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

Iraqi Revulsion at Car Bombings

Recent spate of devastating suicide attacks turning Iraqis against the resistance.
By Hiwa Osman

The series of car bombs earlier this week that killed dozens of civilians on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan seems to have inexorably altered the view of Iraqis about the resistance to America's occupation.


An angry Iraqi street generally feels that the recent spate of attacks are intended to keep the country unstable and on its knees. An oft-heard refrain runs, "They cannot bear to see us stand on our feet"; a reference to the foreign Islamic militants - supported by former Ba'athists - who are assumed to be the perpetrators of the attacks.


In the working class Bayyia district west of Baghdad, a bustling market lit by a bank of fluorescent lights heaves with people out shopping after breaking their Ramadan fast.


Some were testing new and second-hand cars brought from Jordan and Syria. "They are not just exporting cars," said a salesman who did not want to be named. "They are also sending suicide bombers and criminals."


He is dressed in the traditional long white Arab robe. Before the American invasion, he wore the uniform of the Special Republican Guard - for 17 years he was one of Saddam's many bodyguards.


"When I hear an attack against the Americans or their dogs, the Iraqi police, I get very excited," he said. "But killing children and innocent people is not acceptable."


Earlier in the month, a vendor came and sold CDs with songs of praise for Saddam to many of the car dealers, said Ahmad Hussein, a ministry of trade employee who sells cold cans of soda pop in the car lot after his normal office hours.


Referring to Saddam's war with the Americans, one song goes, "You just start it and your men will do the rest." Until last week, many of the salesmen were playing the song in their shops. "They even had Saddam's posters in their offices," said Hussein.


But the mood in the car lot recently changed. "They used to openly support the resistance, but not anymore," he went on. "The new waves of attacks have silenced them all."


Near the centre of the district, on a main shopping street, tea shops are crowded with men sipping sweet black tea and smoking their first cigarettes after a long day of fasting.


The men are irritated with the American way of handling security in their country, angry at the resistance and even more enraged with neighbouring states, who they say are encouraging Islamic militants to settle their scores with the US on Iraqi soil.


Pointing to a pond of sewage water beside the street, Jasim Ali, the tea shop owner, asks rhetorically, "What did the Americans do for us?


"Not only are public services are bad. Our security has also been compromised."


His views were echoed by school teacher Mudhir Ulayan, who says the Americans parade their armour in the streets to enforce law and order, only to become magnets for attacks. "The job of the Iraqi police has become protecting the Americans and not protecting us," he said. "It makes them look like guard dogs."


Hashim Ali, who has a degree in history, agrees. "What do they [the Americans] know about our streets?" he asked. "They are insulting us. We can defend our streets, but they don't let us."


The men, however, direct more anger at the opponents of the American presence in Iraq. "They are cowards," shopkeeper Hussein Muhsin says of the resistance.


He says that people in what is today called the Sunni triangle of Iraq "did not fire a single bullet" when the Americans came in April. "They handed over their cities then, and they are using these cowardly tactics now," he said, referring to the former Ba'athists and their Islamic militant allies.


But they reserve most of their wrath for the latter, who are widely believed to be staging the car bombings.


In the run-up to the war, thousands of Syrian and volunteers from other Arab countries turned up in Iraq in preparation for a Jihad against the Americans.


These Jihadis were amongst the last to hold out against the US forces, Muhsin says. But after the fall of the regime, they went into hiding, appearing only to launch suicide attacks that largely kill civilian Iraqis.


"They have turned our country into a battle ground between them and the Americans," he said.


He believes that neighbouring countries are sending these fighters so the situation in Iraq worsens, and so that the Americans will be less inclined to target them later, "It's a foreign plot. They do not want to see us successful."


The most recent attacks have been directed at Iraqi police stations, just as local enforcers are beginning to win public respect. "Now that the police have started to stop crime and managed to restore some order, they are targeting them," said Jasim Ali. "They have the Golan Heights to liberate. It is our business to free ourselves."


Ulayan thinks that unless something is done to stop the foreign fighters coming into the country, US forces will have to pull out and everyone will take the law into their own hands. "If the Americans do not control the border, and leave the cities to us," he said, "the volcano will erupt and everything will be burnt."


Hiwa Osman is an IWPR editor/trainer in Iraq.