Wednesday, August 20, 2003

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Thoughts on the UN attack

There's a lot of blogosphere speculation about the "who?" and the "why?" of the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad -- see Matthew Yglesias, David Adesnik, Glenn Reynolds, Juan Cole, and -- in a heartbreaking post -- Salam Pax.

As I've said before, such speculation often leads commentators to fit overly neat narratives into messy realities. However, this New York Times news analysis of the bombing, which has a paragraph that just startled me:

No one claimed responsibility for the attack. But it seems clear that any improvement in the standard of living of Iraqis is viewed by opponents of the occupation as a victory for the United States and its efforts to create a stable, democratic Iraq.

So the question is, what group is nihilistic enough to see victory in the mass immiseration of fellow Arabs and the destruction of international supportagencies?

While the B'aathists are contemptible, while in power they were always clever enough to play the United Nations off the U.S. and Great Britain. This attack has the feel of someone incapable of making such distinctions yet willing to hit soft targets. In other words, an Al Qaeda subsidiary. So, my money's on Ansar al-Islam.

UPDATE: William Dyer is less than pleased with the Times coverage of the bombing (link via InstaPundit).

posted by Dan on 08.20.03 at 11:22 AM


I wish I remembered who said it -- but I heard the comment last night that there are a number of players who have no interest in a strong, integrated, democratic, "liberal" Iraq. Among them:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Syria
  • Iran

to which I might add Turkey, Egypt and (stretching things a bit) Lybia and the Sudan.

The point is this: ask "who benefits"?

posted by: Charlie on 08.20.03 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

Glenn has a new link to Tim Blair, who is picking Al Qaeda - they don't like the UN because of East Timor, and the partition of Palestine in 1947.

I guess Ansar-al Islam counts.

posted by: Tom Maguire on 08.20.03 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

I tend to agree. The Ba'athist-related insurgency has shown little imagination or organization, and seems intent on making American troops paranoid and trigger-happy. Hitting the UN just doesn't seem like it fits anything they're trying to do, which when you get down to it is some fairly pragmatic old-time nationalism.

The UN as a target, though, fits a group with "vision", thus some kind of al-Qaeda offshoot. They have a wider goal of driving a wedge between Islam and the West. Making the UN wary and less involved has to serve those interests.

There are scenarios you can spin that fit the other side better: this implies that the American institutions in Baghdad are just as vulnerable; the UN is hated because of the sanctions (likely favorite of the Indymedia wing); the UN's presence is critical to US success. But it seems a stretch.

To al Qaeda, a UN "world government" is just as much apostasy as it is to certain bunker mentalities in the US. It's not Islam; it's dominated by the West, who are enemies of Islam; its global helpfulness is the naivete of those who believe Da'wa with Muslims is an "exchange of views". Its internationalism sucks the air out of the goal of restoration of the Caliphate, seducing away good Muslims.

It just seems more of a *sorta* benefitting scenario vs. a *positively* benefitting one.

posted by: Dan Hartung on 08.20.03 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

If the reports about the bomb components used are accurate - a cache of old shells, rockets, grenades etc - then these could only have come from a Saddam-era arms dump, which points to at least some Saddam loyalist involvement.

Arguably they could have been bought on the local black market, but that buying such a quantity of materiel would have been risky.

posted by: Martin Adamson on 08.20.03 at 11:22 AM [permalink]

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