Counting the Bombs

By noon today we'd been body-searched nine times, and car-searched twice, spent a cumulative total of 1 1/2 hours in checkpoint queues or waiting to be searched, and another half hour trying to find escorts who would take us through checkpoints. We managed in the process to be late for every appointment, progressively later as the morning rolled on, but no one much minded since as Baghdad days go, this was pretty normal. And they were all late too, since even quite high-ranking officials have to go through much the same security checks "or if they don't, their staffs do. The precautions are not unreasonable, given the circumstances, but they do take a little getting used to; short tempers should be left at the border. Obey instructions from the guards, reads one checkpoint sign. DEADLY force authorized. Increasingly, those verbal instructions are in Spanish, in the case of our Peruvian Coalition partners, or in Russian, in the case of our Republic of Georgia contingent. Soldiers from the smaller contributors to the Coalition, i.e., nearly all of them other than the Brits, are mostly used these days for checkpoint and other routine tasks, to free up American soldiers for more difficult and dangerous duty. It's one way of stretching them a little less thinly. But one of the problems with sign language is that it's notoriously vague, no doubt the reason that evolution came up with words.

And anytime you're annoyed by these realities of Iraqi life, it won't be long before something blows up to justify it "usually the same day. Today it was an apparent suicide car bomb near a vegetable market in a southern Baghdad neighborhood, Bayaa, which killed 10 people, and another car bombing at a Baghdad police station, killing two officers. And north of the city, in Muqdadiya, two brothers of Saleem al-Jubouri, spokesman for the Iraqi National Accord Front, a coalition of moderate Sunni groups, were assassinated. There are so many such attacks it's hard even for the authorities to keep track of them sometimes. Yesterday came the news that Iraqi police officials were reporting that 18 kids had been killed by a suicide car bomber at a soccer field in a park in the middle of Ramadi. That was followed by a statement from the U.S. military that actually the Americans found a bomb on Tuesday near a soccer field and had conducted a controlled detonation, which got out of control and blasted apart a nearby neighborhood, wounding 30 people, three of whom were children. At first, U.S. spokesmen thought the two incidents had been confused. Turns out, however, that Iraqi officials had confused the Tuesday controlled bombing with a Monday suicide car bombing, which did kill 18 kids, by Iraqi police count. U.S. officials had already reported the Monday incident, but put the death toll at 15, so Iraqi officials thought there were two separate incidents. Death tolls from car bombings are notoriously difficult to ascertain, particularly right away; there are so many body parts, some victims get counted twice or more; while others are so thoroughly pulverized they don't get counted at all. At the end of the day, a large number of kids age 10 to 15 were killed by terrorists looking, as ever, for soft targets "and coming after a succession of attacks on schools, a college, places of worship, it doesn't even astonish enough for everyone to get the facts straight.