Car bomb in Baghdad
Today’s car bomb in Baghdad outside the Jordanian embassy which killed 11 people is obviously disturbing in its savagery. But what’s more ominous is the question of whether this marks a long-anticipated change in tactics by guerilla resistors to more deadly, less focused attacks on “soft” targets such as markets, apartment buildings and lightly protected official buildings? Or does it mark the arrival of a new member of the anti-U.S. resistance?
Viceroy L. Paul Bremer III mentioned that Ansar al-Islam was thought to b e reentering the country after scattering in the face of U.S. attacks during the war. While there is some question as to whether Ansar is part of al Qa’ida or if it’s merely inspired by Osama bin Ladin’s worldview, there’s no question they’re a dangerous group of guys, and one of their favored means of attack prior to the war was the car bomb.
No single group has a monopoly on car bombs, of course, and the use of such weapons doesn’t lead one to naturally deduce that Ansar is up to its old tricks. But so far the guerilla resistance has eschewed such random violence that hit civilians and instead has concentrated its attacks on U.S. troops and those it considers quislings. Ansar never showed such restraint and civilians were often killed in Ansar attacks. (While I was in Suleimaniya last year, the PUK Interior Minister Faraidoon Abdul Qisadir told me that Ansar had targeted the Suleimaniya Palace, where I and other Westerners were staying, with a car bomb that exploded prematurely — thankfully.)
So today’s attack on the Jordanian embassy suggests one of two hypotheses: Either the resistance has changed tactics for some, as yet, unrevealed reason, or that a new group which doesn’t care if it kills civilians — possibly Ansar — has joined the fight. Neither possibility bodes well as the threat of random, massive carnage discourages the average Iraq from working to help rebuild Iraq. And it will lead U.S. troops to have even itchier trigger fingers. The civilians will be caught in the middle even more than they are now.
*UPDATE* Hesiod over at Counterspin has the idea that those responsible for the bombing were an anti-Saddam group willing to use violence to exact revenge on the Jordanians for sheltering Saddam’s two daughters. He also speculates that Iraq may go the route of Northern Ireland in which various paramilitary factions blow up the occupation forces _and each other._
In the comments on the previous post, a reader, Diana, asked about the thumbs up sign from Iraqis to Dept. Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz when he toured Iraq. She mentioned a column from Steve Gilliard who said in the Middle East it was the equivalent of kids flipping Wolfowitz the finger.
The Web site Steve mentions says this about the thumb: “‘Thumbs up’ as a positive gesture quickly gained popularity in the U.S.A., especially as a visual signal in noisy environments. Pilots unable to shout ‘All’s well!’ or ‘Ready!’ over the noise of their engines used it frequently. With a slight backwards tilt, this gesture is used for hitchhiking. However, in most of the Middle East and parts of Africa (notably Nigeria), this symbol can be obscene. It Japan, the thumb is considered the fifth digit; a raised thumb will order five of something!”
Steve goes on to say, “This is only a sign of what we clearly do not understand in Iraq. Wolfowitz thought he was being greeted warmly when, in fact, little kids were giving him the Iraqi flipoff.”
Well, I agree with Steve in that the Bush administration generally hasn’t a _clue_ about understanding Iraq or the Arab mind in general. But he’s wrong on this point. I queried some friends of mine in Baghdad and Arbil and an Egyptian friend in New York, and the answers were the same: While Middle Easterners don’t use it, they know what “thumbs up” means to people in the West, and the thumbs up in Baghdad — or elsewhere in Iraq — means what it means in the United States. It’s not the Iraqi flipoff and it’s not obscene.
This jibes with my own experiences in Iraq in which Kurds — who are not Arabs, but who share many customs and gestures — gave me the thumbs up to express their approval. Abdullah Karim, a feisty _peshmerga_ who led me out of the mountains on the Turkish border in the early days of the war, spoke of George Bush in glowing terms and gave him a big thumbs up. I doubt he was trying to trick me or play some inside joke.
So thumbs up on the “thumbs up”?