Iraq suicide hit on US troops sign of things to come
Agence France-Presse - Dubai, March 29:
The suicide bombing that killed five US troops is a sign of things to come in Iraq, where calls for Islamic holy war on America are trumping US hopes of an uprising against Saddam Hussein.
As the cry for jihad echoes from mosques in Iraq and other Muslim nations, coalition forces face a nightmare scenario hard to defend against on the ground -- and hard to beat in the battle for public opinion.
Even before the war began, hundreds of would-be kamikazes were parading through the streets of Baghdad, vowing to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend their homeland and its strong-arm leader.
Saddam's well-oiled propaganda machine may have been behind many of those rallies, but Saturday's attack outside the Muslim holy city of Najaf shows at least some of them are prepared to back up their words with action.
Less than 24 hours before Saturday's attack outside the Muslim holy city of Najaf, one of Iraq's leading imams held a fiery prayer service in Baghdad urging all-out holy war.
"Failing to join the jihad would be disobeying the orders of God," Abdul Ghaffur al-Qaissi said, waving a rifle.
"Raise the banner of Islam, raise the banner of jihad, the battlefield is awaiting you," he said. "We want to give you the honor of participating in order to show the enemy the strength of Islam."
Just after Saturday's attack, in which the driver of a taxi exploded his vehicle at a US checkpoint, Iraq's top Muslim cleric issued a fatwa or religious decree also calling for jihad.
"It must be done. It is a duty to fight and to carry out jihad," said Sheikh Abdul Karim al-Mudarress, head of the association of Iraqi ulema or religious teachers. "Whoever perishes in such combat will be a martyr."
The promise of martyrdom, with an honourable and eternal paradise of virgins, is a carrot often dangled before the faithful by hardline religious leaders.
Jihad does not necessarily imply suicide attacks, and Muslim theologians have vigorously debated whether they are permitted under Islam.
For a people with limited weapons but almost limitless rage, however, such attacks are an emotionally and strategically effective tool against a far more powerful military force.
Suicide bombings, the weapon of choice for some Palestinian militants fighting Israel, have also been used in Lebanon, Yemen, Kashmir, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.
But the September 11 suicide hijackings in the United States tore a vast hole in the aura of US invincibility, and may have convinced would-be attackers worldwide that American targets are more vulnerable than once believed.
Since the war began images of dead and captured US soldiers, as well as the mangled bodies of Iraqi civilians being lifted from the rubble of missile attacks, have fanned the flames of rage against the United States.
In Pakistan on Friday, the prayer leader of Islamabad's main Red Mosque, Mohammad Abdul Aziz, told worshippers: "We should revive the spirit of jihad to defend Iraqi Muslims against US aggression."
He added: "Muslims do not rely on material and human resources, they always fight against their numerically superior enemy."
The United States and its allies had been hoping for, if not to some extent actually planning around, a spontaneous uprising against Saddam and his 24-year iron-fisted rule.
With that yet to happen, the prospect of more suicide attacks -- and more difficult struggles with Iraqi forces using guerrilla and other unconventional tactics -- lies ahead.
Iraq claimed a first suicide bombing on March 25 against a tank in the southeastern city of Fao, although no other casualties were reported.
But five US soldiers were killed in the Najaf bombing, an attack that seems to have taken just a few brief terrifying seconds.
A car drove up and the driver indicated he "needed some help," US Captain Andrew Valles said. Five soldiers walked up and "as they aproached the car... he set off the bomb," he said.