Saddam’s suicide schools


Straits Times correspondent Derwin Pereira, now in Amman, Jordan, speaks to Palestinian militants about Iraq’s training camps for suicide bombers and what motivates them



FOR several months before the US invasion, Baghdad had been planning kamikaze attacks and guerilla-style warfare against American troops.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had set up training camps for suicide bombers and militias in the outskirts of the Iraqi capital.

He also wooed radical Islamic groups in the Israeli-controlled territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and in countries such as Syria and Lebanon, to support his campaign.

Baghdad realised early on that it would never be able to fight a conventional war against the United States, said Sheikh Nader Assaad Bayyoudh Al-Tamimi, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s military wing.

It is one of several militant Arab groups in contact with the Iraqi leadership.

‘The Americans have superior technology and super bombs, but they don’t have what Saddam has: the human bomb,’ he told The Straits Times.

The 51-year-old cleric disclosed that he had met Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan in Baghdad in January.

Mr Ramadan told him that Mr Saddam and his generals were intent on punishing US-led forces by engaging them in a protracted guerilla war.

He was doing this by despatching not just paramilitary organisations such as the Fedayeen to the battle front, but also suicide bombers.

That was shown dramatically last week when an Iraqi soldier blew himself up outside the city of Najaf in south Iraq, killing four US Marines.

Driving a taxi, he stopped close to a military checkpoint and waved for help. The US soldiers approached the car, which then exploded.

Mr Ramadan told reporters later that suicide bombings were now a ‘routine policy’ of the Iraqi military.

‘We will use any means to kill our enemy in our land and we will follow the enemy into its land,’ he said.

Sheikh Nader, whom intelligence sources here said appeared at least twice on Iraqi state TV to urge people to volunteer as suicide bombers, had been at the forefront in calling for a jihad or holy war against the US.

Known for his fiery sermons, he was jailed three times by Jordanian security authorities over the past decade.

Interestingly, he is the son of the late Sheikh Assad, who founded the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in 1979.

The PIJ claimed responsibility for Sunday’s suicide bombing in a mall in Netanya, Israel, that injured 30 people.

Observers said that his father maintained a close relationship with Mr Saddam and the inner circle in Baghdad through the 1990s.

Sheikh Nader continued those links, especially with Mr Ramadan and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz.

Through Sheikh Nader, Baghdad was able to tap into a pool of militants in the Middle East.

Some 6,000 Muslims seeking martyrdom have already flocked to Iraq since the war.

They are being funded and trained in camps by the Special Security Organisation controlled by Mr Saddam’s eldest son, Uday.

Hundreds of others are streaming into Iraq every day, not just from the PIJ, but also Hamas, Fatah, Ansar Al Islam and Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade.

Most of these groups – especially the first three – are well known for their suicide attacks in Israel.

The US military, having prepared itself largely for a conventional war against Iraq, will now have to brace itself for the same kind of attacks carried out by Muslim militants in Lebanon’s civil war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The biggest suicide bombing against the US military abroad was in Lebanon in October 1983, when a truck packed with explosives drove into the US Marines base at Beirut International Airport, killing 241 American servicemen and levelling the base.

Top American generals have maintained that Mr Saddam’s new weapon would have no military consequence.

But analysts believe that it is already having an effect on ground troops, who are having great difficulty differentiating between those they are trying to liberate and those who are trying to kill them.

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