Middle East

Sticky bomb and silenced weapon attacks on rise in Iraq

Sticky bomb
Image caption Sticky bomb attacks usually target government or security officials

Rarely does a day go by in Baghdad nowadays without somebody somewhere in the city being killed or injured by two new tactics adopted recently by insurgents: sticky bombs and silenced weapons.

Sometimes there are several such attacks a day, usually targeting government or security officials with pinpoint accuracy.

Detailed figures are hard to come by, but several hundred people are reported to have died in such attacks this year alone.

By sticking a small bomb under a vehicle or using a silenced weapon, attackers can operate quickly and without drawing much attention to themselves.

Behind each one of the statistics, as is always the case, lies a human tragedy as victims are maimed or families mourn the loss of loved ones.

Lying in a grubby room with a ceiling fan stirring the limpid air, Yasser al-Anbari weaves his head from side to side constantly because of a pain that won't be dulled.

It is coming from his left leg, which was badly injured in a sticky bomb explosion in early October.

His right leg is less painful. He lost it in the blast, above the knee, so all that is left is a bandaged stump.

"I was driving along, and suddenly there was a deafening explosion. I was choking in a cloud of smoke," he said.

"Then I saw that one leg was missing, and the other one was hurt. I dragged myself out.

"At first nobody helped me, because they thought the car might explode. Then they recognised me and ran to help."

He's now so demoralised and traumatised that he just wants to get away.

"Iraq has destroyed me. I just want to go to Australia and live in a forest where I don't have to see any people or any cars," he says between sobs.

Yasser al-Anbari says he doesn't know why he was targeted. He's not involved in money issues, and has no enemies that he knows about.

But the answer is simple. Although he's an engineer, his job is in the police force, where he holds the rank of colonel.

Most of the victims selected for assassination by sticky bombs or silenced weapons are security officers or government officials.

Made locally

Gen Jihad al-Jaberi, commander of Iraq's bomb squad, explained that sticky bombs were used for a brief period in 2004, then abandoned in favour of much larger car and truck bombs because bulk supplies of explosives were plentiful and cheap.

Now, he said, supplies have been choked off and the insurgents are under pressure. So they have reverted to sticky bombs and silencers because they are small and light, easy to move around, can be manufactured locally and are lethally effective against chosen targets.

Sticky bombs are made up of around half a kilogram of explosives, roughly the size of a brick, which is attached to a powerful magnet and stuck on the underside of the victim's vehicle.

Image caption Mr al-Anbari has been so traumatised by the attack and his injuries that he wants to leave Iraq

The detonating mechanism has developed in sophistication: from basic timers taken from washing machines or other gadgets, through mechanical contacts activated by movement, to electronic detonation by mobile phones or other receivers which can be triggered by a remote signal.

"The only way to deal with the threat is for people to examine their car carefully before they get in," he said.

There is also a sophisticated and expensive sensor system that can be installed, which would send the intended victim and his relatives or friends an SMS message saying a foreign body had been attached to his car, and indicate its position.

But sometimes, victims are attacked by bombers on a motorcycle who come alongside, stick the bomb on the car door, and disappear into the traffic.

Abu Muhammad, another police officer, nearly fell prey to killers using silenced weapons in a very similar manner.

He was driving home from work recently when a car behind him aggressively flashed him to get out of the way.

When he pulled aside, the other vehicle came up alongside his.

Trends monitored

"Suddenly, my windows were shattered, and the car seats were pocked with bullet-holes, but I didn't hear a thing," he said.

"I slammed the brakes on, and they disappeared ahead. It's a miracle I didn't get hit."

Large numbers of silencers, locally made in machine shops, have been found in recent raids on arms caches.

Image caption Gen al-Jaberi says people can protect themselves only by checking their cars before getting in

They allow would-be assassins to make their attempt and escape without attracting wider attention.

They have been used in attacks not just on individuals, but also on checkpoints and police posts.

The Baghdad Operations Centre, which co-ordinates security in the capital, has been monitoring trends in violence from the beginning.

"The people using silenced weapons and sticky bombs are clandestine, and they do it because these things are easy to carry and hard to detect, so they can avoid checkpoints," said the BOC spokesman, Gen Qasem Ata.

"But now that we're on to them, we believe they'll change tactics again, perhaps to using easily found dual-use materials like fertilisers and other chemicals to make explosives."

As the cat-and-mouse game continues, and despite the general decline in violence since the height of the carnage in 2006 and 2007, one thing is tragically clear. There will be many more cynically crippled victims like Col Yasser al-Anbari, and many more families will mourn the loss of loved ones before Iraq finds peace.