NPR Baghdad Reporter: Violence Up In Iraq
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
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 npr.org. And tomorrow at noon Eastern time at our Web site, Ivan will participate in a live chat about reporting from Baghdad.