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Were Baghdad's Female Suicide Bombers Mentally Retarded?

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On February 1, 2008, two female suicide bombers killed some 91 people and wounded another 150 at Baghdad pet markets. The two coordinated explosions marked the bloodiest day in the Iraqi capital during the past six months. Coming on the heels of increased U.S. military deaths in Iraq in January, after four months of declines, the bombings raised new doubts about the wild-eyed claims made by President Bush and Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, that the surge is working and the U.S. is winning in Iraq.

But, almost immediately, Iraq's chief military spokesman in Baghdad claimed that the female bombers appeared to be mentally retarded. Allegedly, an examination of the severed head of one of the bombers led to the conclusion that she suffered from Downs Syndrome. In addition, some Baghdad locals were reported to have claimed that the bomber was known as "the crazy lady."

Such reports, if correct, would lend substance to the assertions -- which constitute the conventional wisdom -- that the success of the Bush/Petraeus surge has caused al Qaeda in Iraq to adopt desperate measures. Americans, then, could rest assured that such attacks were merely an aberration, and, thus, more proof that, thanks to the surge, Iraq's insurgency is now in its final death throes

Condoleezza Rice seized upon the news to decry al Qaeda as "the most brutal and bankrupt of movements," conveniently overlooking the massive bombing campaign unleashed by America's military during the surge and conveniently overlooking the unmanned aerial vehicles, like the Predator, which fire missiles at the command of brave airmen stationed at computer consoles at Nellis Air Force base near Las Vegas. Sort of like sitting in the White House and challenging the insurgents to "Bring 'em on."

Most of the mainstream news media uncritically reported the assertion that al Qaeda had stooped to manipulating mentally retarded women. After all, such evidence better fits into the mantra of a successful surge, than does the ominous possibility that al Qaeda has moved on to a new tactic, one that employs female suicide bombers who have theirs wits about them.

Thus, FOX News, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, CBS News and even The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer talked about the mentally ill suicide bombers. Lamentably, even the Huffington Post, uncritically posted an article sporting the headline, "Mentally Retarded Women Used To Set Off Massive Iraq Attacks."

Yet, during an interview with Stephen Farrell of the New York Times viewers of the NewsHour were told that there were plenty of reasons to doubt the assertion made by Iraq's chief military spokesman. First, there's a huge probability that the bomber's severed head could have been distorted by the blast. Second, Farrell talked about witnesses who saw the woman before the explosion and claimed that she acted normally. Finally, as Farrell noted online, "Iraqi officials have made similar claims in the past."

In addition, McClatchy's Washington Bureau ran an article in which the reporters noted: "Other police officials expressed skepticism about the claim, saying it was made too quickly for any investigation to have taken place." Finally, Middle East expert Juan Cole weighed in with this common sense observation: "The story that the women had Downs syndrome seems unlikely to be true: you wouldn't trust a sensitive terror plot to someone without their full faculties."

Cole also concluded: "The bombings show that Sunni Arab guerrillas seeking to destabilize Iraq have not been defeated and are still capable of making a big strike right under the noses of the surge troops." Moreover, you can bet the farm that such big strikes will occur as long as American troops do Bush's (or McCain's) bidding and continue their illegal, immoral occupation of Iraq - surge or no surge.


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Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San (more...)
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