Breaking News: Who was behind the Baghdad Blitz of October 27?
As you all know by now, car bombings targeted a Red Cross HQ and three police stations in Baghdad Monday morning, in a coordinated attack spanning 45 minutes. 35-40 persons were killed and over 200 wounded according to wire service reports available 4 pm EST Monday. One US soldier was killed and six wounded. The coordination of the attack exceeded virtually anything yet seen in post-war Iraq, where individual car bombings have sometimes been devastating. A fifth attack, at another police station, was foiled, and a Yemeni [actually it now seems, Syrian] driver who entered through Syria was detained. He had shouted at the Iraqi police that they were collaborators.
The attacks left Baghdad shaken and nervous. US officials actually came out and said that progress in Iraq cannot be measured by a few bombs going off! Uh, without security nothing else follows, friends. Not financial investments, not NGO aid, not more troops sent by allies. The Red Cross is needed for Iraq’s reconstruction, but it is likely more or less to get out of Iraq now. The UN has already largely been chased out.
That the driver was foreign indicated to some observers that the attack was pulled off by al-Qaeda-linked foreign Mujahidin. It is also often alleged that Ramadan is seen by Muslim radicals as a particularly auspicious time to attack. Of course, I do not have any idea who planned the car bombings on Monday, but I don’t think this reasoning resolves the problem. The regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen is Arab nationalist; so is that of Syria. There are lots of Arab nationalists in both countries. Arab nationalism is not dead as a sentiment, and for those devoted to it, going to Iraq to fight now makes as much sense as defending Abdel Nasser during the Suez Crisis of 1956. That is, the Western press equates foreign fighters with Sunni radicalism, but Arab nationalism is international, too.
As for Ramadan, I’d be interested in knowing if Sunni radicals have actually ever struck then. In Arabian society there were truce months. Early Muslims were reproached by the Meccans for occasionally violating the truce months by raiding caravans, and the Qur’an defends such guerrilla tactics on the pragmatic grounds that the Meccans’ attempt to wipe out the Muslim community was rather a worse sin than fighting during such a month. I suppose the same could be said of Ramadan now (which in Islam became a holy month of fasting). But it is not as if there is any mandate that one must or ought to fight in Ramadan; quite the opposite, the default would be to spend that month on spiritual meditation, since it is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed. On the other hand, a secular Arab nationalist like Sadat was perfectly happy to fight the 1973 war during Ramadan.
I suspect that Sunni Arab nationalists are actually the most logical suspects, as they have been all along. The Coalition forces don’t have a single proven al-Qaeda operative in custody in Iraq, but have lots of ex-Baathists. (It is also true that once you get away from organizations, there is not that much difference between a lot of Sunni Arab nationalists and Sunni Muslim activists. A lot of people could be mobilized into either one.
By the way, the car bombings of the police stations replicate the sort of attack launched in East Baghdad on October 9, which got blamed on the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. I suggested at the time it might instead have been the work of Baathists (maybe seeking to provoke a US fight with Shiites). These attacks today make that suggestion even more plausible.