Insurgents Step Up Suicide Bombings in Iraq

More than 100 people in Iraq have died in 19 suicide bombings in the last three days. Dozens were killed when a suicide bomber blew up a fuel tanker, causing the heaviest death toll since Iraq's new government took power. Al Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility for the string of attacks.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It was a weekend of deadly bombings in Iraq in a campaign claimed by al-Qaeda. More than a hundred people died in the series of suicide attacks. The worst occurred in a town just south of Baghdad, where more than 90 people were killed when a suicide bomber exploded a fuel tanker. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Baghdad.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

The square next to the Shiite mosque in Musayeb is scorched from where flames burst out from the massive explosion triggered by a suicide bomber on Saturday night. Residents pick through the twisted metal and debris that litter what was a market area.

(Soundbite of a woman screaming)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Women scream as they look for loved ones among corpses burned to a brittle black at the hospital morgue. Most of the dead are Shiite, and Baghdad, too, is burning.

(Soundbite of sirens)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ambulances take away the wounded in the neighborhood of New Baghdad. In the first of several suicide bombings yesterday, the US military says two bodies were left on the road here as bait to lure Iraqi security forces to stop. A suicide car bomber then hit two policemen who did, killing them along with a civilian. Al-Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility for this latest string of attacks. In an Internet statement it said, quote, "The operation is continuing as planned and we warn the enemies of God of more to come." There seem to be an unlimited supply of bombers willing and able to kill themselves here.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Al-Qaeda in Iraq is using videos as a recruitment tool, but it's changed the presentation, possibly seeking to lure those who were turned off by their targeting of civilians and grisly tactics. So whereas previous insurgent DVDs sold here show beheadings, the new offering is slick, well-produced with little gore.

(Soundbite of man speaking in foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The video is supposedly narrated by none other than Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who heads al-Qaeda here. It gives its version of the history of Iraq in the last few years, seeking to show how the country's been humiliated by the so-called crusaders, al-Qaeda's term for the American occupiers. It begins with photos and video of the bombing of Baghdad and follows with images of the United Nations bombing, which he claims responsibility for. The images are provocative and the narration gives the rationale of the resistance.

Unidentified Man #1: (Through Translator) The so-called security forces, such as the Iraqi police and army, have sold their religion cheaply in this world. America and foolish clerics have driven them astray, in order so that they will be shields protecting the crusaders. The American occupation has shown its true face daily. Only those with sick hearts believe their lies.

(Soundbite of man chanting in foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The chant goes `Our will is strong. We have no fear.' The first part of the video is punctuated by pictures of police beating people on the street and photos of sexual humiliation by American guards in Abu Ghraib. The video then shows montage after montage of masked insurgents conducting operations recorded by, it seems, the rebel version of the combat cameraman, whose only job is to tape attacks on police stations and roadside bombs exploding next to American convoys.

Al-Qaeda here understands the power of propaganda and it's not hiding it. The program begins with a black screen. It then says `Al-Qaeda in Iraq's Media Department Presents.' The video is being sold in the Sunni triangle.

Staff Sergeant LEVI ROSENKRIFT(ph): Traffic--it's going to be a pain out there we know this morning. That's not just hitting vehicles and hitting vehicles. We're not going to let them get in our way and slow us down though, stop us from a VBID attack.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Staff Sergeant Levi Rosenkrift from California tells his men to be careful of VBIDs, the military term for car bombs, before going out on patrol on the dangerous airport road in Baghdad. In the last three months, car bombs have killed more American soldiers than roadside bombs, which were, up until now, the favorite tool of the insurgency against coalition forces. For the benefit of the unit, one of the soldiers goes through a list of possible signs that the Iraqi driving next to you may be a suicide bomber.

Unidentified Man #2: The driver will be cleanly shaven, have on the white traditional dress. His hands might be taped to the steering wheel. He might be sweating profusely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The soldiers say they've been told that suicide bombers cleanse themselves before blowing themselves up in an attack. They say they shave and don a white robe. They believe that some tie their hands to the steering wheels so that they won't lose their nerve at the last minute. But suicide bombers are hard to spot and even harder to stop. Some US commanders call them the precision-guided weapon of the insurgency.

(Soundbite of people talking)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After the weekly press briefing given by the spokesman for the US military here, Brigadier General Donald Alston highlighted recent operations by the US military and Iraqi forces, with names like Lightning, Scimitar and Sword. They've targeted cells from the Syrian border to Baghdad. Alston claims political progress is being made, too.

Brigadier General DONALD ALSTON: Terrorists offering no hope for the future but oppression are doing all they can to incite secular violence, to terrorize Iraqis, to disrupt basic services and to derail democracy. The people of Iraq won't let democracy be stopped, though. The constitution is being written. The constitutional referendum will take place in October. The elections will take place in December. The business of government goes on every day.

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Inside Iraq's Parliament yesterday, though, the business of government seemed to be anger and recriminations. National Assembly member Hanon Al Fatlawi stood up and took everyone to task.

Ms. HANON AL FATLAWI (National Assembly): (Through Translator) Let us stop condemning and reading verses of the holy Koran at a time when our children are killed every day. What is the government doing or the National Assembly doing apart from talking? Aren't we the supreme authority? I see nothing being done. Hundreds are dying.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Perhaps the most dire prediction came from one member who's closely allied to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite cleric in Iraq. Sheikh Jalal al-Saghir says he holds the multinational forces responsible for what's happening, and he called on Sunnis to stand up against these acts of terror.

Sheikh JALAL AL-SAGHIR: (Through Translator) It's a war against the Shiites. If the Sunnis don't move to stand with us, then the civil war is on its way, my dear brothers. I say it with bitterness.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After the impassioned speeches, a unanimous decision was taken to have a minute of prayer for those who'd been killed in the latest spate of attacks. But after that, though, squabbling erupted over the time the prayer should take place and whether people should kneel or stand. An Iraqi newspaper poll over the weekend showed that only 32 percent here think that the now not-so-new government is doing a good job.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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