This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.
Despite heroic reassurances from both the White House and the Pentagon that the six-week-old US escalation in Baghdad and al-Anbar Province is proceeding on course, suicide car-bombers continue to devastate Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods, often under the noses of reinforced American patrols and checkpoints. Indeed, February was a record month for car bombings, with at least forty-four deadly explosions in Baghdad alone, and March promises to duplicate the carnage.
Car bombs, moreover, continue to evolve in horror and lethality. In January and March, the first chemical “dirty bomb” explosions took place using chlorine gas, giving potential new meaning to the President’s missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The sectarian guerrillas who claim affiliation with “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” are now striking savagely, and seemingly at will, against dissident Sunni tribes in al-Anbar province as well as Shiite areas of Baghdad and Shiite pilgrims on the highways to the south of the capital. With each massacre, the bombers refute Bush Administration claims that the US military can “take back and secure” Baghdad block-by-block or establish its own patrols and new, fortified mini-bases as a realistic substitute for local self-defense militias.
On February 23, for instance, shortly after the beginning of the “Surge,” a suicide truck-bomber killed thirty-six Sunnis in Habbaniya, west of Baghdad, after an imam at a local mosque had denounced al-Qaeda. Ten days later, a kamikaze driver plowed his truck bomb into Baghdad’s famed literary bazaar, the crowded corridor of bookstores and coffee houses along Mutanabi Street, incinerating at least thirty people and, perhaps, the last hopes of an Iraqi intellectual renaissance.
On March 10, another suicide bomber massacred twenty people in Sadr City, just a few hundred yards away from one of the new US bases. The next day, a bomber rammed his car into flatbed truck full of Shiite pilgrims, killing more than thirty. A week later, horror exceeded itself when a car bomber evidently used two little children as a decoy to get through a military checkpoint, then exploded the car with the kids still in the back seat.
In a demonstration of a tactic that has proven especially deadly over the past year, a car-bomb attack on March 23 was coordinated with an assailant in a suicide vest and almost killed Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie, whose tribal alliance, the Anbar Salvation Council, has accepted funding from the Americans and been denounced by the jihadis.
When it comes to the development of suicide vehicles, however, the most alarming innovation has, without doubt, been the debut in January of truck bombs carrying chlorine gas tanks rigged with explosives. Of course, “dirty bombs,” usually of the nuclear variety, have been a longtime obsession of anti-terrorism experts (as well as the producers of TV potboilers), but the sinister glamour of radioactive devices–scattering deadly radiological waste in the City of London or across midtown Manhattan–has tended to overshadow the far greater likelihood that bomb-makers would initially be attracted to the cheapness and ease of combining explosives with any number of ordinary industrial caustics and toxins.