By BARRIE MCKENNA
Toronto Globe and Mail
July 18, 2005
An upsurge of suicide attacks in recent days has claimed nearly 200 lives - part of what al Qaeda's Iraq wing says is a major offensive to seize Baghdad.
Since early Friday, at least 15 suicide bombers have struck in the capital and along the major roads leading south. The attacks have killed at least 156 people, mainly civilians, and have left hundreds more injured.
The bloodiest attack happened Saturday in the town of Musayyib, south of Baghdad, when a man drove a fuel truck into the center of a crowded market and blew it up beside a Shia mosque, killing at least 98 people along with himself.
Iraqi authorities, overwhelmed by the deluge of attacks, may never know who the suicide bomber was. But if he was like so many others before him, he may have been an idealistic Muslim in his 20s, perhaps from Saudi Arabia, Syria or Kuwait, bent on dying as a martyr in the war against the U.S.-led occupation.
Terrorism experts who have tracked militant Islamic Web sites say a majority - perhaps as many as 60 percent - of these suicide bombers are from Saudi Arabia, home to most of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers.
But a small though apparently growing number of the bombers are also Iraqis.
Al Qaeda, which had little appeal in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's regime, appears to be attracting some domestic support. Many suicide bombers say they are inspired either by the Sept. 11 attacks or the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Some make videos of their last prayers and embraces in the desert before leaving on their deadly missions. Some list their name and country of origin.
Like the suspected suicide bombers who attacked London earlier this month, many led promising, middle-class lives. Among them was Said Ahmed al-Ghamdi, a 20-year-old medical student from Saudi Arabia who killed 22 people when he blew himself up inside a U.S. Army mess tent in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Hadi bin Mubarak Qahtani, another Saudi bomber, claimed on a jihadist Web site to have had a religious awakening after the Sept. 11 attacks and a youth spent "fooling around." In April, he blew himself up in a suicide attack on a U.S. Marine base in the western Iraq city of Qaim.
Increasingly, suicide bombers are turning their rage against softer targets, including Iraqi security forces and civilians. President Bush has repeatedly vowed he won't be cowed by the increasingly bloody insurgency in Iraq.
"We fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand," Bush said in a prime-time speech late last month aimed at shoring up waning support for the war in the United States.
"So we will fight them there, we will fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won," he said.
But al Qaeda and other groups may well be anticipating that the resolve of the United States and the Iraqi government won't last.
The death toll from suicide attacks, the insurgency, U.S. military operations and a spate of assassinations and apparent mass murders continues to mount.
At least 1,767 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March of 2003 - a rate of more than 60 a month. Many more Iraqis have been killed, perhaps as many as 25,880, according to Iraqbodycount.com, which keeps a running tally of Iraqi deaths compiled from media accounts.
More than 8,175 Iraqi civilians and police officers died between August of 2004 and May of 2005 - a rate of more than 800 a month - recent figures released by the Interior Ministry show.
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