Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Bane of the Surge

While the first two months of the surge have been successful, Al Qaeda in Iraq and its associated elements have now started a surge of their own. They may no longer own and operate the neighborhoods of Baghdad as their own mini medieval caliphates, but they can still drive into the Baghdad with large bombs to slaughter innocents, all with religous zealotry, and all making a profanity of their religion.

And so they did today - four bombings that occurred at different areas of Baghdad.

In accordance with the Baghdad security plan, Iraqi police have set up checkpoints at key areas throughout the city, one of which was at an entrance to Sadr City. And that checkpoint functioned appropriately today. It stopped a suicide bomber from entering Sadr City in the first bombing of the day -- the bomber detonated at the checkpoint itself. But part of the problem with checkpoints are that they stop and back up traffic - thus making the checkpoint itself a target rich environment for these animals. Though the police at the checkpoint succeeded in stopping the suicide bomber from entering Sadr City and causing untold damage and slaughter there, the butchers bill from the bomb was still significant. The bomb destroyed at least eight cars stopped by the checkpoint, killing 30, 5 of whom were Iraqi police, and injuring another 40.

The second bombing was much worse. Apparently a truck rigged with explosives was parked in the vicinity of the largest market in Baghdad, the Sadriyah Market in central Baghdad. A special security plan, dubbed Operation Safe Markets, calls for Baghdad's markets to be protected by creating a buffer zone with concrete barricades, keeping vehicles a safe distance away. Either the plan failed in this instance, or the bomb was so large that it was still able to do its damage despite the distance to the market. The total dead at this point is 84, with 94 wounded.

The other two bombings had much less effect, though we don't yet know enough facts to tell if this was due in any part to the security plan. "Other bombings, near a hospital in the central Baghdad area of Karrada and in a minibus in the northwest area of Risafi, killed at least 15."

Read the article here. These vehicle bombings are the bane of the surge, which has been very successful to date in driving al Qaeda and such organizations out of Baghdad. And the surge is generating a trememndous windfall of tips and intelligence from Baghdad residents who are coming to trust the soldiers now living among them.

How can this vehicle suicide bombing problem be resolved? Al Qaeda in Iraq and its related organizations are under pressure now, in Baghdad and in their former base of Anbar. Nonetheless, they obviously still occupy areas where vehicles can be safely brought and rigged for explosion, where a suicide bomber can be linked with a vehicle, and from where such vehicle can then be driven into Baghdad.

The default scenario is that we will not be able to stop such bombings until Al Qaeda in Iraq and its related organizations are substantively defeated in Iraq. I am unaware of any high tech solution that would allow vehicles to be scanned for explosives and precursor chemicals - nor any that would allow such vehicles to be identified absent stops and checkpoints.

To understand more about this, at Global Terror Alert, you will find a link to a video approximately half way down the page entitled "Al Qaeda's Convoy of Martyrs in Iraq." Three minutes into the video, it shows a "Saudi national, Abul-Abbas al-Jeddawi, [who] shows off an explosives-packed suicide car bomb and explains jubilantly, "At the end [of the wire], you can see the button which I will press on my way to paradise." Looking at the tape gives an idea of how the vehicle bombs are configured. In that instance, explosives occupy a goodly portion of the floor in the front of the car. Although it does not show it, other vehicle bombs that I have seen configured also have the trunk stuffed with explosives.

One thought is to require all non-governmental vehicles to remove their doors and trunk lids, and remove the spare tire from the wheel well. If you have ever ridden in an old army jeep, you will know that it is an open vehicle without doors or roof. Riding in such a vehicle is not that problematic - though it does become a bit dirty and dusty - and it would make it much easier to determine which vehicles to be concerned with - i.e., those carrying items under opaque coverings. The same could, to the extent possible, be done with trucks. It would also allow checkpoints to be more efficient and back up less traffic. If anyone has more practical solutions - or if you think this idea too impractical - please feel free to comment.

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