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More Madrids, Londons & Mumbais In The Offing- International Terrorism Monitor

More Madrids, Londons & Mumbais In The Offing- International Terrorism Monitor

Author: B. Raman

At least 130 innocent civilians were killed and 305 others injured by a lorry bomb at a market place in central Baghdad on February, 3,2007. The lorry packed with a large quantity of explosives blew up in the Al Sadriya area as people were buying food ahead of a night-time curfew. Many of those killed are believed to be Shias. The same day, seven car bombs in the northern city of Kirkuk, which has a mixed Sunni population of Arabs and Kurds, killed only five persons and injured 40 others.

2. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has blamed the supporters of the late Saddam Hussein for the attack. Maj Gen Jihad al-Jaberi of the Iraqi Interior Ministry told state television the lorry was carrying one tonne of explosives that were detonated by a suicide bomber. The same market was hit by car bombs on December 2,2006, that killed more than 50 people. Another attack on the Haraj market in Baghdad on January 22,2007, killed 88 people.

3. On January 31,2007, 45 innocent civilians, most of them believed to be Shias, were killed by two human bombers , who blew themselves up in an outdoor market in Hillah, a Shia city 95 kms south of Baghdad.

4. The surge in acts of terrorism directed against soft Shia targets during the last two weeks is partly in reprisal for the execution of Saddam Hussein by the Shia-dominated Government on December 29,2006, and partly to disrupt the implementation of the new security strategy for Baghdad recently announced by President George Bush. The new strategy, to be implemented by the US in tandem with the Iraqi security forces, envisages a temporary increase in the total of US forces deployed by about 20,000 troops. While the tactical details of the proposed new strategy have not yet been spelt out by the US, it is likely that it will be patterned after the strategy adopted to subdue Falluja in November,2004, through a joint operation of the US Air Force and Marines in order to search and destroy the suspected hide-outs of the terrorists and inflict debilitating casualties on them. The tactics did succeed in Falluja, but at tremendous strategic cost. The spread of reprisal terrorism to London in July,2005, and copy-cat terrorism to Mumbai in July,2006, could br attributed to the widespread anger in the Islamic communities all over the world over the methods used by the US to subdue Falluja. It also drove a large number of Iraqis to join the resistance movement against the US and the Shias collaborating with it.

5. Replicating an operation of this type in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, would be beset with serious difficulties. The US managed to effectively keep the media----from the US as well as other countries---out of Falluja during the operation and thereafter till today. As a result, the international community does not have even today an authentic account of the destruction and fatalities caused by the US forces. The only accounts available are those disseminated by the resistance-fighters and the terrorists through the Internet. While the US thus succeeded in putting an iron curtain around Falluja, it would find it difficult to do so around Baghdad. Accounts of the methods used to subdue Baghdad and the sufferings and destruction caused by the US operations would spread much faster than it happened in the case of Falluja, thereby giving rise to more Madrids, Londons and Mumbais.

6. Bush is right when he says that if the US withdraws prematurely from Iraq without prevailing over the jihadis, they will chase them to the US homeland. The US withdrawal from Vietnam did not have any difficult sequel for the US and the rest of the world. The Vietcong had no global agenda. Once the US troops withdrew, the Vietnamese concentrated on developing their re-unified country and built up good relations with other Asian countries and subsequently with the US itself.

7. In Iraq, the Iraqi resistance fighters have no global agenda, but the terrorists of Al Qaeda and organisations allied to it have. They look upon their anti-US jihad in Iraq as one front of their multi-front global jihad. Their other fronts, as proclaimed by them till now, are Afghanistan, Somalia and Algeria. The defeat and withdrawal of the US from Iraq would have two consequences for the international community---- first, an intensification of the Shia-Sunni jihad, with Iran backing the Shias and Saudi Arabia and possibly Jordan and Egypt too backing the Sunnis and second, fresh oxygen for jihadi terrorism in India, South-East Asia, China, Russia and the Central Asian Republics. During the Vietnam war, one talked of a likely domino effect of the defeat and withdrawal of the US troops. These fears were belied. A defeat and withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq are likely to have a prairie fire effect, with the jihadi fire acquiring further intensity and spreading in old as well as new directions. It will be suicidal to fondly believe that these fears too would be belied. Unlike the Vietnamese, the jihadis are a different kettle of fish.

8. A major fault in the new US strategy is that it is based on the assumption that the difficulties presently faced by the US in subduing the terrorists and the resistance-fighters in Baghdad could be overcome through the addition of more troops and by adopting more harsh methods. The difficulties faced by the US since April,2003, could be attributed to the following factors. First, its inability to find an effective counter to the extensive use of suicide bombers and car/truck bombers by the resistance fighters and the terrorists. More than two-thirds of the fatalities of innocent civilians are being caused by these two methods. Second, its inability to win over the Sunni resistance-fighters and drive a wedge between them and the terrorists of Al Qaeda and the terrorist organisations affiliated to it. There has been no meaningful exercise by the US towards reconciliation with the Sunnis. Third, continuing inadequacies in the US intelligence agencies and their Iraqi collaborators.

9. Mere induction of more troops and the use of Falluja-like harsh methods would not overcome these factors. Only better counter-terrorism techniques and better flow of intelligence from the Sunnis would do so. Unfortunately, the US policy-makers and legislators are unable to think out of the military box. Whenever they face a difficulty, the only questions which they pose to themselves are---how many more troops, how many more F-16s, how many more helicopter gunships?

10. While well-defended hard targets such as military, security and other establishments (example, the Green Zone in Baghdad) could be effectively protected against suicide bombers and car-truck bombs through measures such as strict access control, structural modifications in the targeted buildings etc, no short-term tactical measures are possible in respect of soft targets in the absence of intelligence. Only medium and long-term measures of a strategic nature could produce results. Examples of such measures are a strict control over the possession,use and movement of vehicles inside Baghdad and other towns, physical checks at security barriers, cordon and search operations in areas, which are suspected to be serving as hide-outs and car bomb fabrication areas for the terrorists and an intelligent PSYWAR campaign to create public revulsion against acts of mass casualty terrorism directed against soft targets.

11. Simplistic ideas and false assumptions have been the bane of the US operations in Iraq since it invaded and occupied it in April,2003. They continue to be so. Harsh military measures alone in Baghdad are likely to make the situation even more difficult than it is today. A sophisticated approach with a mix of military and non-military measures is the need of the hour. One is yet to see evidence of such an approach.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.)

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