The suicide bomb in a white pick-up truck which exploded at the entrance to the heavily guarded headquarters of the US-led coalition in Baghdad yesterday showed how little the capture of Saddam Hussein last month has affected the level of violence in Iraq.
It sent a clear message to Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, that it was not safe to return to Iraq. Mr Annan is meeting Paul Bremer, the chief US civilian official in Iraq, and members of the US-selected Iraqi Governing Council in New York today to discuss a future UN role in Iraq.
For once, the journalistic cliché about an explosion 'shaking the centre of Baghdad' was true. The dull roar of the blast resounded around the city at 8am. A mile away, the doors and windows in The Independent's office shook in their frames.
The suicide bomb was typical of so many other attacks over the past six months. It was directed primarily at Iraqis working for the Americans - in this case miserably paid labourers - and was never likely to kill many US soldiers, protected by body armour and crouching behind their sandbags. This has been the pattern since a car exploded outside the Jordanian embassy on 7 August killing 19 people including two children. Targets have differed widely but the aim of those sending the bombers on their missions is clearly to isolate the US from allies inside and outside Iraq.
On 19 August, a truck exploded outside the UN headquarters in the Canal Hotel killing Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN envoy, and 22 other people. A few days later, the Shia cleric and leader Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and 84 other people were killed by a bomb in Najaf. Iraqi police stations have been frequent targets as well as the Red Cross and the Italian military. Most, though not all, of the attacks have been in Baghdad.
Iraqis often say that the suicide bombers must be foreigners because such self-immolation is not in the Iraqi tradition. This is not entirely true; militant and fundamentalist Islam is growing in strength in Iraq.
It is likely that many of the bombers come from outside Iraq, but the infrastructure which supports them is clearly Iraqi. Non-Iraqi Arabs would stick out like a sore thumb in Iraqi society where people are bound together by familial, tribal and regional links.
The bombing yesterday was not the only piece of bad news for the coalition over the past 10 days. Iraq is not calming down. For all the hype over the capture of Saddam, the military position is not improving and the political situation is deteriorating.
A large bomb in the road at Taji on Saturday tore apart a Bradley fighting vehicle killing three US soldiers and bringing the total of US dead, from hostile fire and accidents, to 500 since the start of the war on 20 March. This may be ominous. The US army in Iraq is heavily road-bound. If the guerrillas, like Hizbollah in Lebanon and the IRA in Northern Ireland, start exploding large bombs, compared to the smaller devices used hitherto, then US casualties will go up. The suicide bombers have focused on allies of the US in Iraq, but if they switch their target to US convoys and patrols the Americans are bound to suffer serious losses.
Guerrilla warfare is still largely confined to Sunni Muslim areas. But Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the venerated and influential Shia cleric, is showing greater political toughness than most people expected. The patience of the Shias, 60 per cent of Iraq's population, is wearing thin.Reuse content