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Many Bombings Traced Back to Iraqi Citizens


Now a story about the Iraqi insurgency and how it's perceived inside the country. Many Iraqis don't want to admit that the majority of insurgents are their fellow countrymen. Iraqi officials and some local media reports say the insurgency is largely made up of outsiders, including foreign Arabs and common criminals. When NPR's Eric Westervelt took a closer look, he found that is not the case.


At a recent district council meeting in eastern Baghdad, the first order of business: a request for more handguns. `Our relatives need them,' several of the 27 members tell their local American military commander. The group, assembled around a long conference table, listens attentively as Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Farrell of the 3rd Infantry Division delivers the bad news.

Lieutenant Colonel KEVIN FARRELL (3rd Infantry Division): But with God as my witness...

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

Lt. Col. FARRELL: ...I can tell you I have no additional pistols.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

Lt. Col. FARRELL: If you bring me terrorists...

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

Lt. Col. FARRELL: ...I'll give each one of you every weapon they have on them.

WESTERVELT: The second order of business takes aim at the violence that daily shakes Iraq.

Sheikh JAUDA AL-HAMASSI (Local Leader): (Foreign language spoken)

WESTERVELT: `We've got to move out these Arabs and Palestinians,' says local leader Sheikh Jauda al-Hamassi. The council members are all in agreement. A resolution is passed unanimously requiring all area Palestinians to register and regularly check in with their local police station. In part to bolster is claim as a pan-Arabist leader, Saddam Hussein gave exiled Palestinians favored status, including housing and educational subsidies denied most Iraqis. Today, many Iraqis see these Palestinians, most of whom were born and raised in Iraq, as a key part of the insurgency.

It's not clear how the new Palestinian registration requirement will be enforced, but council member Gulazar Lagasian(ph) says the measure is overdue to stop the car bombings and the killings.

Ms. GULAZAR LAGASIAN (Council Member): When we hear each act is done, each terrorism is done, we are hearing always Palestinians, Palestinians, Palestinians. Most of them...

WESTERVELT: Now, come on, do you think all the people that are doing the terrorism in Iraq are Palestinians?

Ms. LAGASIAN: No, no, not all. Not all.


Ms. LAGASIAN: The majority. Because we hear it. You know, they've caught them and they've brought them into the TV, and they've spoken. And they say, `We are Palestinians.' So we know.


Ms. LAGASIAN: It's not because just people are guessing.

WESTERVELT: The TV show she's referring to is "Terrorists in the Grip of Justice," a kind of reality-TV hit across Iraq. Six nights a week, suspects are trotted out on the US-funded Al-Iraqiya network where they confess to bombings, shootings, rape and other assorted atrocities in the presence of commandos from the Interior Ministry's much-feared Wolf Brigade. All of those appearing in the hugely popular TV show are depicted as foreign Arabs and petty criminals.

In fact, several American military officials NPR spoke with estimate that three-quarters of the insurgents, including a majority of those building and detonating the deadly roadside and car bombings, are Iraqis, not foreign fighters.

Sergeant NESTOR TORRES (American Military Policeman): He had a cell phone with numbers in it. And then he had all his gear, all the ID material and whatnot.

WESTERVELT: In late May, American military policeman Sergeant Nestor Torres was at the Jaza Diyala(ph) Iraqi police station that he visits almost daily when one of the Iraqi officers told him they'd picked up a young man at a routine checkpoint. In a plastic bag under his car seat, they found sophisticated triggering devices used for most roadside bombings or IEDs.

Sgt. TORRES: They saw that he looked a little suspicious. They got to searching his vehicle, and they found a bag of contraband, all the IED detonators and basically the walkie-talkie radios with stuff attached to it. His dumb move was a good move for us.

WESTERVELT: The suspect then confessed to taking part in a roadside bombing in May that killed one soldier from Battalion 164 and badly injured three others. Lieutenant Colonel Farrell is one 164's commander.

Lt. Col. FARRELL: So it's a significant breakthrough, not only because we seized him and actual devices used, but also he had a knowledge level that he had no way of knowing unless he had been there, 99 percent. He is the man. He was directly involved.

WESTERVELT: And this confessed bomber is not a foreigner, not a Palestinian.

Lt. Col. FARRELL: He appears to be Iraqi, I believe, of the Sunni religion, and was born in 1978.

WESTERVELT: A military official says it appears the 27-year-old is from the Baghdad area and from, quote, "a good home," not an impoverished thug who was killing just for money. Sergeant Torres says he was taken aback that the suspect opened up so quickly about his alleged role in the fatal bombing.

Sgt. TORRES: We asked him, you know, why are you so willing to talk now? And he just--I don't know if he was trying to blow smoke or whatnot, but, you know, he said he feels bad for what he's doing and what he's done, and it's not--like, his parents and his family wouldn't approve of what he's doing. And he felt like, I guess, he had to make amends or whatever.

WESTERVELT: The suspect is still in US custody. Military intelligence officers are working to see if his capture helps lead to those who finance and build the IEDs. And a US military official said the Iraqi might have been of even greater intelligence value, but one Iraqi policeman may have blown their biggest lead. He began randomly dialing some of the numbers saved on the suspect's cell phone shortly after his capture. Eric Westervelt, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.