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Feature: Magnet bomb terror stalks Baghdad

File image courtesy AFP.
by Richard Tomkins
Baghdad (UPI) Nov 26, 2008
The big bangs of vehicle-borne explosive devices that rock Iraq's capital often cause mass civilian casualties and grab world headlines, but they also obscure a less dramatic terrorist attempt to undermine government security efforts.

The means are small bombs attached to cars and other vehicles with magnets. The targets: Iraqi Security Force officers or Sons of Iraq group leaders riding in them and/or other security personnel at the vehicles' destinations or at checkpoints through which they must pass.

"They're very hard to detect," said Maj. Geoff Greene, executive officer of the U.S. 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment in East Baghdad. "And you can quickly put it on (a vehicle) at Point A and have it go off at Point B. They've been used against sheiks, Iraqi police leaders, Iraqi army leaders. ... It's just not your random run-of-the-mill person."

There are exceptions to the pattern, however. On Nov. 13 a sticky bomb apparently was attached to a bus in the Jadida area, injuring eight of the 11 people aboard.

The attack was one of six bombings in just two days involving vehicles in the Baghdad area. The other five were typical Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Device attacks and resulted in five deaths and 49 injuries, including a number of children hurt when an explosive-laden car exploded next to the entrance to their school.

The blast at the school, less than an hour before children were released from class, shattered windows, sent shrapnel flying and set alight four cars parked nearby. No one claimed responsibility for the incident -- nor for the other four VBIED attacks that day -- but it had al-Qaida in Iraq's signature: large blasts designed to cause civilian casualties, in this case Shiite Muslim casualties.

"Heinous attacks by al-Qaida in Iraq are an attempt to incite sectarian violence and return to 2005-2006 levels of violence," said Col. John Hort, commander of the U.S. 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which is in charge of much of eastern Baghdad. "Iraq has progressed too far to allow this to happen."

The school was located in the Beida/Shaab area of Adhamiya, a predominately Shiite Muslim area just a short distance from Sadr City, a massive Shiite slum. Al-Qaida operatives are nominally Sunni and sparked sectarian violence in Iraq in 2006 that nearly resulted in civil war when they bombed a revered Shiite mosque in the city of Samara, north of the capital.

They used the chaos, fear and confusion of the time to gain new footholds in Sunni communities or expand operations in communities in which they were already present.

U.S. military intelligence officers say the smaller assassination bombs -- dubbed "sticky bombs" -- pack less than 15 pounds of explosives. Some charges are so small, it's suspected they're "intimidation" devices to scare rather than kill the intended target.

The devices are mainly triggered by a timer or remote control, but 1-68 found one before detonation recently that actually had a slow smoldering fuse cord. In some cases, it appears the bombs were placed on the vehicles of hapless drivers with a commute pattern sussed out in advanced by placers.

"A couple of times a guy followed the vehicle and set it (the bomb) off with a remote control," said Capt. Ryan Clebek, an intelligence officer with 1-68. "These kinds of attacks take a lot more planning than VBIEDs. It's not going for mass casualties; it's for specific targets -- people who cooperate with coalition forces."

Again, al-Qaida is believed to be behind the sticky-bomb attacks, although it's not certain. But a man captured by Iraqi security forces attaching a bomb Oct. 18 was apparently AQI-affiliated, as were members of a bomb-planting cell arrested recently.

The exact number of sticky-bomb attacks in Baghdad cannot be immediately ascertained, but Greene and Clebek believe more than 50 over the past six or seven months would be in the ballpark. In the Adhamiya district of eastern Baghdad there have been six to eight since midsummer, they said.

"The only way to combat them is for people to watch their cars and also check their vehicles every day," said Clebek.

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Iraqi lawmakers in final push before vote on US pact
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 25, 2008
Iraqi lawmakers made a final push on Tuesday to assemble a commanding majority to approve a controversial military pact that would allow US troops to remain another three years.

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