As best I understand it, before ISIS launched its Summer 2014 attack into western Iraq, it engaged in a long campaign of bombings in the heartland of Iraq. These spread terror and distrust of the government. As best I understand it, the defeat of Boko Haram on the battlefield led to a campaign of bombings in Nigeria and Cameroon. These spurred mass flight and a economic paralysis. So, bombings can be harbingers of victory or of defeat. It’s too bad that they aren’t more clear in their meanings. Still, I thought that I would watch this “variable”—as social scientist call it. See if anything becomes clear to me.
Hilla, Iraq is about 60 miles south of Baghdad on the Tigris River. It’s near the site of ancient Babylon, a vital center of Mesopotamian civilization that is unfamiliar to generations of American college students. From about 1000 AD on it was a sleepy farm town and administrative center. In the early 20th Century, an interesting episode in environmental history led to the construction of a dam to insure the proper irrigation of local farmlands.
Saddam Hussein was hard on both the ancient and modern faces of Hilla. He had workmen knock down a bunch of the Babylonian ruins in order to build one of his palaces. After the war in Kuwait in 1991, a rebellion broke out around Hilla. Government troops killed several thousand people and buried them in a mass grave.
On 1 April 2003, there was a good-sized fight at Hilla between American armored forces and an infantry battalion of the Republican Guard. Then the insurgency began. One feature of that insurgency appeared in the efforts by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to foment a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war. Hilla is a predominantly Shi’ite city, so it came in for its share of trouble. In February 2005, a suicide bombing killed 125 people waiting for treatment outside a medical clinic; in May 2005, two suicide bombers killed 31 and wounded 108 Shia police; in September 2005, a car bomb killed 10 and wounded 30; in January 2007, suicide bombers killed 73 and wounded 160; in February 2007, a pair of suicide bombers killed 45 and wounded 150; in March 2007, two car bombs killed 114 and wounded 147; in May 2010, a multiple car bomb attacks killed 45 and wounded 145. Then things calmed down as the “Sunni Awakening” and the “Surge:” took hold.
At a security check-point near Hilla, on 6 March 2016, a gasoline tanker waited for approval to move ahead in the middle of a crowd of vehicles and pedestrians. When guards waved at the driver to halt, the truck lurched ahead and then exploded. At least 33 people were killed outright and 115 were wounded. (Almost 30 of the wounded subsequently died.) A witness said that the explosion 350 feet away from the blast felt like “an earthquake.” The witness is 54 years old. That means that he was born in 1962. He has lived through the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988); the American air campaign associated with the 1991 war over Kuwait; the American invasion (2003) and all that followed from it (2003-2007).
The key point here is that there are a lot of people outside “the West” who have heard explosions before and know what to do. “I immediately lay on the ground and saw flames all over the checkpoint.” After a while he got up to go check on friends in shops closer to the check-point. “One of them was beheaded and others were killed.” A 32 year-old school teacher who had been waiting to pass the checkpoint to get to work described it as “a very hard scene.”
What is it like to know what a suicide bombing sounds like? What about knowing that the bombings come in pairs, usually the second happening after people rush from cover to help the victims of the first bombing?
 Omar al-Jawoshy, “Truck Bomb Kills at Least 33 At Checkpoint in Central Iraq,” NYT, 7 March 2016.