Allam: Most bombs meant as psychological warfare, as Iraqis vote
HANNAH ALLAM, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: This is Hannah Allam reporting from Baghdad for McClatchy Newspapers. Most Iraqis, at least in Baghdad, woke up to the sounds of explosions, and these explosions were very loud and very frequent, and they continued well into the early to mid afternoon. And while they were very terrifying, they weren’t particularly deadly.
The US military is blaming a lot of these explosions on this water bottle bomb. They found dozens of these spread throughout the cities, littering the path leading to polling stations. What they are are plastic wattles that were packed with homemade explosives, set to a timer, and detonated by remote control. They’re very loud and can cause quite a scare, but they didn’t cause a whole lot of deaths.
The deadliest blast occurred in the Sha’ab neighborhood, north Baghdad, and that brought down a whole apartment building, flattened it on top of a bunch of sleeping families. Late into the day, rescue workers were still trying to dig out people from underneath the rubble. We were there at the scene and could hear cries of a woman trapped under the debris. And we also saw several corpses taken out from that site. That was certainly the deadliest blast. I think there were 25 people killed and 19 injured in that one incident, while attacks for the whole country, the latest figures we have were 38 killed and 80 wounded, so you can see how that one incident sort of skewed the numbers.
The Iraqi security forces had a huge presence on the street. There was certainly the safest security this time around, which wasn’t the case in the last general election in 2005. There were checkpoints all over the place. There were Iraqi guards outside of polling stations. But that doesn’t mean that the Americans didn’t play a very crucial behind-the-scenes role. The Americans had worked with Iraqis for months in preparation for these elections. And it’s important to remember that there was American air support. We saw Apache helicopters and Black Hawks flying over many of the attack sites and polling stations. US drones provided the aerial intelligence for where these rocket or mortar teams were suspected to be, more other sort of insurgent activity. US escorts took around the international monitors. They also provided route clearance for some of the convoys. They played a very large role, still, in security; it was just not as visible as the role in 2005.
The US military is saying that the attacks today were intended to be more psychologically intimidating than lethal. We didn’t see a whole lot of deaths from these water-bottle bombings, but, you know, these are crude devices, and the fact that they could get so many of them out in so many places and to go off in such quick succession still means, then, that there’s a fairly sophisticated force out there that is intending to disrupt elections. I mean, it was certainly terrifying to wake up to nonstop explosions for several hours.
Iraq had sealed its borders, even between provinces; shut down the airport; I think they shut down the seaport. They imposed a vehicle ban throughout the entire country that was listed only in the afternoon, and still not for trucks and anything that can carry a large amount of explosives. There were checkpoints at very short intervals, sometimes just a few meters apart. The country really was completely locked down, as it has been on previous election days—and, again, this is one day that took months and months of planning to pull off—so, yes, it could have been worse. There weren’t car bombers, but no cars were really allowed on the street. There weren’t suicide vest bombers, you know, people wearing explosive vests. The Iraqis say that there were also general mortar and rocket attacks, but the Americans are disputing that, saying their radars didn’t pick that up and that they think it was more these homemade cruise bombs stuffed into water bottles.
This is Hannah Allam reporting from Baghdad for McClatchy Newspapers.