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Iraq replaces Palestine as militant Islam's crie de guerre


There are moments when a feeling is crystallized, when impressions are made concrete, and that happened again for me listening to Aparisim Ghosh, Time senior Baghdad correspondent, responded to the question, Would a fair and equitable solution to the Palestinian situation destroy the philosophical underpinning to Middle East terrorism:

That might have been true a year ago, certainly two years ago, but now that train, I'm afraid, has long since left the station. In Iraq, bombers come and participate in the jihad for its own sake and there is very little reference to Palestine at all. In fact, I have the suspicion that elsewhere in the world that Iraq is now replacing Palestine as one of the clarion calls for jihad. [Transcription from audio by this writer]

Party to a discussion of the motivations behind suicide bombers, Ghosh is a skilled observer who has accomplished some superb reporting in first interviewing a bomber in training who later carried out his mission and recently an Iraqi handler, a nationalist, who has shepherded some thirty bombers through their missions (also here).

In a stroke, one realizes that Iraq replaces Palestine as militant Islam's crie de guerre. Thirty years of US sanctioned (abetted or worse in Arab eyes) Israeli occupation that had made the Palestinian issue the polestar of political navigation for the moderate Arab-on-the-street has been superseded. But in the process, the occupation gave rise to mounting Palestinian frustration and hopelessness that created an impression that there was no other viable option to affect Israel's body politic than to pursue suicide bombing.

It becomes especially evident when Ghosh and Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, discuss motivators. More arrestingly, religion is NOT the important criterion for a suicide volunteer. The principal stimulus to volunteering IS foreign occupation which increases nationalist resistance. (Religion is, however, a multiplier when the foreign occupying power has a religion different from the local community which the terrorists can exploit to their benefit. We needlessly play into their hands when POTUS speaks carelessly of 'crusades' as the jihadists, and adopting Baathists, refer to us as [Christian] Crusaders to be repulsed a second time.)

Suicide terrorism is a quintessential asymmetrical attack tool in that suicide coercion is the inverse of the military coercion of the larger, ostensibly stronger power. The "presence of foreign combat troops on territory that the terrorists prize" cuts across all other drivers, be it religion, social status, revenge, poverty, or low education. Following the success of Hezbollah and its Iranian handlers in dissuading the US, France and Israel to remain in Lebanon, other asymmetric groups adopted the strategy (although much of the technical advances have been made by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka). Of the terrorist campaigns since 1980 that Pape has studied, 13 have concluded while 5 are still ongoing. Of the 13, 7 resulted in territorial gains for the terrorists while 6 did not. Pape writes:

"The main purpose of suicide terrorism is to use the threat of punishment to compel a target government to change policy and most especially to cause democratic states to withdraw forces from land the terrorists perceive as their national homeland."

As observed in prior posts, suicide terrorism is a form of weaponry that terrorist groups, secular and religious, operate at a level above the suicide bombers. Suicide attacks are efficient weapons in that they have an effective homing capacity combined with obstacle avoidance and best timing of detonation. A colleague's private note stated:

As a weapon, suicide terrorism generally cuts in half the time for the protective side to perform [Boyd's] OODA loop. We’ve seen both volunteer and coerced suicides in terrorism and one could argue that the risk of letting free will into the equation is very carefully managed even with the ‘volunteers.’ [The] horror of the suicide within the homicide is a distraction, much as [is] the attack itself. [An essence of the process is that the] main objective of terrorism is to cause the target to do harm to itself.

While we are less accustomed to thinking of ourselves as social animals in modern life, we are [just that as well as serving] as the accessible part (of the target). As we identify with the victims, we identify ourselves with the target. That this all works outside of terrorism, identifying with another, is so obvious that it is almost concealed.] The trick for the terrorist is in the selection of victims that induce this ‘identifying with’ or ‘belonging to’ connection, and maybe also in ensuring that the right images happen. Certainly, the more immediate that connection, the more effective the result of a successful attack from the terrorist’s perspective.

Both Ghosh and Pape agree that suicide bombers themselves are "walk-in volunteers with little or no exposure to violence" and their suicide attack is their first and only exposure to violence. Pape also notes that post-1980 all suicide terrorism targets have been democracies as they are the softer, more vulnerable target in that they suffer public accountability with "low levels of cost tolerance and high ability to affect state policy." While I do not put Russia in the democratic category, I would agree that state censorship could only forestall a popular backlash against their Afghan excursion. (It will be interesting to see how this nominally authoritarian state deals with its Chechen problem.)

Pape states the reality of needing to "find a lasting solution to suicide terrorism that does not compromise our core interest in maintaining access to one of the world’s key oil-producing regions." Dying to Win points to the need for counterterrorist strategies that defeat the current pool of suicide terrorists while deflecting or disarming the forthcoming emergence of a larger pool. Pape paints a steep slope that is not now being pursued, certainly not with sufficient competence, consistency, or funding, combining such actions as thoughtful concessions to occupied areas that rob terrorist groups of their support and possibly their legitimacy among the sea in which they swim, reconciliation with Muslim states and developing core alliances with Iraq and Saudi Arabia to combat of anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

Based upon how poorly we're doing in those areas, and our presumed reticence to engaging in what would amount to a race war, one must question our relative lack of attention and investment in alternative fuels.

Part 2

A Look at Suicide Bomber Networks
Interviews with: Hany Abu-Assad, Palestinian director of Rana's Wedding and Paradise Now about Palestinian suicide bombers, Aparisim Ghosh, Time senior Baghdad correspondent, and Robert Pape, professor at the University of Chicago; author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism
Talk of the Nation
31 Oct, 2005

Professor of Death
EXCLUSIVE: An Iraqi insurgent leader reveals how he trains and equips suicide bombers and sends them on their lethal missions
By Aparisim Ghosh
Oct. 24, 2005
Original scrolled to
Mirrors at Time here and here
Mirrored in Iran

Suicide Bombs Potent Tools of Terrorists
Deadly Attacks Have Been Increasing and Spreading Since Sept. 11, 2001
By Dan Eggen and Scott Wilson
Washington Post
July 17, 2005; A01

Suicide bombings as military strategy
Expert: Attacks motivated by logic, not religion
By Henry Schuster
June 30, 2005; Posted: 12:05 p.m. EDT (16:05 GMT)

Inside the Mind of an Iraqi Suicide Bomber
In a rare interview, a "terrorist" in training reveals chilling secrets about the insurgency's deadliest weapon
Original scrolled to

Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism
by Robert Pape
ISBN: 1400063175
Random House, 2005

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


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