An injured Iraqi is treated after a stone-throwing mob — blaming the United States for the deadly explosions — attacked U.S. forces outside Camp Bonzai in Baghdad. (John Moore/AP)
Yesterday’s coordinated bombings in Baghdad and Karbala, which killed at least 145 people — and possibly as many
180 271 — has led to a surge in anti-Americanism across Iraq as Shi’ites blame the U.S. for security failings.
“It is you Americans you have done this!” said a man in the yard outside a Baghdad hospital, moments after he had found his brother lying dead inside.
Doubled over in grief with his fists balled in rage, he lurched at three U.S. military police standing nearby as his friends held him back. Other Iraqis lashed out at U.S. journalists and smashed photographers’ cameras.
“Why have you Americans done this to us?” shrieked a woman draped from head to toe in black as she followed a reporter down the street near Baghdad’s Kadhimiya shrine, where at least 58 people were killed.
As one of my military sources told me this morning, “it’s a bad time to be in Iraq.”
Indeed. And it’s likely to get worse, despite officials’ call for calm and a three-day mourning period. Yesterday’s attacks, Iraq’s deadliest day since last May, were sophisticated and brutally effective. Three suicide bombers penetrated two security perimeters in Kadhimiya in Baghdad near the Shi’ite shrine. A fourth was arrested before his suicide belt went off. At almost the exact same time, attackers used suicide bombers and mortar attacks on the shrine in Karbala, killing at least 85 people. But it could have been even worse. In Basra, British troops arrested two women suicide bombers, who were apparently on their way to blow themselves up among tens of thousands of Shi’ite worshippers. A car bomb also was found outside Seyed Ali al-Musawi Mosque. A 22-pound TNT bomb was found on a road near Kirkuk where Shi’ites planned to march.
This was a direct assault on Shi’ite Islam’s holiest holidays, Yom Ashura, which the Shi’ites venerate as the day that the Prophet’s grandson, Husayn ibn Ali, was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680. Shi’ites revere Ali as the Third Imam and the rightful successor to Muhammad. Attacking Shi’ites and their holy shrines on this day is a direct attack on Shi’a Islam itself.
These attacks will encourage the local militias to keep their weapons and Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the most powerful openly politically active Shi’ite in Iraq, has said his Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) will not disarm and should have been allowed to provide for security. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose words carry enormous weight with Iraq’s Shi’ites, blamed the Americans for lax security.
“We call on all dear Iraqi sons to be more vigilant against the schemes of the enemy, and ask them to work hard to unite and have one voice to speed up regaining the injured country’s sovereignty and independence and stability,” Sistani said in a statement. “We put responsibility on the occupation forces for the noticeable procrastination in controlling the borders of Iraq and preventing infiltrators, and not strengthening Iraqi national forces and supplying them with the necessary equipment to do their jobs.”
He’s right. While nearly 10,000 members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, 67,000 Iraqi Police and about 9,000 border guards are on the job, that’s not nearly enough. And their rushed training, in an effort to boost numbers, has produced poorly armed, if well-meaning rent-a-cops. These guys don’t have the equipment or the training to deal with suicide bombers, and 105,000 American G.I.s along with 20,000 British and other troops won’t be enough to provide the security that Iraqis crave.
The most likely mastermind suspect for the attacks is, of course, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. A Jordanian Sunni who may or may not have ties to al Qaeda via Ansar al-Islam, he is widely regarded as the author of a letter captured last month detailing plans for increased attacks against Iraqis in the hopes of sparking a sectarian war. Astonishingly, the U.S. appeared to have had several opportunities to attack Zarqawi and destroy his operations in Iraqi Kurdistan but didn’t do it.
“People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,” according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey.
Bush’s Ahab-like quest to invade Iraq has been proven time and again to be a failure of monumental proportions with the real victims the Iraqi people. And they know this. They grow angrier toward the United States with every attack. Not helping the matter, Vice President Dick Cheney again brushed off yesterday’s attacks as a sign of “desperation.”
“What it is more than anything else is major desperation on [the insurgents’] part, as we get closer and closer to standing up a new government in Iraq,” Cheney told MSNBC yesterday. He also pointed to a “fairly significant decline in American casualties in the last couple of months.”
I’m sure the Iraqis are pleased the number of American deaths has declined. (More or less true; February saw 20 American deaths instead of January’s 47.) But here’s something to ponder. Since Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda and its possible affiliates such as Ansar have killed almost 1,200 people, according to an NBC News analysis.
Iraqis are the single largest nationality killed in terrorist attacks. Before yesterday’s attacks, 593 Iraqis have died since August 2003 in more than 40 attacks. If al Qaeda or Ansar al-Islam is shown to be behind the Baghdad and Karbala attacks, at least 738 Iraqis will have been killed, well over half of the worldwide total al Qaeda death toll.
The number of Americans killed by al Qaeda since the World Trade Center attacks? 25.