New Wave of Violence in Iraq Leaves 130 Dead
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PENNY MARSHALL: Last year, Armarah was the scene of several insurgent attacks on British patrols. But recently fighting had lessened, until now. On this occasion a bomb was left in the road.
And the specter of hostage-taking has also returned. Masked kidnappers calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops have produced this footage of an Australian hostage Douglas Wood. The Australian prime minister has set up a task force to help the 63-year-old, but says negotiation is not an option.
And there’s been more violence, in this the first week of the new, democratically elected Iraqi government. More than 100 Iraqis have been killed in insurgent attacks. There were three car bombs today in Baghdad alone, all this undermining the hopes of the new administration for peace and stability, and adding to the sense in Iraq that despite a new democracy, the old threats and the old bloodshed remain.
JIM LEHRER: Part two comes from Caryle Murphy of the Washington Post in Baghdad. Gwen Ifill talked with her by phone earlier this evening.
GWEN IFILL: Caryle Murphy, welcome again. We’ve been hearing about the latest uptick in violence in Iraq. Can you tell us whether it has any kind of consistent pattern?
CARYLE MURPHY: Well, the violence has been very intense the last four days. Ever since Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari announced the formation at last after three months of negotiations of his new government. In the last four days, for example, we’ve had almost 140 people killed, most of them civilians or policemen on the streets.
There also have been 11 deaths among U.S. soldiers. Everybody interprets this increase in the violence by the insurgency as a message to the government that it’s going to continue to oppose it. And the radical insurgents, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have actually threatened to kill any Sunni who participates in the government.
GWEN IFILL: Has this violence been targeted in any way toward Iraqi security forces?
CARYLE MURPHY: Definitely. Apart from civilians, which the insurgents don’t seem to have any qualms about hurting, most of the violence is aimed at the police or aimed at soldiers. The civilians get caught up in it.
For example, today there was a parked car that detonated in a very busy commercial strip. Now perhaps the intention was to target a passing police patrol. But in fact, the six people who died in that explosion were all civilians.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk a little bit more about the politics of this. Other than just putting one and one together and coming up with two, are there any other indications whether it’s communications from the perpetrators which tell you that this is directly linked to kind of the vacuum, the upheaval in the political situation?
CARYLE MURPHY: You know, the political situation right now is that even on the eve of a swearing-in ceremony for his new cabinet, Prime Minister Jaafari is still trying to get his huge, sprawling political coalition to agree on a Sunni Arab who could fill the sensitive post of Defense Ministry. Jaafari’s coalition has promised to give that post to a Sunni Arab.
The hope is that by bringing in credible Sunni Arabs this will have an effect on the insurgency. The problem is that the coalition has been very picky about accepting the candidates that the Sunni Arabs have put up. They’ve rejected a lot of them because of their proposed past history with the Baath Party.
The Sunni Arabs say, “Look, we didn’t propose people that were high up in the party and committed crimes against people, but we’ve just got to accept the fact that under Saddam Hussein, people who were in the army had high positions, who know how to run a defense ministry all at one time were part of the party.”
GWEN IFILL: Caryle, as this plays out in terms of increased bloodshed, other than Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has the U.S. or have coalition forces identified other suspects responsible for these attacks?
CARYLE MURPHY: Well, yeah, they do have some names of people who are directing the insurgency. They believe that they are former high Baath Party officials or colleagues of Saddam Hussein who are hiding out either in Iraq or in neighboring countries who have access to a lot of money, and the foot soldiers that they run are very disaffected people, sometimes unemployed people.
Most of them are Sunni Muslims. Some of them are former members of the army that was demobilized by the U.S. occupation authorities in what most people here now regard as a huge mistake, because it put a lot of people on the street with no job, no way to make a living. Once you get people like that, you get new foot soldiers for the insurgency.
GWEN IFILL: Caryle, you wrote today about another celebrated kidnapping which we had kind of lost track of for a while and that’s of Margaret Hassan, who was the director of CARE, the charity, in Iraq. There’s new information on that, I gather?
CARYLE MURPHY: The government in London has announced that there’s been a fourth suspect arrested here in Iraq in connection with her disappearance, or her kidnapping. We don’t know much more than that at this stage, but I’m sure that now that they have some suspects in custody, more will come out about what exactly happened to her.
GWEN IFILL: Excuse me. Has this been treated as a potential murder? Apparently there was a videotape that surfaced a while ago, which it wasn’t confirmed that it was her being shot in the videotape. But I wonder whether as they continue to investigate this missing charity worker, whether they think that she is still alive.
CARYLE MURPHY: I don’t think most people who were not personally involved with her think that she is still alive. Some of her friends, and I’m told some of her family members, have kept alive the hope that she is still alive. The reason that the British government announced last fall that they had concluded that she was dead was this videotape given to al Jazeera.
It was never broadcast, but al Jazeera shared it with the British government because Hassan was a British citizen. I think family members were asked to look at it, too, to try to give their opinion as to whether the woman being shown shot on the tape was Margaret. And they reluctantly concluded it was.
GWEN IFILL: Caryle Murphy, thank you again.
CARYLE MURPHY: You’re welcome, Gwen.