Al-Qaeda Claims Responsibility for Two Car Bombings in Baghdad
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JEFFREY BROWN: Robert Worth, welcome. Does it appear that the two on bombings today in Baghdad were well coordinated?
ROBERT WORTH: Yeah, it does. It looks that way. One of the car bombs went off at the front of a convoy of police cars, and the second one went off in the rear. And immediately afterward there was gunfire that erupted from some abandoned buildings nearby on the police convoy.
We’ve seen attacks like this in which we have two car bombs, the classic thing lately, and then gunfire erupting from nearby. However, they were not so well coordinated that they actually really struck their targets. One police officer was killed among those in the death toll, but mostly it was civilians.
JEFFREY BROWN: Is it clear, in fact, what the targets were, and did anyone take responsibility?
ROBERT WORTH: Yes. The target appears to have been an interior ministry building. The police convoy was right outside the building when the bombs went off. It seems likely they were trying to kill both the police officers and some people in the ministry. They didn’t succeed at either goal.
And shortly afterward, Zarqawi’s group, the Jordanian militants – al-Qaida in Iraq is the name of his group — took responsibility for the attack. They also suggested in their posting, which is on infamous Internet sites, that part of the reason they have been related to Robert Zoellick, the deputy secretary of state, who was in Baghdad yesterday. Their Internet posting mentioned that he had said something about the success of the Iraqi government in fighting the insurgency. So they included sort of a mocking reference to him.
We’re also getting some word from some people here that the increased tempo of attacks may have something to do with the fact that both Rumsfeld and Robert Zoellick were in town and that the insurgents wanted to send a message to them.
JEFFREY BROWN: Were there any other reasons given, because there were also attacks, of course, in other parts of the country today and yesterday? They’ve had several very violent days.
ROBERT WORTH: Yeah, it really has been an upsurge. And it’s — generally speaking over the past two months, it’s been calm compared to what we had, you know, around the time of the elections and before. So certainly there’s been an upsurge.
The attack in Kirkuk, we had claim of credit again from another group, Ansar al Sunna, similarly a Jihadist group. It’s always hard to tell how seriously to take these things. But one interesting part is that that group Ansar al Sunna, also claimed that the previous day it struck in Kirkuk killing nine police officers, and it claimed that that was a joint attack done with Zarqawi’s group.
This is something somewhat new. We’ve heard that these groups might be working together, but this is the first pretty clear indication that they are, in fact, working together.
JEFFREY BROWN: Are there any indications or officials there reading more into this in terms of the insurgency gaining strength or regaining strength?
ROBERT WORTH: It’s really impossible to say. I mean, people — there was a lot of talk in the past few weeks that the insurgency was out of gas just because there had been so many fewer attacks. But days like this make you doubt that conclusion.
One other thing I should say is that the new Iraqi government, which the leadership of it is formed, as we know Jaafari is the prime minister, they’re now choosing their final members and they’re expected to announce that sometime in the next few days, possibly as soon as Sunday. So there is some speculation these attacks may be pointed at that.
JEFFREY BROWN: Are the targets still mostly the Iraqi forces or are Americans as well?
ROBERT WORTH: It’s really both. I mean, we’ve had for instance, a lot of heavy fighting in northwestern Iraq in a town called Qaim. And we had on Monday three suicide car bomb attacks aimed at an American base there. There don’t seem to be any Iraqis involved there. However, on the whole, there has been a clear shift from targeting Americans to targeting Iraqi security forces just as much if not really more often.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, yesterday an American hostage was shown in a video, and identified as Jeffrey Ake, an Indiana contract worker. Were there any new developments on that today?
ROBERT WORTH: You know, there really weren’t. American embassy officials here say that they are working hard to try and release him. But they also told me that they still don’t know who kidnapped him. It was a somewhat interesting videotape that in the past, these videos, once they are shown, they’re usually in the hands of a Jihadist group, and you’ll see religious imagery and religious banners, for instance, in the background on the videotapes.
There wasn’t anything of the kind in this one. And he said something kind of unusual, according to the al-Jazeera broadcast. He asked that the U.S. government open a dialogue with the Iraqi resistance. That’s not the kind of language these groups usually use. They usually sound entirely uncompromising and, you know, dialogue is not their style. So, you know, it left some people with a little bit more hope about his fate.
JEFFREY BROWN: U.S. officials of course yesterday reiterated their refusal to negotiate in cases like this. No change there today?
ROBERT WORTH: No, no. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. They’ve made clear that, you know, if you compromise, you give these people opportunities.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, when you put together what’s happening in these recent events in the last couple of days, overall, are officials there, Iraqis and Americans, do they have a sense that they’re in control of the situation in terms of the insurgency, or is there now a new sense of uncertainty perhaps?
ROBERT WORTH: One thing we can say is that there have been a lot of successes in rounding up insurgents. They’ve captured several major figures in the past few days, and they’ve rounded up, you know, scores of people. There was one raid in Baghdad where they picked up 65 suspected insurgents, and they’ve made clear that there were at least a few pretty important commanders in that group. However, nobody is really sure how many insurgents are fighting the Iraqi government and the U.S.; and that’s what makes it difficult to say whether we are winning or losing.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Robert Worth of the New York Times, thanks a lot.
ROBERT WORTH: Thank you.