TCS Daily

Murderous Losers

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - March 2, 2005 12:00 AM

The bombing in Hilla, which killed at least 120 Iraqis, most of them police recruits, presents interesting insights into the tactics of the Islamomaniacs and the challenges facing Iraq as it tries to take over its own security.

The bombing occurred at 9:30 in the morning in a very crowded area. There was an open air market across the street from a health clinic where the police recruits were standing in line to take eye tests.

According to eyewitness reports, the bomb car, a gray or white Mitsubishi, pulled out of a nearby alley. Whether any security people took notice of it is still unknown.

Many car bombings have been thwarted by challenges of vehicles at checkpoints. In some cases, the drivers sought to accelerate and ram through the check points to get to their targets and security forces succeeded in blowing up the vehicles prematurely.

But in Hilla, rather than speed up and ram into the target, the driver seemed to depend upon being unobtrusive, "hiding in plain sight" in the morning traffic. And he was not alone.

An eyewitness, Zeyd Shamran, noticed the car and said "there were two people in it, and when it stopped one man got out, shook hands and kissed the other man."

Others around the stopped car may have thought it was another recruit, dropped off by a friend for the eye exam. The presence of two men in the vehicle may have broken the "profile" for any security people who took notice of it.

Seconds later the car exploded. It was apparently a very powerful bomb and it detonated in a relatively confined area, thick with people, many of them women and children shopping in the market. In addition to the dead, at least 130 people were wounded.

As we have detailed in past articles, the grim physics of bombings mean that some of those wounded will probably die from horrendous internal injuries.

The only remains of the bomber found were his hands, still clutching the steering wheel.

This attack was coolly calculated, well planned. And the laxness of security in the predominantly Shiite city seems astonishing given the frequency with which police recruits have been targeted.

How did a bomb-laden car penetrate to the area where the recruits were known to be gathering? Was there no screening of vehicles in a perimeter around the health center, given the presence of such a "rich" target?

The car may have been prepositioned, hidden nearby with someone's cooperation. It is also possible that the car and the men involved had made frequent trips into that area of Hilla in recent weeks, until they became a familiar sight to everyone, including police.

Some reports indicated security may have been looser because terrorist attacks have diminished since the elections. Provincial police for Babil (in which Hilla is located) claimed to have made several arrests after the bombing. One police lieutenant blamed "traitors" for the atrocity.

Hilla is a mainly Shiite area, and the attack seems part of the usual sad pattern of killing Shiites to provoke animosity between them and the Sunnis. Intelligence sources in Iraq indicate that the majority of attacks continue to be carried out by Sunni Arab Iraqis, with "technical support" from remnants of Saddam Hussein's old Baathist military establishment. These Sunnis are desperate to restore the sway they once held under Saddam -- desperate to the point of blindness to reality.

To their immense credit, the Shiite leadership has shown great restraint in not allowing these Sunni attacks to spark a Shiite-Sunni "civil war;" although one suspects some evening of scores is taking place at the family and tribal level.

Iraqi security forces are working to build up an intelligence base at the community level that will enable them to head off bombing attacks. They have already had some success. But the insidious thing about the "corner" which seems to have been turned after the elections is that it has created a more relaxed atmosphere which the terrorists can continue to exploit if they are patient.

The fact is, if the bomber has time and some degree of sanctuary, he will eventually be able to take advantage of the tedium, tiredness or temporary inattention of the security arrayed against him.

That is precisely why it is more important than ever for American and Iraq forces to keep up the tempo of operations seeking out terrorist cells, denying them sanctuary and keeping them off balance so they can mount fewer and fewer successful, well-planned attacks like this one. Success along these lines is already apparent. Hilla will eventually be seen as a tragic anomaly.

Iraqi public reaction to the Hilla bombing was one of anger and revulsion. In an extraordinary demonstration at the site of the bombing, yesterday, 2000 Iraqis marched and shouted, "No to terrorism!" The Islamomaniacs never had any moral sway (except among some in the western and Arab media who see them as "insurgents"), but now they have become more than ever like mad dogs.

They have lost everything, but they are murderous losers, so venomous in their hatred that they want to take down as many people with them as they can.


TCS Daily Archives