Search for P.M.D.’s

Thomas Friedman [RSS] is perplexed, as am I, by the rise in suicide bombers as a major tactic in Iraq.

My rough estimate is that there have been 50 to 75 suicide bomb attacks in Iraq in the last year. So the first question I have is this: Where are all these suicide bombers coming from? How do you just get these people off the shelf?

I don’t buy it myself, but one can plausibly argue that 37 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank have made Palestinians so crazy that scores of them would have volunteered for suicide bombing missions over the last few years. But the U.S. “occupation” of Iraq is only a year old, and the suicide bombings started there within a few months of U.S. forces’ arriving, to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam’s warped tyranny. So what does that mean? It means that some group or groups have the ability to recruit a large pool of people willing to kill themselves in attacks against American or Iraqi targets on short notice — and we don’t have a clue how this process works.

We don’t know who these people are — although reports suggest they are coming from Europe, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia — how the underground railroad that gets them from their local mosques to Iraq operates, how they connect up with the operating cells in Iraq and how they get wired and indoctrinated for suicide missions.

“I don’t think the P.M.D.’s are really a product of local Iraqi resentment against us,” says Raymond Stock, an expert on Arabic literature and media based in Cairo. “They are mainly imported cookie-cutter killers, created by a combination of Arab mass media, certain extremist elements in Muslim culture, and some very shrewd recruiting by Al Qaeda and its ilk. When young, angry, futureless, sexually repressed people are taught that death is a permanent vacation of guilt-free pleasure, and they see it glorified in countless videos, all you need is a willing truck driver to ferry them over the border from Syria, Jordan, Turkey or Saudi Arabia and presto — a human bomb.”


Extremely sophisticated nihilists, able to organize multiple suicide bombings right under our noses — for a year. It’s another sign that we never had enough troops in Iraq, and have failed to train and equip a meaningful Iraqi police force to secure Iraq’s borders or its interior — which is the necessary foundation for any decent outcome in Iraq.

While I agree with Friedman that the source of these bombers is of interest and that they are undermining our efforts in Iraq, I don’t see how “more troops” solves this one. Does Israel not have enough troops? The bottom line is that it’s virtually impossible to stop every would-be suicide bomber if there is a wave of them. One simply can’t put a giant defensive perimeter around everything. And, even if that were feasible, the perimeter simply becomes the target.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    I’ve long thought that Friedman was much better at asking the right questions than he was trying to answer them.

    This article proves it.

    He asks the right question, but swerves into the ditch on his answer.