Thursday, July 19, 2007

EPIC Guest Blogger: Jessica Guiney on "Martyrs Without Borders"

A small crying girl, her body covered in cuts from the blast. Faces melting in screams are frozen in time, captured in grief for hours. Reading news, surfing the internet, I’m under no illusion: I am, by all relative measures, safe. These people, the victims of suicide bombings in Iraq, are not. I am left wondering: what is going on?

While I can’t understand the entirety of this messy and complex conflict in Iraq, I feel I have a better comprehension after attending an event on Iraq suicide bombings at the
U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). Professor Mohammed Hafez, who recently wrote, Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom, was joined by the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States, and Washington Post correspondent Tom Ricks. They helped expand my understanding of “what is going on,” but left plenty of room for more questions and uncertainties.

Professor Hafez uses the catchphrase “Martyrs without Borders” for the growing trend of suicide terrorism. It seems
most of those carrying out attacks are not Iraqis, but typically young men in their early- to mid-twenties from nearby countries. These young men, many from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, or Morocco, are often provided food, shelter and information by resistance fighters in Iraq.

Their motivations are hard to pinpoint. According to Hafez, the images of Abu Ghraib and “shock and awe” campaigns push them towards Iraq. Also, the “martyr” status associated with suicide attacks against occupiers makes the choice more attractive to young men.

However, most of the victims of these attacks aren’t occupiers; they’re usually innocent Iraqis, including women and children. In fact, Hafez argued, most suicide attacks in Iraq do not target the U.S., but rather Iraqi police and Shi’ite communities. While he acknowledges the ongoing conflict between Sunni and Shi’ites, he thinks it is overplayed in terms of suicide bombings. These attacks, instead, are strategically calculated to create disorder, enflame the sectarian conflict, and make people blame the U.S.

The Iraqi ambassador pointed out that suicide bombings, while not as frequent as other types of attacks, disproportionately affect security in relation to the small amount of money, manpower, and technology needed to create an attack. But beyond the physical damage, with each failed U.S. program and each suicide bomb comes damage to the campaign for “hearts and minds.” Extravagant, top-heavy programs currently funded by the U.S. lack impact on everyday life for Iraqis. Suicide bombings, on the other hand, are a painful and too frequent reality.

Baghdad is the epicenter of a global confrontation of ideas, and the majority of the people there are allies of the United States. The Ambassador insisted that the U.S. must engage them, and find ways to collaborate at a grassroots level. Iran ensures control and efficiency in its spending in Iraq by operating locally, within small communities. While the US may outspend many other parties in Iraq, it also must ensure that spending is effective.

As difficult as the problem is, the potential exists for the U.S. to improve how it understands and is handling such conflicts in Iraq. In the long term, no society will harbor a group that continually harms its own most vulnerable. And whether an average Iraqi sees U.S. forces and NGOs as allies or not, the groups perpetrating suicide attacks don’t offer ways for Iraqis to help themselves. The U.S., I think, can.

Hafez, the Ambassador, and Ricks all agreed that the justifications for suicide terrorism, especially targeting fellow Iraqis and Muslims, are truly empty. The U.S. can help Iraqis become their own best allies through education and training programs aimed at sustainable development, and helping expose the truth of martyrdom – and the Ground Truth it creates for Iraqi families, children, and society.


Pessimist said...

I must disagree. The Iraqi society continues to harbor and look the other way over groups that continue to kill and hurt the most vulnerable in Iraq. Until the moderates stop being cowards, the carnage will continue with our troops caught in the middle. When is enough, enough?

Anonymous said...

Look how long this has gone on though. Instead of uniting to get rid of the groups causing the chaos, the moderates are the refugees that you want to help leave the country! If they don't think it's worth saving the country how are we supposed to feel?

Jessica Guiney said...


It is easy to call moderates cowards while we watch the violence unfolding an ocean away.

There are many Iraqis who risk their lives by working with the US and working against those who perpetrate violence, such as the suicide bombings.

There are also many Iraqis who join and fight in resistance efforts against US troops.

You'll notice I didn't argue the US should stay or leave Iraq.

However, I did argue that the US can - and must - continue to play a positive role for those Iraqi moderates, for those who are caught in the middle of an enormous humanitarian disaster that - as bad as it is - might get a lot worse.

Refugees are already an issue in Iraq, and as the American public increasingly says "enough is enough" - the potential for refugee flows to continue might only increase.

Finding ways for the US to play a positive role to help innocent Iraqis, moderate Iraqis, and Iraqis who are trying to save their lives by fleeing their country is - in my opinion - incredibly important.

reader said...

Also, incredibly difficult!

Jessica Guiney said...


Unfortunately I'm not sure anything in Iraq will be "easy" - but there are significant steps for which EPIC has been advocating, for some time now, including legislation on dealing with the Iraqi refugee crisis.

The event I attended at USIP wasn't really on that topic - but focused much more on the suicide bombers in Iraq - and the "big picture" of the destabilization of the Middle East as a whole.

However, this article highlights steps some European coalition members have taken to help those Iraqis who are risking their lives and the lives of those close to them to help their country, and to help our troops.

Anonymous said...

No one knows what it will take to change the thinking of these young men. I just don't see it happening. They don't care about human lives. How can anyone fight against a religion and way of thinking that values dying for one's cause more than anything else? In my opinion it will get much worse before or should I say "if" it gets better.

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