Sapa-AFP: The hostage-taking, car bombings and political assassinations that plague Iraq are all part of a strategy by insurgents to grab maximum attention for their cause.
“Their goal is to breed fear and terror in the populace and you cannot do that just with small-scale events,” said a senior United States military official, who did not want to be named.
Since the handover of sovereignty by the US-led occupation on June 28 to the caretaker government of Iyad Allawi, hardly a day goes by without a car bombing or the slaying of a political or religious leader.
And even before a freed Philippine hostage, held in captivity for almost two weeks, had arrived home, a group calling itself Black Flags announced on Wednesday it was holding a group of at least six hostages, this time in a video message aired on Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television.
The emotional impact and global media attention involved with hostage-taking has made it a favoured tactic of the rebels who began their insurgency during the occupation and are now trying to destabilise Allawi’s government.
“The more media attention and more global attention it gets (then) in the terrorists’ minds it draws attention to their cause.”
In what has become familiar scenario, videotapes or statements purportedly from groups holding foreign hostages are sent to Arab satellite television channel al-Jazeera or its rival Arabiya.
All groups have names with connotations to Islamic holy war.
The Khalid bin al-Walid brigade, which claimed to have held the freed Filipino and Egyptian truck drivers, is named after a Seventh century Arab general who took part in the Islamic conquests and was nicknamed “God’s sword”.
The setting is often similar: helpless-looking hostages are paraded in front a camera pleading with their employers or governments to quit Iraq or as was the case with two Bulgarian hostages, to free the estimated 5 000 Iraqi prisoners held in US detention facilities.
The threatened punishment for non-compliance is beheading.
US and Iraqi officials believe that bowing to kidnappers’ demands will play right into their hands and worsen the crisis. They have warned states not to comply with demands as Manila did to save the life of trucker Angelo de la Cruz.
Insurgents are also hitting the caretaker government hard on another front.
The spike in car bomb attacks on Iraqi security forces and the assassination of government officials in recent weeks is meant to undermine the authority of Allawi’s government and draw US-led forces further into conflict, says the official.
“They are fearful of a sovereign government; some would like to go back to ways of the past,” he says.
From June 28 until July 20 there were 97 Iraqi civilians and security force members killed and 254 injured, according to a US military tally.
Both the Iraqi government and the US military say the “enemies of Iraq”, remain foreign terrorists linked to alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi and so-called Saddamists, those loyal to the past regime of Saddam Hussein.
But both point out that a new criminal element has attached itself to these groups and that they are often in it for the money or other rewards.
“We see them in a power struggle now, again it is not a monolithic group that we are looking at, many diverse factions with different objectives,” says the US official. – Sapa-AFP