual rather than secular leaders. Iran is about 90 percent Shiite.

With the fall of Saddam, Iraqi Shiites were able to visit their holy shrines for the fist time in more than three decades. About 3 million marched in Karbulah and Najaf, delivering a strong message to Washington. We are a political power that can't be ignored, they said.

Washington heard them. It understandably feared angering the Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the Iraqi population, for the sake of the Sunnis, who are only 15 percent. Garner was replaced with Presidential Envoy to Iraq Paul Bremer, who adopted a completely different occupation strategy. His plan was to dissolve pre-existing power structures and start from zero. Bremer began by dissolving the 300,000-man Iraqi army. He then dissolved the Iraqi ministry of information and dismantled the police.

The U.S. policy-shift did not fall on deaf ears in Iran. Tehran was the first country to send delegates to the U.S.-created Iraqi Governing Council. Iran also helped the council get recognized by the Islamic conference in Malaysia. Iran launched a 24-hour news channel in Arabic called Al-Alam, which Iraqi governing council members have used as a platform. At the donor conference in Madrid, Iran pledged $300 million in loans and promised to allow Iraq to export oil through Iranian ports and supply its neighbor with electricity and gas.

In exchange for dismantling Baathist institutions and empowering the Shiites in Iraq by giving them proportional political representation, which was symbolically achieved by appointing 13 Shiites council members to the 25 council seats (compared to only five Sunnis), Iran would support U.S. efforts to establish order in Iraq.

Iran has supported Iraq's highest-ranking Shiite religious authority, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Hussaini Sistani, who issued a fatwa (religious decree) stating that Iraq's Shiites should refrain from attacking U.S. and British forces. However, Iran's conservatives have also increased ties with Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sader, the main challenger to Sistani, who said recently, "the small Satan (Saddam Hussein) got away and the big Satan (the United States) came." Iran is keeping the door open to support one leader over the other, depending on U.S. actions.

Bremer's strategy may have temporarily placated the Shiites, but Iraq's Sunni population was outraged. Many responded by taking arms against American soldiers. Because they formed the backbone of the Iraqi intelligence and army, the Sunnis knew where weapons were hidden and how to use them. The United States underestimated their ability to deliver painful, deadly blows to U.S. troops.

Just a few weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, Wolfowitz argued that military force would bring the necessary political and cultural change in the Middle East in order to defeat terrorism. But now, to keep a fierce guerrilla war from expanding further, the U.S. must put incredible energy into diplomacy and negotiation. Forget "pre-emption," "regime change" and "axis of evil." In Iraq, Washington needs all the help it can get.

Jalal Ghazi monitors and translates Arab media for New California Media and Link TV.


A Radioactive Mess

While American experts say there is no telling what may have been looted from a nuclear research facility in Baghdad, an Iraqi nuclear engineer who was one of the founders of the facility says he has witnessed the spread of nuclear contamination firsthand.

The U.S. Central Command acknowledges that the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center -- the headquarters of Saddam Hussein's former nuclear program, with hundreds of buildings covering an area of 120 acres -- was looted.

Major newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times have reported that U.S. officials do not know what if anything is missing from the center, which sits on a bend in the Tigris River 11 miles south of Baghdad.

But Dr. Hamid Al-Bah'ly, a founder of Tuwaitha who has worked there since 1968, told Al-Jazeera television's "Iraq After the War" program that nuclear materials have already spread far beyond the center.

Small units of U.S. Marine engineers arrived at the nuclear Center on April 6, after Iraqi forces withdrew following the fall of Baghdad. But they were unable to prevent looting by Iraqi civilians, who got in by cutting the barbed-wire fence surrounding the site.

According to the Associated Press, a U.N. expert familiar with nuclear inspections said the Marines made matters worse by apparently breaking U.N. seals designed to ensure that the materials did not end up in wrong hands or be diverted for weapons use. The center contained several tons of radioactive material placed in hundreds of barrels sealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a U.N. nuclear watchdog group.

Al-Jazeera reporters in anti-radiation orange suits interviewed some of the center's employees as they tried to chase away the looters. The workers complained about the lack of American military presence at the facility. One said that there were only two American tanks protecting the entire site, hardly enough to stop the looting.

Al-Bah'ly entered the center soon after the looting and saw chilling scenes. Some of the radioactive material had been taken out of the center, and other materials had been dumped on the floor by looters. Some of the radioactive material was in powder form and had probably dispersed into the air through broken windows, Al-Bah'ly said.

Some of the looters stole big containers that could potentially hold anywhere between 300-400 kilograms of radioactive uranium. Some of the containers were empty but others were not. Al-Bah'ly says he thinks the river has been contaminated by people washing out the containers.

Al-Bah'ly inspects about four to five homes daily in the neighborhood of Tuwaitha, and says he saw some people using the containers to store water, milk and tomatoes, oblivious of the risks. Some containers were even used to transport milk to yogurt factories. Abu Dhabi Television has shown scenes of women using the containers to store drinking water.

At one home, Al-Bah'ly discovered radioactive contamination in clothes and beds. He describes a 10-year-old girl who had attached a piece of "yellow cake" (radioactive waste) to the edge of her skirt for decoration.

Al-Jazerra reports that in some homes, Al-Bah'ly recorded radiation levels 500 to 600 times higher than acceptable levels.

Al'Bahly, who works without protective gear, says he is willing risk his own health as he tries to monitor the spread of nuclear contamination. He says he hopes that the United States and IAEA will soon get actively involved in the effort to contain what may end up being an environmental catastrophe with devastating consequences for both Iraqi civilians and American servicemen and women.

PNS contributor Jalal Ghazi monitors and translates Arab media for New California Media and WorldLink TV.

Joining Forces with Izzat Ibrahim Ad-Duri

Vice President Dick Cheney has called the war "one of the most extraordinary military campaigns ever conducted." President Bush, however, is more cautious. One reason is that Iraq's oil-rich north has not yet been pacified. A second may be the still-potent Iraqi forces who have retreated into those regions, and one man in particular: Izzat Ibrihim Ad-Duri.

Assuming Izzat is alive, there are two reasons he is important. One, he controls the northern oil city of Mosul. And second, Saudi strongman Prince Abdullah chose him as his number one ally in Iraq at a recent Arab conference in Qatar.

Izzat is one of the few old comrades of Saddam who go back to the 1960s, when the Baath Party was illegal. He managed to survive Saddam's many purges. His daughter was married to Saddam's eldest son Udai.

Izzat's reputation is unsavory. Human Rights Watch called on the Qatar government to arrest him for crimes of mass murder and torture.

But now indications are the Americans might be looking to him as an ally. The Arabic-language, London-based Asharq al-Awsat (Mar. 31) published a curious report entitled "Secret military organization reveals the presence of Izzat Ibrahim's office in a Mosul graveyard." The implication was that an office in a graveyard holding the remains of a holy man made it immune from coalition aerial bombardments.

The piece said nothing about Izzat's joining Iraqi forces supporting the American-British coalition. But immediately after mentioning him, it quotes another Iraqi defector general as saying the disputed rocket that killed 60 people in a Baghdad market came from a Russian missile, meaning it came from the Iraqi side. This information, which could only come from the highest levels of the Iraqi regime, hints that Izzat too may have split with Saddam before the "bunker buster" was unleashed on the latter.

The article reads more like a coded message than a journalistic report. Defecting generals arriving in the Kurdish area announced forming a "National Coalition Unity of Iraq" that called on the people not to fight the Americans and British. They also had reason to believe that Izzat Ibrahim, who left Baghdad for Mosul, was ready to join them. Rumors of a deal being struck with high Baath officials to save their lives were rife on all Arab networks. The National Beirut Network television speculated that was the reason American tanks entering Baghdad met with such little resistance. Even the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Al Douri, appeared relaxed and smiling and disavowing ties to Saddam on Al Jazeera, which reported he would remain as the ambassador for the new government.

If over the past week there have been significant defections from the Baath, then it's likely that there won't be a rush by the Americans to take Kirkuk and Mosul. And the Americans are already talking with Izzat or ready to do so.

As world opinion knows, Iran and Turkey have major interests in northern Iraq. But less known is the Saudi interest. Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdullah played the key role in ending Lebanon's civil war that raged from 1975 to 1990. That tour-de-force allowed America to launch the Gulf War that began on Jan. 16, 1991.

Prince Abdullah is determined to do the same now in Iraq. He believes Bush and the Americans knew nothing about Lebanon in 1990-1991 and know nothing about Iraq now. Last March, a major Arab conference was held in Doha, the capital of Qatar that also is the headquarters of the American command in the Gulf and of Al Jazeera TV. Izzat Ibrahim attended as the leading Iraqi delegate and Prince Abdullah embraced and kissed him. The Arab delegates and reporters got the message.

The American and world media are mesmerized about the shock-and-awe audio-visual journalism that fills TV screens and newspapers. But Iran, Turkey, the Saudi Kingdom and many more countries are quite worried about American rashness and brashness. Iran is worried that two of its main neighbors, Afghanistan and Iraq, are now in chaos. Turkey is worried that the lengthy civil war that pitted Turk against Kurd could reoccur. And the Saudis fear that America will create chaos in the Middle East that could easily bring down the Saudi Kingdom.

George W. Bush has a deep admiration for Prince Abdullah, whom he invited to his Crawford ranch. He certainly knows that the prince played a mighty role in guiding his father through the sandstorms of Iraq. Chances are he is now seeking the same.

Schurmann (fschurmann@pacificnews.org) is emeritus professor of history and sociology at U.C. Berkeley and author of numerous books. Ghazi (jalalghazi2002@yahoo.com) monitors and translates Arab media for New California Media and WorldLink TV.

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