Insurgents in Iraq detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle with two children in the back seat after US soldiers let it through a Baghdad checkpoint over the weekend, a senior US military official said Tuesday. The vehicle was stopped at the checkpoint but was allowed through when soldiers saw the children in the back, said Major General Michael Barbero of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.
“Children in the back seat lowered suspicion. We let it move through. They parked the vehicle, and the adults ran out and detonated it with the children in the back,” Barbero said. The general said it was the first time he had seen a report of insurgents using children in suicide bombings. But he said Al-Qaeda in Iraq is changing tactics in response to the tighter controls around the city.
A US defense official said the incident occurred on Sunday in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah district, a mixed neighborhood adjacent to Sadr City, which is predominantly Shiite. After going through the checkpoint, the vehicle parked next to a market across the street from a school, said the official, who asked not to be identified.
“And the two adults were seen to get out of the vehicle, and run from the vehicle, and then followed by the detonation of the vehicle,” the official said. “It killed the two children inside as well as three other civilians in the vicinity. So, a total of five killed, seven injured,” the official said.
Officials here said they did not know who the children were or their relationship to the two adults who fled the scene. They had no information about their ages or genders. “The brutality and the ruthlessness of this enemy hasn’t changed,” said Barbero, deputy director of regional operations of the Joint Staff. “They are just interested in slaughtering Iraqi civilians, to be very honest.”
Attacks on Iraqi civilians are down by a third and sectarian murders have fallen by 50 percent since mid-February when US and Iraqi forces began moving into Baghdad as part of a new security crackdown, the general said. On the other hand, there has been no let-up in attacks on US forces by Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni extremist groups, he said.
The incidence of car bombings and suicide attacks, which are typically carried out by Sunni extremist groups against Shiites, also have gone up even though their effectiveness is down, he said. “As our checkpoints, and control points have been more effective, as they try to execute these high profile attacks with these vehicle-borne IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Baghdad, we’re stopping a lot of them at these checkpoints and they are not getting to their intended targets,” he said. But he said they will change their tactics.
Barbero pointed to the recent use of chlorine bombs as another example of the shifting tactics. Three trucks with chlorine were blown up by suicide bombers over the weekend in Al-Anbar province, killing two policemen and releasing toxic fumes that sickened an estimated 350 people.
Barbero said Al-Qaeda in Iraq appeared to be resorting to use of chlorine bombs to intimidate tribal leaders that have turned against them in Al-Anbar. “We assess those as relatively ineffective. However, that is an emerging tactic that we are seeing.”
“We think it will continue to be exercised in Iraq. Chlorine is readily accessible and we’ve had a number of these,” he said. He said US commanders remain concerned about the Shiite militias led by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, even though US forces are now operating freely in Sadr City and his Mahdi army militia is quiet.
Sadr is still in Iran but in communication with leaders of his movement in Iraq, he said. “Where we are with the leaders of his movement is at a pretty delicate point, and I probably don’t want to talk any more about his followers, and where we are in our relationship with them,” he said.