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Assassinating Iraq's future

By Mona Eltahawy / February 23, 2004



NEW YORK

Although close to 400 American service members have died in hostile action since the US invasion last March, about 300 Iraqis have been killed in insurgent attacks just since the New Year.

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Whether it's former Baathists or foreign fighters behind these attacks, it's increasingly difficult to determine who they think is their enemy: the US forces occupying Iraq or Iraqis themselves.

Insurgents have concentrated their attacks on three vital Iraqi groups: security forces, non-Sunni and non-Arab groups, and professionals.

Since the war began, suicide bombings and vehicle explosions have targeted at least 10 Iraqi police stations and an Army recruiting center. These attacks were aimed at Iraqis who'd already joined the fledgling police force and Army, or those considering signing up.

Haitham Imad, a 29-year-old Army recruit who survived the attack on a recruiting center on Feb. 11 told Reuters what is surely on the mind of everyone: "If the Iraqis don't join the police and Army, that means we are saying to the Americans: 'Stay here forever.'"

Those behind the attacks in Iraq no doubt claim to represent a form of "resistance" to the occupation forces - and some in the region may support them. But Mr. Imad's observation remains valid: Do the attackers want the Americans to stay forever?

Back-to-back suicide bombings on Feb. 10 and 11 occurred while a United Nations delegation was in Iraq to determine whether early elections there are possible.

It's difficult to disagree with the assessment of Hamid Al Kifaey, spokesman for the Iraqi Governing Council: "There's no doubt this violence is a signal to the delegation that security is not present. But they can't bomb us into submission.... Islam doesn't condone this."

Iraqi civilians who work for the US-led occupation are also targets of insurgent attacks. Gunmen killed four women in Fallujah in January when they opened fire at a minibus carrying workers to a US military base where they washed laundry.

These attacks against Iraqis who work with the Americans are senseless. Iraqis need to live and to feed their families. Palestinians who live under Israeli-occupied Gaza cross into Israel every day for work. How is this different from Iraqis working for the occupation forces?

Insurgents have also struck at the heart of Iraq's ethnic and sectarian fault lines.

On Feb. 1 - the first day of the biggest Muslim holiday, the Eid - two suicide bombers walked into separate offices of the main Kurdish political parties in Arbil, Iraq, and blew up themselves and 109 others. In August, a car bomb exploded in the holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq, killing at least 80 people, including a respected Shiite cleric.

But the most worrying pattern being reported out of these insurgent attacks is the targeting of Iraq's professionals and intellectuals. This frightening blow against the mainstay of Iraq's future institutions has claimed the lives of physicians, judges, lawyers and academics.

One of the dead - Abdul al-Latif al-Mayah, a political scientist and human rights advocate - was on his way to work last month when eight masked gunmen pulled him from his car and shot him in front of his bodyguard and another university lecturer. Dr. al-Mayah's brother Khalid, in a New York Times interview, predicted the toll on Iraq of such targeted killings: "These people are not just assassinating our brothers. They are assassinating our future."

Whoever is behind these attacks is the enemy of Iraqi civilians.

There are encouraging signs that Iraqis recognize this. Last month, Iraqis in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood in southeastern Baghdad alerted US troops to a house that had been home to Arab foreigners they suspected were insurgents.

When the American forces raid was over, three men were dead - a Syrian and two Yemenis - and a weapons cache was seized.

Who can blame Iraqis for being angry with insurgents who've killed or injured hundreds of their compatriots? After three miserable decades under Hussein's ruthless rule, Iraqis deserve their country back - both from occupation and the insurgents' bloody strikes.

It is significant that suicide bombings have become such a scourge in Iraq. There have beenat least 13 since August.

But, sadly, it's not surprising. Once political and, more insidiously, "religious" leaders in the Arab world sanctioned the use of suicide bombings by Palestinians against Israel, it became a matter of time that such attacks would be used elsewhere to settle all kinds of grievances.

It has become the bloody calling card of aggrieved Muslims in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

I oppose suicide bombings on moral grounds. And I remind my fellow Muslims who support such attacks that once this Pandora's box has been opened, it is almost impossible to close.

Muslim clerics must speak out now, not in continued support of suicide but in support of life.

Mona Eltahawy is assistant managing editor of New York-based Arabic Women's eNews.

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