“The Anger of God”: Al Qaeda claimed Hamra bombing

I found the video claim of responsibility for the Hamra bombing back in November. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s organization, Al Qaeda in Iraq, did the operation in the name of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the “blind sheikh” currently in prison for his role in a plot to blow up New York City landmarks.

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BAGHDAD — Following up on my “previous entry”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/02/aftermath_of_th_1.php, I found the “video claim of responsibility”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/Files/al-Hamra.rmvb (60MB, RealVideo, sorry) for the Hamra bombing “back in November”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/11/the_hamras_been_1.php. It’s all in Arabic, but it’s pretty typical _jihadi_ video stuff, albeit with better production values than I’ve seen usually.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s organization, Al Qaeda in Iraq, did the operation in the name of “Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheik_Omar_Abdel-Rahman, the “blind sheikh” currently in prison for his role in a plot to blow up New York City landmarks. Early in the morning on Nov. 18, two white vans laden with explosives approached the back wall of the Hamra compound. The first one, driven by Abu Ayub al-Iraqi, was to clear a path for the second van. In the video, the bomb-makers claim to have loaded the second van with 2.5 _tons_ of explosives, but I find this doubtful. You can see, however, that they used a number of 155mm artillery shells.

Abu Abdul Malik al-Najdi, a Saudi, drove the second van. Alongside him was Abu Samain al-Tunisi, from Tunisia, who carried a Russian machine gun to shoot any guards who arrived at the scene of the first bombing and tried to prevent the second bomb from getting to the heart of the compound. This means they learned from the “unsuccessful Palestine Bombing in October”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/10/three_car_bombs.php, when the van carrying the main payload came under fire and was, possibly, stopped because the driver was shot.

Also, you can see that they make use of the latest open-source intelligence, mainly Google maps. In one part of the video, the plotters are shown poring over printouts of the neighborhood, marking routes of access. They look exactly like Google maps. The maps are also later used to show the planned points of attack.

Why attack the compound? The video claims it was in retaliation for the torture of Sunnis at the hands of the Shi’ite-led Ministry of Interior as well as for the deaths of Iraqi officers by Americans interrogators. They also saw the compound as a den of foreign intelligence, the Badr Brigade and housing for Kurdish _pesh merga_ and Western security companies. The attack also was billed a success in the video: “It was the anger of God to heal the hearts of believers,” the video proclaims. It ends with a recording of someone who is claimed to be Zarqawi himself: “To the Islamic nation, we promise you we will continue fighting until the last drop of blood.”

This claim of responsibility is unusual in that it came in January, two months after the attack. It’s possible the delay is because of the relative failure of the attack. Only Iraqi civilians were killed or injured and the second bomb didn’t make it to its intended target. Whether that means al Qaeda will come back as they usually do after initial failures is still unclear.

Aftermath of the Hamra Bombing


Bloodstains on the Hamra walls
(Originally uploaded by Baghdad Chris).

BAGHDAD — I finally made it over to where the bombing of the “Hamra Hotel occurred in November”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2005/11/the_hamras_been_1.php. The building is being repaired, but it’s still grim inside. Bloodstains still adorn the walls where fleeing residents pressed their hands against the wall for support as they tumbled down the stairs. Ceilings are still caved in. And the house that bore the brunt of the blast is simply gone, with nothing more to mark it but a gap and a pile of bricks. Surrounding homes had their facades sheared off.
All those people died.
It’s a grim reminder of what dangers exist for us in Iraq every day. And by “us” I don’t mean just journalists or foreigners, but I mean every person in Iraq. (More photos “here”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/baghdadchris/sets/72057594060666710/)

Welcome back, habibi

Ehlen w’sehlehn, as they say here. (“Welcome.”) To which I should probably reply, “Thanks… I think.” I’m back in Iraq’s capital after two and a half months away, and in that time I faced upheavals in my personal life, and three weeks in Beirut. The two are more or less unrelated. But Baghdad is almost exactly the same as when I left, despite the fact that there’s been a monumental election here — the full import of which has yet to be felt.

BAGHDAD — Ehlen w’sehlehn, as they say here. (“Welcome.”) To which I should probably reply, “Thanks… I think.” I’m back in Iraq’s capital after two and a half months away, and in that time I faced upheavals in my personal life, and three weeks in Beirut. The two are more or less unrelated. But Baghdad is almost exactly the same as when I left, despite the fact that there’s been a monumental election here — the full import of which has yet to be felt.
Well, it’s not exactly the same. I’ve been back a day and I’ve already received an earful on the high price of petrol: 250 dinars for a liter as opposed to 20 dinars it was in the summer of 2003 and the 30 dinar or so it was when I left in mid-November. Fuel subsidies are being lifted and people are feeling the squeeze.
If only there were fuel for the city’s power stations. Electricity is down to about two hours a day in Baghdad, doled out in fits and spurts of 15 mins or so at a time. Sometimes, gloriously, we get a solid hour, but it’s rare. Generators pick up the slack, and since you have rising fuel costs, you start to see the double squeeze that poor Iraqis are feeling.
Add on to that incessant guerilla attacks on the country’s oil infrastructure that has left exports _below pre-war levels_ and there’s no money coming into the government. Insurgents have hit upon pipeline sabotage as a means to cut off Baghdad’s funding, so no matter what the composition of the government — when it’s finally done — it won’t be able to do much. So the new government, which is still being negotiated, will probably be viewed with the same resentment as the current Jaafari government does, except we’ll be stuck with these guys for four years now.
Speaking of the government, word is that the United Iraqi Alliance list, dominated by Shi’ite religious parties and thought to have the blessings of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is deadlocked over who will be their candidate for the prime minister’s office. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, of the Da’wa Party, wants to keep the job, but current vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi (of the rival SCIRI party) is favored by others in the coalition. The Kurds are willing to support whoever will legalize their hold on Kirkuk.
The question is what will the Sunni groups do. Ally with the UIA in a national unity government? Cleave to Iyad Allawi’s rump bloc in the hopes of creating a viable opposition? We’ll see.
The mood here among reporters, I think, is grim. Jill Carroll’s kidnapping is still unresolved, despite hopeful rumors of her release soon. Those, so far, have gone unrealized.
I arrived yesterday and today did little other than get my bearings and plan some stories with the other reporters. Tomorrow will be taken up with more logistics and media credentialling business. Wednesday, I sit down in the Saddam Circus, or should I say, “Trial.”
On the way in from the airport yesterday, I counted more marriage convoys than I had in months (three.) Why? Because tomorrow is the start of the Islamic new year and the beginning of _Muharram ul Haram_, the month in which religious Shi’ites refrain from marriage or other celebrations. (It must suck to have your birthday this month.) So, everyone was trying to get their last-minute wedding plans in. In 10 days, we’ll be faced with Ashurah, the marking of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. Iraq’s Shi’ites in Najaf and, especially, Karbala, mark it with bloody parades in which they beat, cut and flagellate themselves in a sign of grief for the death of Hussein. It’s going to be a tense month, for while fighting is generally frowned upon during this month, Salafist/Wahabi Muslims consider the Umayyed Caliph Yazid, who sent the army that killed Hussein and his followers, a righteous figure while Shi’ites naturally detest him. In other words, the potential for violence is high.
Yes, Baghdad is the same as always. As the tagline to “Jarhead” goes, “Welcome to the Suck.”

Make the List Public (Updated and recanted)

I fully agree with the idea that the list of names of people who have been monitored under the NSA’s program to spy on people in the United States should be made public.

*UPDATE 12/21/05 5:58:33 AM:* Upon further thought on this matter, I’m going to publicly reverse myself and rescind my call for the list to be public. It was a poorly thought out decision on my part and I was wrong. People on the list should have access to it through FOIA or some other method, but they should have the right and the opportunity to do what they want with that information _in private._ I understand why people would want the list published, but I think now those reasons — embarrassing the Bush administration, among them — are outweighed by the right of people on the list to maintain some privacy. Lord knows they’ve had that violated enough already. Anyway, I will keep the original post available for archival purposes.
NEW YORK — I fully agree with Steve’s idea that the list of names of people who have been monitored under the NSA’s program to spy on people in the United States should be made public.

If there are specific individuals or numbers that a judge wishes to give ex post facto protection, I can accept that.
But this invasion of privacy in the case of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American citizens must be challenged in the courts. What Bush did is engage in an extra-legal act against the citizens he is paid to represent — and this is criminal.
Post the list. It should be made public because at this point there is NO NATIONAL SECURITY rationale to justify the monitoring of citizens in cases that have not been approved by a court. That means that all of those citizens monitored are innocent — and unwitting victims of this domestic spy campaign launched by George W. Bush.

Perhaps I’m indulging in paranoia, but I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. I’m a reporter. In Baghdad. I have dealth with sources in the insurgency and the Mahdi Army. This administration and its agents in the embassy in Baghdad have long been hostile to the press and our work in Baghdad, especially when we try to tell the whole story of the insurgency — by talking with insurgents. And TIME has long had an aggressive approach to covering the insurgency.
Now, I don’t want to pump up my sourcing more than it is. My bureau chief, Michael Ware, deserves far more credit for his work on insurgents than I ever do. But because of my association with the magazine, I can only assume that my brother, mother, friends and others have been potentially monitored because of my activities. And based on my traffic logs, I know military and CIA people read this blog. Thus, anyone who has sent me email in the past two years is _potentially_ on President Bush’s list. So pardon me if I take this a little personally.
Make the list public. Let my loved ones and friends see if they’re on it, and let them then be able to make the decision of what to do then. Because I can tell you truthfully that my brother et al. are not national security risks, and invading their privacy is doing nothing to make America safer.
*UPDATE 12/18/05 11:32:58 AM:* A good friend of mine, who’s very smart, makes the following, dissenting points:

Sorry, dude, not with you on this one. If I’m on that list, I want to be informed of the fact and the reason — and then to have the list utterly destroyed without the public ever seeing it. I have no interest in bearing a scarlet T for Terrorist, thank you very much.
Seriously, can you imagine the impact on some midwest Muslim if the White House put out a list saying that they had monitored his e-mail for possible terrorist activity? No official assurance of innocence would ever take away the smear. Indeed, I would expect some people on that list to end up dead.
Notify the people on the list, yes. Then, if they want to make the fact public, or to sue in open court, their call.

Points to think about. Discuss below…

Abusive comments khaalas

I’ve always been a fan of free speech, but recent comments have driven me to a sad decision.

BEIRUT — I’ve always been a fan of free speech. I rarely moderate comments, except for spam, and I’ve banned very few people. Only once was I raised to rage when a commenter made my mother cry by calling for my death at the hands of Marines because I was allegedly too friendly to the insurgents. He also, weirdly, thought I was a Sunni Arab who was born in Iraq and had immigrated to the U.S. for the purposes of … well, I’m not sure. He was mad. I banned him, mainly on the basis that my embrace of personal expression stops when you make my mom cry.
So I have a lot of patience for rollicking debate. But that’s not what has happened here. Recent comments have been vile, vengeful and more than a little disturbing — and all of them have come from people who allegedly want peace and are antiwar. Che_Guerilla has called for me to be beheaded on the Internet; da_ali_truth_show says: “I’ll fight you. Please come back to the States I’ll fucking smash that smug ‘objective’ bullshit through your stupid face. Bring friends you pussy. Your Time Warner corporate Blackwater mercenaries won’t be protecting you from me, dickhead.” (We’ve never employed Blackwater mercenaries, for the record. Our security staff is made up of Iraqis who have proven themselves truly loyal and good friends in the face of terrible risk to themselves.)
Anyway, what I’m getting at is that *you will no longer be allowed to comment unless you’ve registered with TypeKey.* I tried this once before and it really cut down on the people leaving comments. I didn’t like it. But I feel the barrage of threats of death and violence against me and my family is too much. No one should have to put up with that. I’ve had friends die and be kidnapped; I’ve been shot at by all sides in this conflict. I frankly don’t need juvenile ranting cluttering my site and intruding on my thoughts. You folks who do this are finished. (Which is what _khaalas_ means: “enough, finished, ended, done.”) It should also cut down on comment spam which is still a scourge that is difficult to combat.
So, to my regular readers and commenters, such as Trish and Niall, who have left thoughtful notes through the years, I’m sorry for this step and grateful to you all. I hope you stick around. You guys are always welcome. For the che_guerillas of the world, go to hell. You care for nothing more than scoring cheap points off dead bodies of Iraqis and Americans. You’re just as bad as the _National Review_ crowd who say “2,000 deaths is nothing when you look at how many died in World War II.” You deserve nothing but contempt and you undermine the very antiwar cause you claim to support.

A Thousand Deaths

The more I think about this place and yesterday’s attack on the Palestine/Sheraton compound, the more I feel that it’s time to leave here — and that I’m a coward for thinking that.

BAGHDAD — No, the title doesn’t refer to a body count. It’s what I’m feeling in my soul. The more I think about this place and yesterday’s attack on the Palestine/Sheraton compound, the more I feel that it’s time to leave here — and that I’m a coward for thinking that.
I don’t want to desert this story. I don’t want to let my friends down. I don’t want to leave my staff, who have bravely stuck by us and who _can’t leave_ like I can. But I also don’t want to die for this story. I’m torn in half over this. I have a macho, “tough it out” mentality about this place while also wondering, “Have I worried my family and friends enough on this?”
I don’t know for sure if yesterday’s attack was aimed specifically at journalists, but if that cement truck had gotten 20-30 feet further in, it might have been powerful enough to bring down a good part of the Palestine Hotel. For sure, westerners were the targets, and whether journalists were just lumped in for good measure is cold comfort.
Just now, about five minutes ago, there has been another huge boom that rolled over the house. We’re not sure where it is, but we’ll know soon. We always do.
I don’t think it’s as big as yesterday’s cement-truck bomb, which was so large that I didn’t even register the sound of the explosion. It was almost a sub-sonic rumble, and then my windows rattled. Everyone here in the house thought it was the wind.
So I don’t know what I’m going to do, but decamping to someplace less hostile is looking more and more necessary. And that just _kills_ me.