Since the fall of the Saddam regime in April 2003, Iraq has been victimized by hundreds of acts of terrorism, most of them perpetrated by foreign terrorists who have crossed Iraq's porous borders. The most lethal terrorist act was carried out on February 28, 2005, by a suicide bomber who detonated a car bomb in the predominantly Shi'ite City of Hilla, sixty miles south of Baghdad. The bomb exploded in front of a health office in a busy bazaar where new recruits to the police and armed forces were waiting to apply for health certificates, which are a prerequisite to applying for government jobs in Iraq. The bomb killed 132 people and injured 120. A fireman, 'Ammar al-'Aani, who took part in the rescue operation, found the terrorist's hands chained to the steering wheel and a charred copy of the Koran in the car.(1)
Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's "Al-Qa'ida Organization in the Land of Two Rivers" took responsibility for the act.
The Wedding of the Martyr
This horrific act would have been simply charted in Iraqi terrorist statistics as another act of terrorism were it not for "a social event" that shed light on the perpetrator himself and on his family. On March 11, 2005, newspapers reported that the terrorist was Raid Mansour al-Banna from the City of al-Salt in Jordan. According to his father, Raid had studied and worked a number of years in the United States, "in one of the Californian airports, to be exact."(2) He was 32 when he blew himself up.
What riled the Iraqis the most was that al-Banna's family honored his act by holding a festive ceremony known as "the wedding of the martyr" ['irs al-shahid] to symbolize his wedding in paradise with 72 virgins. At these events, the bereaved family receives guests who offer it condolences and congratulations for their son's martyrdom. A truck was seen on television bringing food to a special tent erected to receive the guests.(3) In justifying the celebration, the family argued that the victims were Americans. In fact, there was no American casualty in this operation.
After the furor in Iraq regarding the "wedding of the martyr," his father began to deny the event. He said that four Islamists visited him and asked permission to hang a poster of "congratulation for the martyrdom." When he inquired about the meaning of the martyrdom in the case of his son, he was told by the Islamists that "whoever dies drowning or in foreign land is a martyr." Hence, he said, "I agreed to the hanging of the poster." Further, he told the press that his son was killed in Mosul [in the north] and that his body was buried according to Muslim ritual. The father stressed that if his son was involved in a suicide bombing in Hilla there would have been no body to bury in Mosul.(4)
A Letter from the Brother
Not satisfied with the festivities his family organized in honor of his terrorist brother, Naseer al-Banna published a letter on the internet praising Raid and wished him pleasant days in heaven alongside his grandfather Hassan al-Banna. He was puzzled as to why the Iraqis were calling his brother a terrorist.
In his letter, Naseer labeled the Shi'a as "American and Jewish agents." He claimed that the Shi'a religion was created by Jews and the Shi'a killed Prophet Mohammad's grandson, al-Imam Hussein whom the Shi'a consider the greatest martyr in Islamic history.
The brother concluded his letter by stating his intention to join the Jihad against the Americans, the Jews, and the Shi'a.(5)
SCIRI Denounces the Celebration
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) in Iraq issued an official statement which says, in part: "What is regrettable ... is the demonstration of affection for a bloody criminal who has killed hundreds of innocents and in his honor a eulogy council is held without any objection from the Jordanian media, political parties, trade unions, not to mention the Jordanian men of religion who have kept complete silence and have ignored big crimes that take place in Iraq."(6)
Speaking before a throng of demonstrators protesting the "wedding of the martyr" in front of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, SCIRI's leader abd al-Aziz al-Hakim claimed Jordan was exporting terrorists to Iraq and accused its monarch of visiting the offices of a newspaper which sponsors and encourages terrorism. He called on the Jordanian government to prevent the acts of incitement and the recruitment [of terrorists] against the Iraqi people which have been taking place on Jordanian soil.(7) Al-Hakim also called on Jordan to expel former officials of the Saddam regime who have found a political refuge in Jordan.(8)
In his meeting with the Jordanian Chargk d'affaires in Baghdad, Dimai Haddad, al-Hakim asked that the Jordanian king apologize for the terrorist act in Hilla, pursue those who encourage and export terrorism to Iraq, and repatriate Iraqi money which belongs to the Iraqi people.(9)
The Mutual Recall of Chiefs of Diplomatic Missions
Following the burning of the Jordanian flag and the picture of King Abdallah by Shi'ite demonstrators in front of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad Jordan decided to recall its Chargk d'affaires in Baghdad because of the security situation prevailing at the embassy that was preventing it from carrying out its normal diplomatic functions.(10) Iraq reciprocated by withdrawing its ambassador to Jordan, Atta Abd al-Wahab. Subsequently, the Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi has informed his Iraqi interlocutor, Hoshyar Zibari that King Abdallah has decided that the Chargk d'affaires shall return to Baghdad.(11)
Iraqi-Jordanian Discord: 25 Years of Jordanian Support of the Saddam Regime
The terrorist act in Hilla by a Jordanian has only dramatized for most Iraqis what they perceive as a quarter century of unlimited Jordanian support for the regime of Saddam Hussein, including his war with Iran and his invasion of Kuwait. Saddam rewarded Jordan with the supply of Iraqi oil at sharply discounted prices and opened the Iraqi markets for unrestricted imports from Jordan. While Iraqis became increasingly impoverished under the United Nations sanctions regime, Jordan has witnessed times of expanding economic prosperity. The Iraqis have also resented King Abdallah's warning prior to the Iraqi elections of the imminent danger of "a Shi'ite Crescent" that would destabilize the Middle East.(12)
A column titled "The Jordanian Press and the Wedding of the Suicide Criminal" appeared in the Iraqi liberal weekly Al-Ahali lambasting the father of the terrorist for believing that the victims were Americans and that his son was "in heaven waiting to dine with the Prophet." It said the Iraqis are not surprised by the coverage of this event in the Jordanian press since, after all, Saddam's defense lawyers are Jordanians. In the past, Saddam had lavished homes, cars, and cash on Jordanian journalists as incentives for them to sing his slogans about the nature and destiny of "the great Arab nation" encompassing the whole Middle East. The column concluded poignantly: "We are not the children of the [Arab] nation. We are the children of Iraq and Iraq alone."(13)
In the same vein, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat's columnist and current director general of Al-Arabiya TV channel, Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed wrote under the heading "Fury against the Jordanians" that "it would have taken no more than a news item to arouse a volcano of Iraqi antagonism against Jordan." While Jordan itself has often been a victim of terrorism, Iraqi critics have not erred, wrote al-Rashed, "if they have blamed the Jordanian preachers and Imams who have supported what they called resistance operations which often target innocent civilians."(14)
It is not surprising therefore to read Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zibari tell the press that solving the crisis with Jordan would require more time because of "the bitterness" that Iraqis feel toward Jordan following the events in Hilla which the Iraqi government is trying to contain.(15)
Jordan Attempts to Mollify Iraqi Rage
In an attempt to extricate Jordan from a difficult position, the Jordanian Government arrested the journalist Hadi Abd al-Lateef al-Nsour from the daily Al-Ghad for publishing the news about the "wedding of the martyr." The reason for his arrest was the claim that he had falsified the news and had alleged that the Hilla operation was carried out by a Jordanian.(16) The government also brought before an investigating judge in Amman the chief editor of the newspaper, Imad al-Hamoud and the managing editor Basil Rufai'ah(17) but they were all let go "pending the conclusion of the investigation."(18)
Later, trying to shift the blame, the Jordanian foreign minister al-Mulqi told the press at the Arab League meeting in Algiers last week that he "smelled" an Iranian role in the crisis. However, during her weekly press conference, the Jordanian spokeswoman Asma Khadr was asked about the statement of the foreign minister, and retorted: "al-Mulqi was not categorical [in blaming the Iranians] and used the term 'smell' only."(19)
Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.
(1) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 22, 2005.
(2) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 16, 2005.
(3) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 16, 2005.
(4) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 16, 2005.
(5) www.aljeeran.net , circulated by INCPressBaghdad@Yahoo.com , March 17, 2005.
(6) Karbala News (Iraq), March 13, 2005.
(7) Karbala News (Iraq), March 19, 2005.
(8) Al-Zaman (Baghdad), March 21, 2005.
(9) Al-Zaman (Baghdad) March 21, 2005.
(10) Al-Ra'i (Jordan), March 21, 2005.
(11) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 23, 2005.
(12) Al-Sabah (Baghdad), March 23, 2005.
(13) Al-Ahali (Baghdad), March 17, 2005.
(14) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 16, 2005.
(15) Al-Sabah (Baghdad), March 23, 2005.
(16) Al-Hayat (London), March 15, 2005.
(17) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 17, 2005.
(18) Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 15, 2005.
(19) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 22, 2005.