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NPR Baghdad Reporter: Violence Up In Iraq

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NPR Baghdad Reporter: Violence Up In Iraq


NPR Baghdad Reporter: Violence Up In Iraq

NPR Baghdad Reporter: Violence Up In Iraq

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NPR's Ivan Watson, who had a close call Sunday when his car was targeted by a bomb, says there has been an increase in violence in the Iraqi capital. He says in November alone, there were 108 bombings in the city with a civilian death toll of 148.


In Iraq today, more than 30 people were killed in bombings. While security has certainly improved since the height of the violence last year, today's events are yet another reminder that normal life has not returned to that city. Ivan Watson, our man in Baghdad, is certainly a witness to that fact. Yesterday while he was out reporting, his car was targeted with a so-called sticky bomb. And neither Ivan nor any of the NPR Iraqi staff were in the car at the time, and no one was injured, but these attacks seem to fit a trend. NPR's Ivan Watson joins us now from Baghdad. Ivan, a real increase in violence in the Iraqi capital or just a bad case of the law of averages?

IVAN WATSON: It does seem that there has been an increase in violence according to recent Iraqi government statistics. We've seen 108 bombings in Baghdad alone over the course of the last month with a death toll of 148 civilians killed. And today was a rather bloody day. We had more than 30 people killed in a series of bombings both in the northern city of Mosul and here in Baghdad as well. And a senior Iraqi government official says that he believes this increase in violence is linked to recent political developments such as the signing of a controversial security agreement between the U.S. and Iraqi government which would extend the U.S. military presence in this country for another three years.

SIEGEL: The explosive that destroyed the armor-plated BMW that you were seconds away from getting into, I gather, was a sticky bomb. This is a new weapon of choice or a popular weapon this year in Iraq?

WATSON: Again, according to the Iraqi government, that bomb yesterday was the 28th sticky bomb in Baghdad in a month. It's a terrifying weapon because the speed with which this was used, the fact that a rather busy street, somebody could just walk up and stick an explosive device underneath your vehicle using some tape and then triggering it with a cell phone, and then that that can basically turn your car into an inferno. And it makes you wonder if it's safe to move anywhere in the city again, as if the dangers weren't bad enough with the car bombs and the suicide bombs and still lingering fears of kidnapping.

SIEGEL: You said that the increase in violence in Baghdad has been linked to diplomatic developments, to the agreement on - the status of forces agreement between Iraq and the U.S. Worst most cynical case here would be the violence has been tamped down in the interim. Now it's going to go back to where it was a few years ago. Do you live in fear of that? Is it possible? Or is this increased violence compared to the past year, but not at a level that you saw the worst of it a couple of years ago?

WATSON: I don't think we can predict which way it's going to go right now, but we have seen newer tensions between Arabs and Kurds in the north of the country. And there have been fears that that could spark into something bigger. And we do know that in the political jockeying that's going on in this country, that we do sometimes see the political factions that are struggling for control and power in the Iraqi government that sometimes their loyalists and/or militias do come to blows and that they then do get out on the streets of various Iraqi cities and towns.

So there's always that possibility in addition to the fact that you do still have insurgents like the organization al-Qaeda in Iraq. They're still very active here and still fighting against the U.S. military and the Iraqi government. You know, they're still a wildcard here. And allegations of neighboring countries getting involved as well. The constant accusations that Iran is supplying weapons and training to insurgent groups here, allegations that Iran constantly denies, but that the U.S. and that some Iraqi officials, they frequently lob those accusations at Iraq's Iranian neighbor.

SIEGEL: Well, Ivan, obviously we are all more than glad that you and your crew came away from all this unscathed, and thanks a lot for the good work.

WATSON: You're welcome, Robert.

SIEGEL: That was NPR's Ivan Watson in Iraq. Ivan's account of the bombing and video from the scene are at And tomorrow at noon Eastern time at our Web site, Ivan will participate in a live chat about reporting from Baghdad.

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NPR Journalists Narrowly Escape Car Bombing

Ivan Watson reports on the neighborhood and bombing on 'Morning Edition'

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Ivan Watson Discusses The Attack On 'All Things Considered'

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Ivan Watson/NPR

Live Chat

Join Ivan Watson for a live chat Tuesday at noon ET. The NPR foreign correspondent will answer your questions about Sunday's car bombing in Baghdad and talk about daily life there.

An NPR correspondent and three members of NPR's Iraqi staff narrowly escaped an apparent assassination attempt in Baghdad on Sunday after a hidden "sticky" bomb exploded underneath their parked, armored BMW.

The car exploded in a pillar of flame and was destroyed. No one was injured in the attack.

The bombing took place during a brief NPR reporting trip to western Baghdad's battle-scarred Rabiye Street.

Rabiye Street was once a bustling commercial boulevard, where boutiques and popular cafes faced the gardens of a grassy median. At the height of the fighting in 2005, 2006 and 2007, this district was the scene of intense clashes and bloody massacres involving insurgents from al-Qaida in Iraq. Today, many storefronts are still blasted, burned and empty from multiple car bombs and roadside bomb attacks. Iraqi police and soldiers man checkpoints at several points along the street.

NPR Iraqi producer and translator Ali Hamdani; two Iraqi drivers, Mohanad Adhab Mahdi and Dawood Salman; and I had stopped to conduct interviews in a kebab shop, just a few yards from an Iraqi army checkpoint.

Our group spent about 45 minutes there, eating lunch and conducting interviews with the shop's two owners. The armored BMW and a second NPR "chase car" were parked in the street out front.

At the end of the meal, the NPR team was headed back to its vehicles but stopped for a moment when kebab shop owner Athir Abdul El Mawjood began showing the bullet holes that still pockmark the front of his business.

Suddenly, Iraqi soldiers ran up screaming "bomb" in Arabic and pointing at the parked BMW. They blocked oncoming traffic, and an Iraqi officer named Lt. Mohamed Jabbour physically pulled one of our drivers away from the parked car.

Seconds later, the BMW exploded and burst into flames some 15 feet from us.

The bomb appeared to have been one of the so-called sticky bombs that insurgents have increasingly used to lethal effect in Baghdad over the past year. The bombers use magnets to attach the explosives to the underside of parked vehicles.

The device was placed underneath the driver's side of the vehicle. The force of the blast blew out the vehicle's armored floor plates. There was no sign of the steering wheel. Looking at the twisted wreckage of the interior, it is hard to imagine how any passengers seated inside could have survived the attack.

Either because of the makeup of the bomb or because of the solidity of the armored vehicle, the explosion did not hurl any shrapnel into the crowd standing nearby. In fact, the blast did not even damage several cartons of eggs lying on a street vendor's table on the sidewalk just six feet from the BMW.

Iraqi and American soldiers cordoned off the area.

An Iraqi army officer said an informant had called in with a tip that the bomb had been attached to the BMW while the NPR journalists were inside the restaurant.

"I received a call just three minutes before it exploded," said Iraqi national army Capt. Heider Fawzi. He said he immediately issued orders to stop traffic on Rabiye Street and to prevent anyone from approaching the vehicle. Fawzi said the bomb may have been triggered by remote control.

"I believe the man who detonated it was watching [you], because the second I ordered the troops to block the roads, he detonated it. He realized it was over. He had been discovered," Fawzi said.

Fawzi said he arrested one suspect — one of the egg vendors from the shop next to the parked BMW. The Iraqi officer said the suspect had been under surveillance for some time because one of his family members was allegedly a member of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Jabbour, the Iraqi officer who first warned the NPR team about the bomb, watched as Iraqi firefighters hosed down the smoking wreckage of the vehicle.

"I was just doing my duty," he said, when thanked for his swift action, which may have saved the lives of the NPR staff.

Today's survivors were lucky. According to Iraq's Ministry of Defense, there were a total of 108 bombings in Baghdad in November, which killed 148 Iraqi civilians and 22 Iraqi police officers and soldiers. The attack on the NPR vehicle Sunday marked the 28th use of a sticky bomb in Baghdad this month.