Days of Violence in Iraq
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MARGARET WARNER: Ed Wong, thanks for joining us on what has been another violent day in Iraq. Let’s start with the attacks on Shiites such as the one we saw at the mosque today. This is actually the third, isn’t it, in recent days on crowds of Shiites?
EDWARD WONG: That’s right. The attack today took place in the town of Musayyib, which is immediately south of Baghdad. It took place a few hundred feet away from a Shiite mosque, and what happened was a suicide car bomber detonated a minivan packed with explosives right around the time when people were going home to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
Our reports indicate there were at least 19 people who were killed and dozens more people were injured. And the interesting thing about this attack was that it took place near a mosque that was the site of a previous attack, a very spectacular attack, back in July. In that earlier attack, a suicide bomber dove beneath a fuel tanker and detonated the entire tanker which killed scores of people. So that city has been on edge since then.
And a lot of Shiites in Iraq have seen attacks on Musayyib as a touchstone in what is being viewed by many as a low-level civil war here in Iraq. There have been a couple other bombings, as you mentioned, in the last week in mostly Shiite areas. There was a car bomb in Basra and there was a bomb in Baquba recently. And together those attacks killed dozens of people.
So what’s going on right now is you have the sectarian style attacks drawn along religious lines, and one thing that people have remarked on is that there’s been a lot of restraint amongst the Shiites and among some of the clerics on calls for retaliation.
Part of that is political. The Shiite political parties know that they just have to weather this violence, get to the December elections and hopefully those elections will place them in power for the next four to five years.
So basically what we’re going through, what we’re seeing right now is a march toward those elections and a surge of violence in some areas, some Shiite-heavy areas in Iraq.
MARGARET WARNER: Separately, there were four American troops killed today coming on the heels of one of the bloodiest months for American forces in Iraq. How do — how are U.S. officials explaining that — that the number of deaths in October, more than 90, was roughly double the number, say, in September?
EDWARD WONG: I think the Pentagon spokesman said that he couldn’t discern a clear cause for it other than the fact that roadside bombs seem to be much deadlier. They seem to be getting stronger, these bombs.
Insurgents, for example, in recent months have started using what are called shape charges, which concentrates the direction of the blast. This allows these explosives to blast up through the metal that’s on the underside of an armored vehicle such as a humvee or even through Bradleys.
And a lot of the deaths that we saw in October which, as you point out, was one of the deadliest months, a lot of those deaths were because of roadside bombs or homemade bombs. A lot of them took place in Anbar Province, which is to the west of Baghdad. That’s a largely desert province that has a lot of insurgent havens in it.
MARGARET WARNER: So what is the — if now some of these bomb cans actually pierce the armored vehicles, what is the military, US military doing about it?
EDWARD WONG: I think that as we’ve seen this war evolve, we’ve seen the military trying to keep up their armoring techniques in certain areas to try and counter these explosives, try and counter the advances in technology being made by the insurgents.
We know that the Pentagon has come under a lot of criticism from soldiers here on the ground for not providing armor fast enough. But at the same time, military commanders say that, you know, as the insurgency keeps evolving, the Pentagon is playing catch-up in some areas or the army and the Marines are playing catch-up in some areas in trying to avoid these attacks. So it’s this constant learning curve that the Americans are trying to go through.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, today the Iraqi defense ministry publicly invited former junior officers in Saddam Hussein’s army to rejoin the military. What’s behind that, and has there been a reaction yet from the Sunni leadership that gives any indication about whether large numbers of former officers will, in fact, join?
EDWARD WONG: There hasn’t been widespread reaction to it yet. The announcement came out today. We’ve heard from some officers who say that they’re pleased about this, that the pensions that they’re getting aren’t enough to support a family and they look forward to applying for their jobs again.
Now, there are several motivations, possible motivations for this. One is that perhaps the Iraqi government sees this is as a way to try and get people off the streets, people who would be recruited by the insurgents and back into the military where they would get a steady paycheck and they wouldn’t be tempted by money being handed out by insurgent leaders.
Also, one spokesman for the defense ministry told us that they’re looking for former officers who have expertise in armor units and artillery units because they feel they need to build these units up. Some people have also suggested that this might be a way for the current government, which is basically run by Shiite parties, to try and gain more popularity among more disaffected Sunnis in advance of the December elections just to try and bolster their support in some areas of the country.
MARGARET WARNER: Ed Wong of the New York Times, thanks again.
EDWARD WONG: Great, thank you.