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Subject: Why the Car Bomb is King in Iraq
James Dunnigan    6/26/2005 1:47:46 AM

In Iraq, car bombs are becoming the principal, and most popular, weapon of the terrorists, In May there were 143 car bomb attacks (both suicide and remotely detonated), up from 145 in April, 69 in March, and an average of 20-25 a month for the year before that. The bombs are getting larger, and more often composed of explosives, and not 152mm artillery shells, or 120mm mortar shells, rigged with detonators. The larger, all explosives, bombs are more likely to destroy armored hummers or trucks (which would otherwise stop most of the fragments from 152mm or 120mm shells.) The greater use of car bombs partly reflects the greater difficulty getting into, or even near, Iraqi military, police and government targets. Roadside bombs are more frequently discovered, or defeated with electronic devices. So the car bomb is the most effective weapon, and the terrorists are building as many as they can. Foreigners (usually Saudis) are recruited to drive the suicide bombs. Saudis are much more eager to become “martyrs” than are Iraqis. 

June 16, 2005: Car bombs have, over the past two years, become the favorite weapon of terrorists in Iraq. Since July 2003, when the first one was used, there have been (as of June 5th) 278 such attacks. These caused 9,167 casualties (2,818 people dead, 6,349 wounded.) That’s an average of 33 casualties per car bomb. Not all were suicide car bombs, 42 percent were set off by remote control. Nearly all the drivers of the suicide car bombs have been foreign Arabs, mainly from Saudi Arabia. The worst month ever for car bombs was May, 2005, with 32 attacks and 1,300 casualties. This was not the largest number of attacks (that was in September, 2004, with 34), but it was the largest number of casualties. The Sunni Arabs preferred the roadside bomb, 20-30 a day being used against coalition and Iraqi forces. Currently, only about a quarter of those bombs actually do any damage to American and Iraqi troops, the rest are discovered first. 

Car bombs really got going in early 2004, when Iraqi terrorists (Sunni Arabs, particularly former Saddam thugs) joined forces with al Qaeda. The Sunni Arabs had the money and the connections (with Sunni Arab tribal and religious leaders) to build lots of car bombs. All that was required was money (the Saddam crowd had lots of that), and explosives (Iraq was overflowing with the stuff). Pay the money to a garage owned by Sunni Arabs and you get a car bomb, and some Sunni Arabs grateful for the work. Building car bombs paid well, up to $20,000 per job (usually using a stolen car). If the car bomb could not be parked, and then set off by remote control or timer, al Qaeda could provide a suicide volunteer, willing to drive the car, and detonate the explosives at the most appropriate place. 

Better yet, it didn’t take a lot of organization to carry out a terrorist campaign with car bombs. Once the Sunni Arab and al Qaeda leaders agreed on what types of targets to go after, the bagmen were dispatched to deliver the money to the bomb builders. When the car bombs were ready, “delivery teams” picked it up and “delivered” it. This meant parking the car as close to the target as possible, getting out of the way, and setting it off. The suicide car bombs were used for the more difficult targets, like those that did not allow just anyone to park a car in the area. Suicide car bombs were also preferred for use against moving targets (military or police patrols or convoys.) 

Your average car bomb had several hundred pounds of explosives, either in the form of artillery or mortar shells, or bulk explosives. Detonators on the shells, or stuck into the blocks of explosives, were connected to a electromechanical switch, a wireless device or a timer. The quality of the car bombs kept improving until about a year ago, then it began to decline, as more and more garage owners and mechanics backed away from the car bomb business. Hundreds of these guys were getting busted, and any property or tools they owned taken or destroyed. Baath raised the rates, but this wasn’t worth the loss of property, or freedom (and months or years in jail.) So more amateurs got involved. This led to more duds and accidents (premature detonations.) Actually, it appears that some 500 car bombs have been built so far, with over 200 being seized, or destroyed, before they could be used. Several dozen such car bombs were taken, or bombed, in the November battle of Fallujah. 

Security around American military bases was always tight, and the car bombers were rarely able to even get close. In the last year, Iraqi government and police locations became just a difficult to get near. So the car bombs more frequently went off among civilians. This made the car bombers, and the people behind them, increasingly unpopular. That b
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