US losing battle to bombers

In July 2003 when United States President George W Bush was asked about the growing number of attacks by insurgents in Iraq, he said: “Bring them on. We have the force necessary to deal with the situation.’‘

That assertion was being questioned again this week after a fresh wave of suicide bombings that has killed nearly 400 people in the past fortnight.

According to a Western diplomatic source in Baghdad, 135 car bombs exploded in Iraq in April, up from 69 in March. And if May continues as it has started, it could be the worst month yet.

The situation is causing consternation and frustration among some in the new Iraqi government.
One Iraqi government official said on Wednesday that the US had “failed to stem the strategic insurgency’‘.

“Millions of dollars have gone on military and intelligence actions, and training up the Iraqi forces, but innocent people are still killed and terrorised every day,’’ said the official, who requested anonymity. “[Iraqis] are very angry and disillusioned.’‘

Of the suicide bombers, the diplomat said: “Is there a never-ending supply of these men? Can it really still be the case that they all come in from outside Iraq?’‘

Most Iraqi analysts agree that the young men who carry out the majority of the suicide bombings are foreign jihadis. Hiwa Osman of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting in Iraq said: “Suicide bombing is not a natural Iraqi response. Saddam killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, but there was not a single suicide bomb during his regime. Iraqis fought back with other means. It is realistic to say the people blowing themselves up and causing the carnage now are foreigners.’‘

But analysts also conclude that the foreign jihadis would not be able to strike so successfully in Iraq without substantial help in planning and assistance from homegrown insurgents such as diehard Ba’athists, former regime military and security service officers, and radical Sunni Islamists.

Osman said: “The foreign Islamists and the ex-Ba’athists and regime people have nothing in common ideo-logically, but tactically they both want to disrupt and destroy the new situation in Iraq, and they are prepared to ally to that end.’‘

One Iraqi intelligence officer said the failure to secure Iraq’s borders had allowed many young men from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia, Iran and Egypt, to come to Iraq to “achieve martyrdom’‘.

“Cooperation between these foreign militants and the domestic insurgency, however, is also in danger of turning the homegrown resistance into a breeding ground for a major jihadi movement.’‘

He said the testimony of scores of non-Iraqi Arabs who had been arrested in Iraq pointed to the network of suicide bombers coming mostly from Syria, and he claimed that the Syrian secret service was involved in their training.

Syria has come under repeated pressure from the US to shore up the gaping holes along its porous border with Iraq, but vehemently denies any involvement in the preparation of suicide bombers. A recent US offensive near the Iraqi-Syrian border was designed to disrupt the flow of fighters into the country.

Another Iraqi intelligence official explained how the bomb squads worked, saying they generally worked in pairs.

“There are the intelligence gatherers ... who compile detailed information about the movements of intended targets. They will then call the information into the base, which will then call out instructions via a cell phone to the suicide bomber in the car.

“It’s a bit like a cab service. They will tell the bomber that a customer is waiting for a car on such and such corner and to go and collect him.’‘

Iraqi security officials say one reason why they have been unable to make much headway against the bombers is that the US army does not share much of its intelligence. Iraqi police also still lack basic forensic equipment and skills.

US and Iraqi authorities have tried to counterattack, determined to show they are making headway against the insurgency. Most days see fresh announcements of arrests, though it is unclear whether those being captured are footsoldiers or their leaders.

A Western diplomat said the key to taming the insurgency was including the Sunni Arabs in the political process. “With the removal of the Ba’athist regime, the Sunnis’ political leadership vanished overnight, and the community is struggling to come to terms with the shift in the balance of power in Iraq to the Shia and Kurds.

“The Sunnis are divided and many are reticent. Anyone who sticks his head above the parapet to join the political process may end up losing it.’’ — Â

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