Timing for Maximum Impact: Insurgents Make Sure to Hit When Cameras Roll

From The Los Angeles Daily News

by HEATHER ROBINSON

October 30, 2005

What better way for terrorist insurgents in Iraq to make headlines in the U.S. during a heavy news cycle than to attack journalists?

Monday’s three-stage attack on a hotel compound housing Western media in Baghdad was the latest desperate attempt on the part of the terrorists to regain the media’s focus at a time when the steady downpour of negative news from Iraq has let up a bit as the media have been consumed with other stories on the home front.

Clearly this coordinated attack, which killed 20, was carefully planned. In the first stage, a suicide car bomber detonated next to a security wall surrounding two high rise hotels, the Palestine and the Sheraton, where the Associated Press and Fox News bureaus, as well as others, are headquartered. Another bomber detonated across the square from the hotels, while a third bomber, in a cement truck, drove through the breach created by the first and blew up in the hotels’ courtyard.

In making the media a target, the attack was guaranteed to do one thing—make the news in the U.S.

Since Yasser Arafat began specializing in attacks on civilians in the 1970s, terrorism has been conceived for the cameras. From the slaying of the Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich in 1972, to the public parading, with bound hands and blindfolds, of the U.S. hostages by their captors in Iran, to the recent taped beheadings of civilians in Iraq—terrorism has been designed for consumption via media outlets.

Thus insurgent terrorism in Iraq is calculated, employed not only to devastate its victims but also to make the news, thereby furthering the goals—political and ideological—of its perpetrators and those who direct them.

As such, the correlation between the rate of major attacks and their likelihood of making headlines in the U.S. is not pure coincidence.

An analysis of the pattern of casualties and deaths in terrorist attacks in Iraq over the past several months reveals something curious: during the 11-day period from Thursday, August 25 until Sunday September 4–the period immediately before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina, when every major media outlet was saturated with images of the incoming storm, displaced persons, or the remains of a deluged city–there were comparatively few U.S. troops and Iraqis killed, and no major suicide bombings.

Then, on September 14, just after the heaviest Katrina coverage had begun to ebb, terrorist insurgents unleashed a storm of their own, striking in the heart of Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district with a massive attack murdering 114 Iraqis. Coordinated suicide bombings that day brought the total death toll to 150. Al-Qaeda in Iraq also chose that day to announce that it had launched an all-out nationwide suicide bombing campaign, and over the next four days, insurgents killed over 260 Iraqis in suicide bombings and other attacks.

When plotting out the number and timing of terrorist attacks in Iraq, it is clear that the 11-day lull before, during, and after Katrina, is especially unique, and does not seem to coincide with Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught by pure coincidence. Nor does the ferocious resurgence of major coordinated terrorist attacks throughout the latter half of September seem random. After all, the hurricane thoroughly dominated headlines throughout the end of August and early September, starting several days before the storm. If ever the backers of terrorism wished to take a breather, regroup, and plan the next round of sensational attacks for a time when they would be certain to make headlines, the week of Katrina’s arrival would have been the time to take such a planning break.

Other than the heavy coverage of the huge, coordinated terrorist attacks following Katrina’s dissipation, the level of negative news coverage from Iraq over the past several weeks has not returned to its pre-Katrina levels as other events, ranging from the controversies surrounding Tom Delay and Karl Rove to the approach of Hurricane Wilma and the Harriet Miers controversy, have dominated news. Thus the recent attack on Western journalists’ headquarters in Baghdad clearly represents a desperate attempt on behalf of insurgents to reignite the media war.

Particularly given that Iraq’s recent constitutional referendum took place successfully, the insurgents did not want too much time to pass without reasserting their intimidation, and what better way to guarantee their violence would be prominently reported during a heavy news cycle than to attack journalists?

As of this week, 2,000 U.S. service members have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As Americans confront this grim milestone, it is natural to question the U.S. presence there. But those opposed to staying the course would do well to consider the methods of this enemy.

The architects of the insurgency are heirs to the vision and methods of Arafat and Osama bin Laden, and we underestimate them at our peril. In fact, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, whose organization, al Qaeda in Iraq, claims responsibility for much of the carnage, is the media mastermind who directed the taped beheadings of numerous civilians including American contractor Nicholas Berg. Just as those beheadings were performed for the cameras, and intended to terrorize and demoralize, so are the bombings in Iraq every bit as diabolically calculated.

Abandoning Iraq now would undermine the true Iraqi nationalism displayed when millions risked their lives to vote in last January’s general election and the recent constitutional referendum. To leave would be to hand power—the real goal of the insurgents–to those who would seize it by any means.

This entry was written by and posted on December 19, 2007 at 4:50 pm and filed under Commentary.