Act of War Has Struck
Fear Into Allied Hearts
By Robert Fisk in Baghdad
31 March 2003
Sergeant Ali Jaffar Moussa
Hamadi al-Nomani was the first Iraqi combatant known to stage a suicide
attack. Not even during the uprising against British rule did an Iraqi
kill himself to destroy his enemies.
Nomani was also a Shia Muslim
a member of the same sect the Americans faithfully believed to
be their secret ally in their invasion of Iraq. Even the Iraqi government
initially wondered how to deal with his extraordinary action, caught
between its desire to dissociate themselves from an event that might
remind the world of Osama bin Laden and its determination to threaten
the Americans with more such attacks.
The details of the 50-year-old
sergeant's life are few but intriguing. He was a soldier in the 1980-88
Iran-Iraq war and volunteered to fight in the 1991 Gulf War, called
the "Mother of All Battles" by President Saddam Hussein, who
believes he was the victor. Then, though he was overage for further
fighting, Nomani volunteered to fight the Anglo-American invasion. And
so it was, without telling his commander and in his own car, he drove
into the US Marine checkpoint outside Najaf.
President Saddam awarded
him the Military Medal (1st Class) and the "Mother of All Battles"
medal. The dead man left five children, a widow and a place in the 2,000-year
history of Iraqi resistance to invasions. A US spokesman said that the
attack "looks and feels like terrorism", although, since Nomani
was attacking an occupation army and his target was a military one,
no Arab would ever believe this.
Within hours of his death,
Taha Yassin Ramadan, the Iraqi Vice-President, was talking like a Palestinian
or Hizbollah leader, emphasising the inequality of arms between the
Iraqis and the Americans.
"The US administration
is going to turn the whole world into people prepared to die for their
nations," he said. "All they can do now is turn themselves
into bombs. If the B-52 bombs can now kill 500 or more in our war, then
I'm sure that some operations by our freedom fighters will be able to
It was clear what this meant;
the Iraqi leadership was just as surprised at Nomani's attack as were
his American victims.
But the Americans would do
well to understand what this new development means. Suicide bombers
whether they be the Shia Muslim Lebanese successfully evicting
Israel's army of occupation or the Palestinians destroying Israel's
sense of security are the ultimate weapon of the Arabs. The US
first understood its power when suicide bombers struck the American
embassy in Beirut in 1983 and the marine barracks in Beirut on 23 October
the same year, when 241 American servicemen died. Only when Arabs bent
on a far more devastating suicide mission launched their attacks on
11 September 2001 did Washington finally realise that there was no effective
defence against such tactics.
In a strange way, therefore,
11 September at last finds a symbolic connection with Iraq. While the
attempts to link President Saddam's regime with Osama bin Laden turned
out to be fraudulent, the anger that the US has unleashed is real, and
has met the weapon the Americans fear most. Most suicide bombers are
younger than Nomani and unmarried. But someone must have helped him
to rig the explosives in his car, must have taught him how to set off
the detonator. And if this was not the Iraqis, as they claim, then was
there an organisation involved of which both the Americans and the Iraqis
There was some talk by Vice-President
Ramadan of "the martyr's moment of sublimity", an expression
hitherto unheard of in the Baathist lexicon. General Hazim al-Rawi of
the Ministry of Defence recalled that the dead man bore the same name
as "the Imam Ali" and announced that the new "martyr
Ali has opened the door to jihad".
He said that more than 4,000
volunteers from Arab countries were now in the country and that "martyrdom
operations will continue not only by Iraqis but by thousands of Arabs
who came to Baghdad".
Suddenly, it seems, Islam
has intruded into this very nationalistic war of liberation for
that is what it is called here against the Americans.