The truck bombs that exploded two days ago in Iraq took a horrific toll. Whether the final tally of human life will be 250 or 500 (the exact figure may never be known), virtually all of the victims were Yazidis, a non-Muslim Kurdish sect who are an extreme minority in Iraq.
Al Qaeda, almost undoubtedly the perpetrator, knew full well what it was doing. As this Ralph Peters column entitled “Killing for Congress” points out (I had titled my post before I saw his; the similarity in titles is a coincidence), the terrorist group was well aware that its former targeting of fellow-Muslims in Iraq has caused it to become hated there.
So al Qaeda was faced with a dilemma: how to generate enough gore to deflate recent reports (see this) that the surge is going rather well, without causing the Iraqi population to turn even further against it. An inventive answer was found: attack a group too marginal and powerless to matter much in terms of backlash, and kill enough of them to cause maximum consternation in Congress and American public opinion. Thus, the Yazidis, the perfect victims.
General Petraeus is not the only one with a timetable; al Qaeda has one, too—although if Petraeus fails by September he may not get a second chance; al Qaeda will always have another chance despite some losses, because its task is far easier (“we have to get lucky all the time, but the terrorists only have to get lucky once”).
However, US success in Iraq by September would be more terrible news for al Qaeda than it would even be for Representative Boyda; in terms of its reputation, its manpower, and its ability to recruit fresh blood. And so the stakes are rather high.
Unfortunately, they are also rather easy. The slow gains of the surge are difficult to measure and difficult to see. A spectacular attack with a high death toll, such as the one on the Yazidis, simply means that al Qaeda has not been eradicated. But the perpetrators also know that for many people eager to condemn the surge and force the pullout, it’s a good way to justify throwing in the towel.
General Petraeus predicted as much:
“We’ve always said al-Qaeda would try to carry out sensational attacks this month in particular,” he added. “We’ve had some success against them in certain areas, but we’ve also said they do retain the capability to carry out these horrific and indiscriminate attacks such as the ones yesterday. There will be more of that, tragically.”
In September when the long-advertised evaluation of the surge takes place, we will see how Congress reacts to this and other events orchestrated by al Qaeda and/or the insurgents. There is little doubt in my mind, however, that the setting of such a deadline has given the terrorists a date to shoot for (grim puns intended) and a goal: creating enough destruction to give those who would withdraw even more ammunition to do so.
It’s not so difficult to load two trucks with bombs and detonate them in a couple of villages, especially if the victims are marginal to Iraqi society. It’s a win-win situation for the perpetrators. Unfortunately, Congress has (unintentionally, but stupidly) been part of the reason this is so.
In addition, there are commentators such as the BBC’s John Simpson, who writes, in a column discussing the Yazidi bombings, “…for Mr Bush, the main point of the surge is political, and it is mostly directed at American opinion.” Funny, I thought the main point was military, and it was directed at stabilizing Iraq. The fact that such an effort requires political support to succeed is a simple fact, but it is certainly not the “main point.”
Mr. Simpson blames Bush for having overriding political motivations. But curiously, Simpson managed to write his lengthy piece on the bombings without once pointing out the much more obvious twin statement, which would be this, “For the terrorists, the main point of the bombings is political, and it is mostly directed at American opinion.”
Not to mention BBC opinion.