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The Truck Bomb Menace Spreads

Iraqis inspect 07 April 2007 destruction following the explosion of a truck full of chlorine near a police station in the restive Iraqi western city of Ramadi the previous day. A suicide bomber blew up a truck packed with TNT and chlorine gas killing 27 people in the insurgent bastion of Ramadi 06 April in the deadliest dirty bombing since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) April 06, 2007
Just as IEDs remain the main cause of casualties and the dominant factor driving U.S. combat tactics in Iraq, car bombs remain the main cause of civilian casualties from the insurgency. According to the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, the number of multiple fatality bombings in Iraq for the month of March was 51.

This was a marginal improvement on the 54 such attacks in February and at first glance was a better figure than the totals for June through December 2006. In December, the number of such attacks, killing at least three people, peaked at 99, the IIP said.

Much of the improvement is credited to the new U.S. Iraq ground forces commander Gen. David Petraeus' new "surge" strategy, concentrating U.S. combat forces in the Iraqi capital Baghdad to create widening islands or "ink blots" of security there.

However, these figures are misleading as in the single week of March 25-31, the insurgents pulled off two massive multiple suicide bomber attacks in the northern city of Tel al-Afar, near Mosul, where two car bombs killed 154 people, and two days later on March 29, when five suicide bob attacks in northeastern Baghdad killed another 122. Each of these attacks targeted market places frequented by Shiite Muslims, and after the Tel al-Afar attacks, local Shiite militias went on a rampage killing between 45 to 70 Sunni Muslim civilians

And now the insurgents are turning to a form of warfare almost unknown since World War I in their efforts to maximize casualties. They are weaponizing their car and truck bombs with chlorine or mustard gas, a weapon that killed or maimed at least a million soldiers on the Western Front during World War I.

On Friday, at least 27 people were killed when a truck loaded with TNT explosive and chlorine gas crashed into a police checkpoint in western Ramadi. Ramadi is the capital of Anbar province, one of the main centers of the Sunni insurgency.

In March, the number of people killed throughout Iraq by MFB attacks was 541, a significant improvement on the 704 killed in February, but still far worse than the 442 killed in January. That figure was also the third highest figure in any month since the insurgency began in May 2003.

As of April 1, 2007, 11,582 people had been killed in MFB attacks since the start of the insurgency and another 23,862 injured.

U.S. forces say they have made progress. They have announced the smashing of a car bomb insurgent group that is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Shiite Iraqis, mostly in the Sadr City sections of Baghdad. And the drop in the number of bomb attacks documented above gives substance to these claims.

But as U.S, forces have consolidated and made progress, the insurgents are trying to adapt too. A report, released Tuesday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said that the Iraqi Sunni Muslim rebellion, or "insurgency is adapting to fewer, large-scale bombings tailored to keep up the pressure for civil war."

"Sunni insurgents are focusing on large suicide and car bombings designed to provoke civil war and show that Baghdad cannot be secured, while pushing Shiites toward reprisal attacks," said the report, entitled "Iraq's Sectarian and Ethnic Violence: Developments Through Spring 2007." It was written by Anthony A. Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair in strategy at CSIS.

"February and March 2007 saw a 50 percent decrease in sectarian execution-style killings, but a rise in car bombs; Iraqi deaths increased 15 percent from February to March," the report said.

There is no clear-cut, attractive high-technology "fix" or "magic bullet" to the car bomb problem. It has been a staple of ruthless guerrilla insurgencies around the world for at least half a century.

The only way such forces can be broken, as the French Army did in the battle of Algiers in the late 1950s, or as the British Army did against Irish Republican Army bombers in Northern Ireland in the mid-1970s, is by penetrating terror cells with agents or capturing and interrogating members of such cells, forcing information out of them and then reacting quickly to net the rest.

U.S. forces in Iraq have repeatedly shown the professionalism, and fast reaction times necessary to successfully carry out such operations. But they are hamstrung by being too few in number relative to the insurgency groups they face.

And unlike the British in Northern Ireland or the French in Algeria, they cannot count on the loyal and reliable support of tens of thousands of veteran, highly trained cadres of the local population on their side. The Iraqi security forces raised from scratch over the past four years remain highly unreliable in their operational efficiency and security capabilities.

If U.S. forces in Iraq can avoid being propelled into long-term conflict with major Shiite militias, especially Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, then they can hope to make much more progress against he car bomb threat in the coming months. But this will be condition upon other things not going wildly wrong in the meantime, and even then, progress against the car bombs is not going to come quickly or easily.

Source: United Press International

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