Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Baghdad Hit by “Sticky Bomb” Terror

Insidious explosive device makes middle-class Iraqis dread car journeys.
By Daud Salman
Asaad saw a small metal object falling from the car speeding ahead of him. It rolled to a stop against a roadside fence and exploded.



“I recognised it was a bomb and asked my driver to look out,” he said. “I will never forget the scene.”



Asaad, who did not want his last name revealed, and his driver were slightly injured by shattered glass from the blast in Baghdad last September. A month later, his sister and her husband were less fortunate.



Rand and Ammar were shopping with their baby in Baghdad’s Karada district, on the eve of a family trip to Beirut. A bomb attached to a car parked nearby exploded as they walked past.



The blast flung Rand against the pavement. Her husband crawled over to find her bleeding and unconscious. Injured and unable to find his baby, he too fainted.



Security men found the child, alive and only slightly hurt, on a pile of debris 15 metres from the car. Rand and her husband spent several days in hospital being treated for severe injuries.



There is nothing to suggest Asaad, his sister or her husband were the intended targets of the two blasts.



Their injuries simply indicate the growing reach of the latest weapon terrorising Baghdad: the “sticky bomb”.



The device gets its nickname from the adhesive tape or magnets used to attach it to vehicles.



Placed near the fuel tank, it can be an effective assassination tool, creating an explosion large enough to destroy the vehicle.



Dozens of Iraqis have been killed or maimed by sticky bombs in the last six months, most of them in Baghdad.



Small and insidious, the devices are the weapon of choice for militants whose movements have been curtailed by the proliferation of checkpoints in Baghdad. The US military and Iraqi security forces warned late last year that sticky bombs attacks were on the rise.



Asaad says his brother-in-law feared something bad was going to happen on the day he went to the market in Karada.



“He hesitated to go shopping but he went on my sister’s insistence, to buy things for the baby. Even after parking, he didn’t want to get out of the car,” Hameed said. “He regrets not having listened to his instincts.”



In car parks across Baghdad, people can be seen carefully inspecting their vehicles before getting in – sometimes even lying on the ground to check the chassis.



Uday, a Baghdad postgraduate student who also did not want his last name revealed because of security concerns, has relatives in the security forces who feel particularly threatened.



“My brothers always check the splash guards in their cars before getting in. They also use mirrors to look underneath them,” he said. “We always feel we are going to be targeted by the terrorist groups.”



The first such sticky bombs in Iraq were used against politicians, members of the security forces and Sunni Arab leaders who had begun cooperating with US forces against al-Qaeda.



Many still attempt to target prominent figures: the US military announced this week that police in Baghdad had discovered one of the devices planted under the car of an unnamed leader of the Sons of Iraq, a largely Sunni Arab group of former insurgents who now co-operate with Iraqi and US forces.



Alert to the threat, most leaders now take precautions against the attacks. As a result, the militants are seeking softer targets – relatively affluent Iraqis who own their own cars but cannot afford to keep them under constant guard.



“The sticky bombs are no longer used against leaders because they have good security,” said Walid Sherko, a Kurdish deputy and a member of the parliament’s security and defence committee. “Most officials’ bodyguards are trained to counter attacks.



“Recently, the bombs have been used against ordinary citizens in Baghdad, who are an easy target.”



Muhammad Ajaj, a military analyst, says the sticky bombs have struck at Baghdad’s professional class – including university students, doctors and journalists – in an apparent campaign of psychological warfare.



“Such attacks affect people’s psychology, spreading panic and fear,” he said. “The bombs are easy to build and to plant and they now pose a bigger threat than the larger bombs.”



He says the bombs can be quickly attached to cars that are not parked in a secure area – and

can also be fixed at traffic lights by children, beggars and hawkers paid to plant the devices.



Ajaj adds that the sticky bomb will remain a threat unless more checkpoints are equipped with the technology to detect explosives.



However, the technology is only as effective as the person handling it – guards must also be thoroughly trained.



“Dangerous material can pass undetected… because of the inexperience of the person using [the equipment],” said Mohammed Al-Askari, spokesman for the ministry of defence.



The authorities have enlisted citizens as their first line of defence against sticky bombs. A public information campaign has been launched urging vehicle owners to be alert.



Advertisements on Iraqi TV and radio stations and in the official Al-Sabah newspaper have advised civilians on how to check their vehicles for bombs.



Attacks can be thwarted if “people are taught how to examine their cars themselves”, Askari said.



Daud Salman is an IWPR-trained journalist in Baghdad.