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The Baghdad and Jerusalem Bombings: Why? Who Benefits?

Salih al-Qallab, Al-Sharq al-Awsat (Saudi-owned), London, England, Aug. 21, 2003

Cars burn in front of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad after a bomb killed 23 people, including the top U.N. envoy to the country, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Cars burn in front of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad after a bomb killed 23 people on Aug. 19, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the top U.N. envoy to the country. The same day, a suicide bomber killed 21 people on a bus in Jerusalem (Photo: Sabah Arar/AFP-Getty Images).
Perhaps the worst thing about the [Aug. 19] suicide bombing in Jerusalem, for which Hamas [and Islamic Jihad] claimed responsibility, is that it came within hours of the heinous bombing that targeted the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and resulted in scores of innocents killed and wounded. The world has assumed the two events were copies of one another and that the perpetrators of the bombings in Jerusalem and Baghdad were of the same ilk. The international press described the two bombings as though they took place on the same patch of earth, despite the great distance between the holy city of Jerusalem and the Iraqi capital.

Significantly, those who are sympathetic to the Jerusalem bombers’ motives have tried to clarify the difference between the Jerusalem bombing and the Baghdad bombing. They have done this because the images broadcast to audiences abroad from both Jerusalem and Baghdad will patently “speak for themselves” and thus will give the impression that those who struck in the west [Jerusalem] are the same as those who struck in the east [Baghdad], and that the blood of the victims that flowed in the streets of Jerusalem is the same as the blood that flowed in the Canal Hotel in Baghdad.

Despite the initial impression, there is no doubt that the timing of the bombings, just hours apart, was a coincidence. It is unreasonable to assume that Hamas was awaiting just such a moment, and took advantage of it to strike in Jerusalem with such violence and bloodiness. What is known about preparations for suicide operations, especially of this complexity and under current security conditions, suggests that they need at least three or four weeks of preparation.

But Western audiences, who are always ready to connect what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, with any similar act, even if it was smaller in consequence, less bloody, and within a different context, are unwilling to listen to any justifications [for the Jerusalem bombing] that may be broadcast in the news. This is even more true when the explanations that may be broadcast in the news come from Hamas spokesmen. They are discredited a priori because Hamas is deemed a terrorist movement and not, as some Arabs believe, a resistance movement defending the rights of a people caught in historical injustices and conspiracies that dispossessed them of all their national and human rights.

As for the bombings themselves, the goal of those who struck in Baghdad—whether they were from the scattered remnants of Saddam Hussein’s bygone army or some other front—was to prove the absence of any authority in Baghdad and that the temporary Governing Council in reality has not established its presence “on the ground.” Furthermore, the bombing symbolically conveyed the idea that the occupation forces have become impotent and incapable of securing safety in Iraq, including even the headquarters of the United Nations, which is working under the auspices of the U.S. administration in Iraq. It also seems that those who targeted the U.N. headquarters are the same people who targeted the oil and water pipelines a few days before and have assassinated a number of prominent Iraqi leaders and personalities. The intended result of all these operations was to shake the Iraqi people’s confidence in the U.S. administration, to undermine any sense of stability, and to show Iraqis and the world that life in Iraq will remain tenuous while the Americans occupy Iraqi land.

This is the goal of the attack in Baghdad—which happened to coincide with the suicide attack in Jerusalem. What is not in dispute is that the perpetrators of this criminal act in Baghdad are unconcerned about whether their actions will be classified as terrorism or as national resistance. What does concern them is that Iraqis, Arabs, and the world feel that there is a power vacuum in Iraq and that there will be a high cost in blood for the U.S. occupation. Ultimately, the resounding message of the bombing is that U.S. forces may have succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime, but despite all the months that have passed, they cannot call their occupation of Iraq a success, nor can they claim that they have been able to create a viable governing substitute [for Saddam Hussein’s regime].

On the other hand, it is well-known that the goal of those who struck in Jerusalem was to respond to Israeli excesses and violations of the cease-fire, specifically the Israeli assassination of an Islamic Jihad militant that prompted the Jerusalem bombing. The bombing was a way of symbolically shaking a stick in the face of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and his generals and of defying their view that the truce operates according to Israeli conditions as part of a peace process saddled with their provisos. The bombing was meant to remind Sharon that Palestinians are able to both respond to his provocations and cause Israeli blood to flow, just as he makes Palestinian blood flow.

But it is certain that the secluded and biased Western audience is fundamentally against Hamas and its use of these tactics, and they are not able to understand the context of what occurred in Jerusalem except as a mirror of what occurred in Baghdad. So media coverage in the West has conflated the two bombings and sees the terrorist attacks in Jerusalem as the same as those in Baghdad. It should be noted that even in the Arab world there are those who, for their own benefit, will interpret links between these two bombings, and even connect them to the latest acts of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, for example. Some Arab leaders may even say that all those involved in the different bombings are connected somehow and that perhaps some organization from outside the Palestinian, Iraqi, and Lebanese arenas stands behind everything that is happening. Arab leaders may argue this in order to encourage the Americans to support their governments and to cooperate with them. The supposed existence of a nebulous terrorist conglomerate behind these latest bombings could be used to demonstrate various Arab governments’ utility to the Americans and encourage the Americans to join with sympathetic Arab governments in one potent front in the war on terrorism.

It should be said that Hamas resorted to this bombing—which happened to coincide with the Baghdad bombing—to demonstrate that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is irrelevant, powerless, and incapable of fulfilling any of its commitments under the peace process. In trying to undermine the PA with the bombing, the explicit message is that the only resolute group in the Palestinian arena is the Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] and that if the Americans and Israelis want a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict then they must recognize: a) the reality of Hamas; b) that neither [Palestinian Prime Minister] Mahmoud Abbas, [Palestinian Security Minister] Muhammad Dahlan, or even [Palestinian President] Yasser Arafat and his organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization, represent the Palestinian resistance movement as Hamas does.

Hamas’ attempt to thrust itself to the center of the political stage with this latest bombing in Jerusalem is as important as its justifications for the attack, which was specified as a response to unrelenting Israeli provocations that contradicted the conditions of the established truce. It is certain that the Israelis and Americans will use the bombing as an excuse to increase pressure on the Palestinian prime minister, personally, and the PA generally—as well as on Arafat—to comply with U.S.-Israeli demands to dismember what are called terrorist networks. It is obvious that Hamas is at the top of the list.

With this inevitability, we must realize that the officials and institutions of the PA are of limited effectiveness in defying Israeli and American pressures. Obviously, one of the byproducts of this latest bombing will be an increase of pressure on Arafat and Abbas. The worst-case scenario would be for the Palestinian leadership to comply with this pressure and reluctantly agree to dismember what are called terrorist networks. If this does happen, then a Palestinian civil war will finally erupt, despite the long years of trying to keep this possibility in check. Once this becomes a part of the Palestinian reality, it will engender a never-ending cycle of killing. In conclusion, Hamas will bear the historical responsibility for the civil war if it does break out, because Hamas’ actions pushed the Palestinians over the brink. And forever more, Hamas will be blamed for its national betrayal.

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