Deadly Day in Baghdad
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TERENCE SMITH: Joining me is Rod Nordland, Baghdad bureau chief for Newsweek Magazine. Rod Nordland, explain, if you can, why the Jordanian embassy would be a target.
ROD NORDLAND: Well, it’s like so many things here: It’s just not knowable. In one sense, there is… every faction in Iraq has some beef against the Jordanians. I mean, Saddam, because they supported America and didn’t take his side in the latest war — those that hate Saddam, maybe because they just gave asylum to his daughters; and even some of the groups like Ahmed Chalabi’s INC, the Jordanians are prosecuting for bank fraud. So there is a long list of people who don’t like the Jordanians. Nobody’s claimed credit for it, and it may be one of those things that we never find the answer to.
TERENCE SMITH: What was the Iraqi citizen reaction to this car bombing, which was something of a first?
ROD NORDLAND: Yes, that was the most bizarre aspect of the whole thing. A crowd of young man stormed the building while it was still smoking, while bodies were laying around, and started of ripping down posters of King Abdullah II, and chanting slogans against the Jordanians– things like “kill all the Jordanians.” And they were in such a hot mood, I don’t think anybody really tried to interview them and ask them why they had this attitude toward the Jordanians. It was just… it was just kind of mysterious and spontaneous. And I mean, so much of what happens here is kind of like that. I mean, there’s just no explanation for some of the crowd reactions and for some of the sort of random violence that we see all the time here.
TERENCE SMITH: And was it unsettling in terms of that, in terms of the security of the city and the way people feel, you included, about moving around it?
ROD NORDLAND: Of course. And car bombs introduces a new danger to an already very dangerous scene. I don’t think there had been any other car bombs before that. There was a report of a possible car bomb a couple of days ago, but it wasn’t clear if that car had just exploded on its own, you know, from the motor or something in the heat. But this is definitely a car bomb, and that’s very worrisome. And combined with a number of other incidents… the past… we went through a period recently with five days without a single American soldier killed, the first time there’s been a stretch that long.
People were starting to go think, well, maybe they really are getting the upper hand on the opposition and it’s petering out. And then just in the last 24 hours, there have been three major incidents. There were two American soldiers killed last night somewhere in Baghdad, and then there was an attack on an American convoy in Baghdad on a very busy shopping street around the same time as the Jordanian embassy explosion. Just what happened there, though, we don’t still know. The military hasn’t said. Apparently some soldiers were wounded. But a firefight went on for hours in that neighborhood, or at least gunfire went on for hours. Whether it was actually a fight is also hard to tell.
TERENCE SMITH: Is there any sort of coherent message in all of this? I mean, are we now to assume that you’re back into a period of violence and insecurity?
ROD NORDLAND: Well, it’s hard to separate, you know, what is just kind of random violence and a lack of lawlessness that allows people to do kind of whatever they want, from these concerted campaigns. But I mean, the concerted campaign especially has been targeted against American troops, and for a long time, people were thinking, well, at least it’s just targeted against military.
Well, in the last couple of weeks, there have been a number of incidents… the Jordanian embassy is maybe the most serious, but a lot smaller incidents that challenged that assumption and deeply worries the aid community and the international community here. A U.N. worker for the International Organization of Migration was assassinated in his car, and then ICRC had one of their cars attacked, flying the Red Cross emblem. So that assumption that foreigners and people here that are just here clearly to help the Iraqis are safe is kind of out the window.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. If security is such a concern for both U.S. troops and for foreigners in Baghdad, what effect is that having on the pace and efficiency of reconstruction efforts?
ROD NORDLAND: Well, it affects everything. It makes it much harder to do your job, whatever that job is. The coalition provisional authority, the Americans who run the civil administrations, have always been under very strict rules about how they can move around. They need military escorts in armored vehicles and so on. So it’s very hard for them to get out and get the mood of the people, and I think that’s one of the reasons that they often misread the mood of the people. I mean, they are still laboring under the delusion that most Iraqis are glad to have them here, and I think that’s one of the reasons that they are.
And it’s just much harder to do your job. Then the other very serious aspect is that the soldiers are so jumpy and worried about being attacked that they’re maybe a bit more proactive sometimes than they should be. I mean it’s understandable, but Iraqis now are becoming very frightened of American troops, and sometimes with good reason. You know, a lot of people are killed in the streets just through misunderstandings and not interpreting soldiers’ commands at the checkpoints properly and that sort of thing.
TERENCE SMITH: You say the troops were laboring still under the — what you called the delusion that the Iraqis are happy to have them there. You’ve concluded it truly is a delusion?
ROD NORDLAND: No, I don’t have any doubt about that at all. I mean, there’s a bit of schizophrenia. The Iraqis are glad to see the end of the Saddam Hussein regime and they’re glad to see a change in government, but that does not mean that they’re happy with the American occupation. And just the contrary, I think. And they’re growing more and more unhappy with it. And these security incidents create a kind of cycle.
The more incidents, the more attacks on Americans, the more jumpy they are, are the more hostile they tend to be toward Iraqis, and the more hostile that makes Iraqis toward them. And of course that’s just what the opposition wants to happen. And that is what’s happening. And you see it all the time. You talk to the Iraqis and they say that… they literally say they hate Americans now and that’s not something you heard a few weeks ago. These are not people that love Saddam. They’re people who would say, “we were glad to see the Americans come in and now we’re not.”
TERENCE SMITH: Rod Nordland, thanks for bringing us up to date on what is obviously a deadly and difficult situation.