Thursday, May 17, 2007

Suicide Bombings shift from Anbar to Diyala

On May Day, I came across a smugly penned speech by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. He had written an apology and a warning for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to deliver to Arab and Muslim nations on behalf of President Bush and the American people.

The apology: “I’m sorry that I rushed into the invasion of Iraq... I was wrong, and I now realize that in unilaterally launching the war the way I did,... Not only did that alienate you from us, it made us less effective in Iraq. We had too few allies and too little legitimacy. I’m most sorry, though, because my bungling of the war has prompted all of us to take our eye off the ball. I messed up the treatment so badly that people have forgotten the patient really does have a disease.”

The warning: “We are being defeated by nihilistic Islamist suicide bombers, who are proliferating across the Muslim world. We are losing to people who blow up mosques, markets, hospital emergency wards and girls’ schools.”

Friedman then detailed the rise of suicide bombings in Iraq and the region, including what he believes to be the handy work of “12 suicide bombers in a little over a week.” The man is definitely a columnist, not an academic -- in other words, imminently readable yet imprecise.

Residents and firemen gather at the scene of a car bomb attack in Baghdad, April 18, 2007. (REUTERS/Ali Jasim)With the help of EPIC Spring intern Dominique Arvanitis, I tracked down the details of the “suicide bombings” that Friedman listed, to see where al-Qaeda and its allies have been focusing their attacks lately. All of the bombings Friedman writes about occurred from April 18th to April 30th, although the wave of car bombings in Baghdad on April 18th that killed 191 people and wounded 250 may not qualify as "suicide attacks." While al-Qaeda may have been involved, it may have not required foreign fighters or homegrown militants committing suicide.

So here are details of the only 6 confirmed suicide attacks that occurred during the last 13 days of April:

On April 23rd in Diyala Province, a pair of suicide bombers detonated explosive-packed dump trucks outside a U.S. patrol base, killing nine U.S. soldiers.

On April 25th, not far away in Balad Ruz, a suicide bomber killed four Iraqi policemen.

On April 26th in the Diyala town of Khalis, a suicide car bomber rammed an Iraqi checkpoint killing nine soldiers. On the same day in Zamar, a town just west of Mosul, two suicide car bombers attacked the local headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party killing five people.

On April 30th, Khalis suffered a second attack. A suicide bomber walked into a crowded funeral tent and blew himself up, killing 32 mourners. The funeral was for the son of a Shi'ite family who had been killed by gunmen.
That's 6 suicide attacks carried out by 7 suicide bombers, killing 59 people in one week and a day. All but one of those suicide attacks took place in Diyala province.

So why are there noticeably less suicide bombings taking place in Baghdad or in the predominantly Sunni Arab cities of Fallujah, Ramadi, and Samarra? Last year, there were plenty of suicide bombings throughout the country. Why are most occurring in Diyala now?

It can be partly explained by the increasing difficultly al-Qaeda is finding in trying to operate in much of Baghdad and Anbar provinces. Following President Bush’s announcement in January of a “military surge,” the recruitment of foreign fighters picked up in response. The New York Times reports: “…Iraqi intelligence had concluded that Al Qaeda was in effect surging at the same time in Iraq to counteract the American program, damping any immediate gains.”

So what’s a terrorist organization got to do with so many would-be suicide bombers including the variety from Zarqa, Jordan (see Emily’s May 10th post Radicalization Spillover). The result has been increasingly ruthless and abhorrent bombings of innocent civilians, some even involving the use of trucks filled with chlorine gas.

That has led to a backlash particularly in Anbar province. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius writes:
In al-Qaeda's stronghold of Anbar province, tribal leaders have begun allying with American forces against the Sunni terrorists. According to Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, who commands day-to-day military operations in Iraq, there were just 60 attacks in Anbar last week, compared with 480 per week a year ago.
The tribal leaders formed the Anbar Salvation Council in fall 2006 to fight al-Qa'ida. Also called the Anbar Awakening, the coalition began with dozens of tribes and now boasts more than 40 tribes or sub-tribes from Anbar. The Sunni Arab leader of the movement, Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi, lost his father and three brothers to al-Qaida assassins. AP quotes al-Rishawi as saying insurgents were "killing innocent people, anyone suspected of opposing them. They brought us nothing but destruction and we finally said, enough is enough."

Early this year, as the council gained new tribal members and strength, cooperation with U.S. forces began to improve especially in and around Ramadi, Anbar's provincial council. Last month I talked with a Marine fellow in Senator Reed's office who served in Ramadi two years ago. He stays in touch with fellow Marines, including men serving there right now who confirm a remarkable turnaround in Ramadi.


Lloyd said...

The numbers of bombings that you write about do not seem all that significant to me. There is collateral damage in any war. What does seem significant is that there is a lot of unreported good not being heard about.

Emily said...

Lloyd - there certainly are a lot of overlooked successes and unreported good things going on in Iraq, but it's important that we have an accurate picture of what's going on. Just as it's a mistake to portray the situation as complete failure and hopelessness, it would be wrong for us to paint too rosy a picture. The unfortunate reality is that people are dying - and no matter what the numbers are, anything over zero is too high.

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