TOPICS > Nation

Iraq’s Violent Weekend

July 18, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Kirk Semple, welcome. Starting with today’s insurgent attacks, and then looking back over the weekend, could you run down the major incidents?

KIRK SEMPLE: Today our sources have documented for us scattered — a number of scattered ambushes and attacks around central Iraq that have left at least 12 people dead. The most significant thing about today’s violence is that there didn’t appear to be any suicide car bombs or any suicide bombs of any sort.

These, of course, have been the brutal and defining feature of the violence in Iraq during the past eight or nine days, capped by a suicide attack in Musayyib, a town about 40 miles south of Baghdad in which an insurgent wrapped in explosives detonated himself under a fuel tanker truck, and igniting the fuel in the truck and sending a fireball into a crowded marketplace, killing about 71 people, at least 71 people, and injuring or wounding more than 150.

RAY SUAREZ: The Musayyib attack was very close to a Shia mosque. Was that assumed to be the target?

KIRK SEMPLE: That is an assumption we can make, though strangely the Shia mosque was not damaged very much in the explosion. It was the civilian population that took the hit in a very, very gruesome way, and it — there are suggestions and the evidence that the police have uncovered so far, is that the civilian population was always the target. It’s a predominantly Shia population, so it seems the insurgents intended all along to cause the greatest amount of bloodshed among the Shias in this particular town.

RAY SUAREZ: Have these most recent attacks with really very high civilian death tolls brought people across a threshold? Were they becoming inured to the violence before that?

KIRK SEMPLE: “Inured” is a pretty strong word. The violence becomes a part of everyday life. It’s something you have to grapple with and live with, particularly if you have to live here. But this — the attack in Musayyib on Saturday night I think took the violence to a whole new level, and really shook and stunned this country in a fashion that no one has seen in the last several months at least.

RAY SUAREZ: Is it starting to have any kind of political effect? Is there an impatience, an anger over these civilian attacks?

KIRK SEMPLE: There is shock at this point, and anger, shock giving way to anger in the wake of this week of the fairly brutal — very brutal suicide attacks, most of them suicide car bomb attacks. And there has been impatience with this new government.

And I think people are waiting for some indication from the government about how they’re going to respond to this, and from the coalition authorities and the American military to see if there is any kind of comprehensive response, and any indication that they’re going to be to able undermine the ability of the insurgents to carry out attacks like this.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, doesn’t this up-tick in violence come after assurances from American commanders that they had really compromised the insurgents’ ability to carry out attacks like this?

KIRK SEMPLE: Yes. Several weeks ago, the American military command claimed to have in the wake of — in the course of several different operations and sweeps around the country undermined the ability of the insurgents to launch attacks, particularly in Baghdad. But clearly the attacks of the last several days, the car bomb attacks, indicate that the efforts were perhaps not as effective as they had claimed.

RAY SUAREZ: Some of the attacks seem to be carried out with the intention of inflaming Sunni-Shiite tensions. Has the government tried hard to keep the lines open to Shiite leaders and keep that from happening?

KIRK SEMPLE: Absolutely. In fact, yesterday there was a government delegation led by the vice president that went to meet with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq. The vice president left that meeting with the message — a rare message at that — from the cleric in which the cleric denounced the killings and asked the government to prevent what he calls “mass annihilation” of the people. This was significant in so far as that showed that the government was maintaining contacts with Sistani, which is a fairly regular thing, but that Sistani also — his concerns had risen to a point where he felt compelled to issue this public condemnation.

RAY SUAREZ: Kirk Semple of the New York Times, thanks for being with us.

KIRK SEMPLE: Thank you, Ray.