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Who Bombed the Baghdad Hotel? By: Walid Phares
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, October 13, 2003


Who is responsible for the suicide bombing in Baghdad? Sources from the Arab World speculate on who has an immediate interest in striking now. Analysts with inner knowledge of Middle East politics rush to review statements made by several vicious parties mentioned on the suspect list. At this point we do not know for certain who pulled off this act of destruction, but the usual suspects in all terrorist attacks are on the short list.

Commentators in the West usually follow the judicial track. They wait for an FBI-like conclusion and the pieces of evidence. In sum, they treat each case separately and view it as a crime. Authorities strive for balance between hard-evidence and instincts andboth approaches are helpful in a state of war. Speculative approaches are risky and could be highly inaccurate, but in many cases, military and intelligence analysts, and sometimes media, are under pressure to provide answers. Even investigators count on speculations to start their work. In the War on Terror, you don't start always from zero. The Baghdad car bomb is one of many attacks aimed at Americans and Iraqis. The suspect list suggests a few possibilities.

Analysis of the Arab world suggests three scenarios. First, are the Saddam Baathists, followed by al-Qaeda and its allies of Ansar el-Islam on the Sunni side. Authorities also put radical Shiite jihad partisans like Hezbollah on the same list. But behind these forces the list includes intelligence services of regional powers, such as Syria and Iran, both of whom have stakes in the conflict. So who bombed the hotel yesterday in Baghdad?

[1] High speculation: The prime suspect since the attacks against the Jordanian embassy, the UN headquarters and a hotel that hosted the NBC crew, is Ansar el-Islam, an affiliate of al-Qaeda. Such attacks may have benefited from internal intelligence provided by former Iraqi Baathists. The lines separating the two groups are blurring by the day. But the "international dimension" of these attacks has the fingerprints of a network that keeps an eye on the world reaction to these types of deadly explosions.

The Jihadists are known for their psychological aims not only on the actual victims of the attacks but also on a public opinion that can weaken the resolve of the enemy, in this case the U.S. The real effects of a suicide attack or a car bomb in Baghdad are on U.S. TV and al-Jazeera. That is their real battlefield.

Statements made in the past indicate that al-Qaeda and its local allies are now targeting the "residence of U.S. personnel." If you make a normal deployment of your enemy's personnel in their offices and bedrooms a risk, then you have created a strategic problem for the enemy. That is a page taken directly the jihad manual recently found on the Internet. 

[2] Possible speculation: Pieces of analysis tend to think that the strike could have been ordered by Syrian intelligence to "respond" to the U.S. endorsement of the Israeli strike on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad base near Damascus last week. If you analyze the statements made by several Syrian officials and pro-Syrian leaders this week, including the Syrian ambassador in Madrid ,and an al-Baath newspaper editor on al-Jazeera, they all share one talking point: Syria has "many ways" to respond to the Israeli-led (and, from their point of view, U.S.-sponsored) attacks, and Syria will choose when and where. For those with expertise in Syrian tactics, the logic of striking back at American interests in Iraq is not illogical. Many commentators in the Arab world have openly stated that the Israeli strike in Syria is an American message to Damascus. A logical extension of this equation would be that Syria responded to Washington on the battlefield on which it is most successful: Iraq.

[3] Potential link: A third possible theory is an amalgam of the previous two: that all these forces, and possibly more, are allied in their war against the Great Satan. This thesis suggests that there is a "regional war room" (RWR) centered in one - possibly more - capitals, which strategically coordinates the anti-American attacks. According to the proponents of this analysis, as of the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the RWR is "in charge" of these two theatres: the suicide attacks in Israel and the anti-American terror activities in Iraq. Additionally, that hypothetical"room" is said to be plotting strikes against "moderate" Arab countries, as well.

Obviously these are only speculations. But until the judicial track would put the evidence together, analyzing their jihad is a matter of reading events as they unfold and putting them into perspective. And it may offer a starting point to uncover evidence of the terrorists' actions -- and their weaknesses. 

Walid Phares is a Professor of Middle East Studies and an MSNBC terrorism analyst.


Professor Walid Phares is the author of Future Jihad. He is a Visiting Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels and a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.


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