Iraq for Dummies …

One of the biggest problems with coverage of issues of terrorism, insurgency, and/or civil war in places like Iraq is in understanding the complexities of the actual situation on the ground. Rarely do we ever have a situation where its a “black-and-white” struggle between 2 sides … instead, we usually see a morass of groups with amorphous, almost spider-web like connections fighting each other. One of the biggest challenges for the media and viewers of Iraq coverage is understanding who the major players are and what they are fighting about. Friday’s Salon had an excellent piece by Kevin Berger that goes a long way toward clarifying a very muddy situation in Iraq, and I recommend it to anyone who is confused about who believes what in Iraq. (Remember that you can always get a Free Day Pass to view Salon without actually buying a membership)

Overall, its a very balanced piece that describes the nuances that separate groups like Al-Queda in Iraq from the ex-Baathist Sunni militia’s, as well as larger questions like the differences between the Shia and Sunni sides in general, but there was one statement that disturbed me. Below is a copy of the letter i sent to Salon in response to the piece …

Editor's ChoiceSuicide attacks as military strikes …

“Any suicide bombing is a terrorist act. It’s not an insurgent act.”

While the rest of this piece was excellent (and its VERY nice to see someone in authority in the US who actually understands the differences between Sunni and Shia), the quoted statement strikes me as far too generalized. What marks terrorism isn’t the method of attack, but rather the target chosen. Just because an attacker chooses a suicide bomb as his weapon does not make him a terrorist … the terrorist definition comes from the fact that its a Sbaro Pizzeria, and not a military checkpoint, that is attacked.

But suicide attacks in general, when targeted at military personnel and installations, are no more terrorist than any other method of attack. Were Japanese Kamikaze pilots terrorists simply because they committed suicide in their attacks? No, they were soldiers attacking military targets, and the fact they used a weapon that meant their own death doesn’t change that.

Terrorism is a description of the TARGET of an attack, not the type of attack used. A man who straps bombs to himself and walks into a pizzeria is a terrorist … the man who straps bombs to himself and walks to a military checkpoint is a guerrilla fighter making a military strike. The difference is more than semantics … its vital to recognize terrorism for what it is. When we mis-characterize it like this, all we do is further muddy the waters. Terrorists kill innocent people and they can do so without using suicide tactics (see Timothy McVeigh and OKC) … simply using suicide tactics shows nothing more than that one is committed to their cause. Terrorism describes the intentional killing of innocents … that may or may not happen from a suicide attack, and a suicide attack may or may not be directed against innocents. To say that any suicide bombing must be a terrorist act is simply wrong, IMO.

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