The Bicycle Bomber of Baquba

by PATRICK COCKBURN

 

A suicide bomber riding a bicycle detonated explosives packed with iron balls in a crowd of police recruits in Baquba yesterday, killing 28 people and wounding at least 20 others.

“I saw many bodies covered in blood,” said Ali Shahine, a shopkeeper in the city in Diyala province, north-east of Baghdad. “Some were dying, some had arms and legs blown off.” He saw the bomber cycle through a gap in a concrete security wall before blowing himself up.

The Iraqi police also announced yesterday that they had found the decapitated corpses of 20 unidentified people near the city.

The bicycle attack was one of the deadliest against the security forces for months and comes as Iraqi and US casualties are falling sharply. The Iraqi health, interior and defence ministries say that, before the suicide bombing in Baquba, 285 Iraqi civilians and security personnel had been killed so far this month, the lowest figure since February 2006.

US military casualties are also down. Some 33 US soldiers have been killed in October, compared to 65 in September and 126 in May. American military fatalities had been averaging three to four a day and have dropped to just over one a day. But it is still unclear whether the decrease in violence is temporary, since none of the disputes between Iraqi communities and between Iraqis and the American occupation forces have been resolved.

The attack in Baquba is likely to have been the work of al-Qa’ida and shows it still has the ability to carry out suicide bombings despite much of the Sunni community turning against it. In Anbar and Diyala provinces, US-backed Sunni tribal militias have inflicted heavy losses on al-Qa’ida and the Sunni insurgency has split, with a consequent reduction in US losses.

Al-Qa’ida has also failed in recent months to carry out one of its massive vehicle-borne suicide bombings against Shia markets and gathering places in Baghdad. These used to inflict hundreds of casualties at a time and provoke retaliation by Shia death squads, which would kill equivalent numbers of Sunni.

Many Sunni turned against al-Qa’ida when it overplayed its hand in 2006 by setting up the Islamic State of Iraq umbrella group that tried to force all Sunni families to send at least one son to join al-Qa’ida.

But the level of violence in Iraq remains very high. On Sunday, 10 anti-al-Qa’ida sheikhs ñ seven Shia and three Sunni ñ from Diyala were kidnapped in the Shia district of Shaab in Baghdad after meeting with the government. The body of one of the Sunni sheikhs, Mishaan Hilaan, was found 50 yards away and the US military says that a dissident Shia militia leader, Arkan Hasnawi, a former commander in the Mehdi Army, was responsible. The kidnappers offered to release the Shia sheikhs, but they refused to go unless the surviving two Sunni sheikhs were freed with them. Eventually all the sheikhs were freed.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric who leads the Mehdi Army, has stood down his militiamen for six months in order to assert his previously uncertain control over them and to avoid confrontation with the US Army. The US claims that special units of the Mehdi Army are in fact controlled and paid by Iran, an allegation Iran denies.

The American military said that Hasnawi’s actions showed that he had “joined forces with Iranian-supported special groups that are rejecting Muqtada al-Sadr’s direction to embrace fellow Iraqis”.

The US handed over security in the Shia province of Kerbala to the Iraqi government yesterday, making it, in theory, the eighth province in Iraq where military rule has ended. In reality, the Iraqi security forces in Kerbala are dominated by the Badr Organisation, the militia of the Shia party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which is the rival of the Mehdi Army in southern Iraq. The Mehdi Army’s strength is mostly in Baghdad, where one of its commanders said recently that it controls “50 per cent of the city and 80 per cent of Shia neighbourhoods”. The long-term impact of US successes and the implosion of al-Qa’ida may be exaggerated. An ABC News/BBC/ NTV poll in August showed that 93 per cent of Sunni and 50 per cent of Shia say it is acceptable to attack coalition forces.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq‘, a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 05, 2015
John Eskow
The Fake Courage of Caitlyn Jenner
Mike Whitney
 The Brookings Institute Plan to Liquidate Syria 
John K. White
Life on the Layaway Plan: We’re All Greek Now
Ted Rall
14 Years Ago, a Woman Vindicated Me Now
Thomas Mountain
A Letter From Africa to #BlackLivesMatter
Roger Annis
Well-Known Canadian Journalist Visits Ukraine and Praises neo-Nazi
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times