· Youngsters used as decoy to get through checkpoint
· Concern over increasing use of hardline tactics
by Michael Howard in Irbil, Thursday March 22, 2007, The Guardian
US commanders in Baghdad said yesterday that they were investigating an incident in which two children appeared to be used as decoys to get past an American checkpoint in a car that was then blown up with the pair still inside. The attack, which was reported to have happened last weekend in the mainly Sunni neighbourhood of Adhamiya, killed the children and three bystanders. It comes amid concern that insurgents are adopting headline-grabbing tactics to counter the Baghdad security offensive.
If confirmed, the incident is thought to be the first time children have been used in such a way in a suicide bombing in Iraq. However, Iraqi police sources said that since last year, three other cases had been registered in which women and children were used in parked car bombings, although they reportedly got out of the cars before the explosions.
In Baghdad, a US military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver, yesterday echoed the basic details of an account of the incident given to reporters late on Tuesday by Major General Michael Barbero, an official with the Pentagon's joint staff.
He said the vehicle was stopped at the US military checkpoint, one of hundreds across the city. "Children in the back seat lower suspicion. We let it move through," he said. "They parked the vehicle. The adults ran out and detonated it with the children in the back. So the brutality and ruthless nature of this enemy hasn't changed. I mean, they are just interested in slaughtering Iraqi civilians to meet their ends."
Col Garver said it remained unclear whether the adults who triggered the bomb were captured but said further details were due to be released yesterday. He said this was the first reported use of children in a suicide car bombing in Baghdad, but that insurgents in the restive Anbar province had been using children to plant roadside bombs and act as spotters for detonation teams.
Iraqi police sources also said witnesses had described seeing two children in the car, but that the incident took place in the Shia neighbourhood of al-Shaab, not Adhamiya. They also put the death toll higher, with eight civilians killed and 28 wounded. The age of the children was not known.
Col Garver said: "We know and have said many times that insurgents are determined to find new ways of grabbing the headlines and raising their profile while killing as many people as possible."
Iraqis have also been alarmed by a wave of so-called dirty bombings using toxic chlorine.
Meanwhile, as the security crackdown entered its sixth week, Iraq's Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, said it was vital to open talks with Sunni insurgents, excluding al-Qaida, in an attempt to halt the violence. "I do believe that there is no way but to talk to everybody," he told the BBC. Apart from al-Qaida, which he said was "not very much willing in fact to talk to anybody", all parties "should be invited, should be called to sit down around the table to discuss their fears, their reservations."
Mr Hashemi, the country's most powerful elected Sunni, has been fiercely critical of the Shia-led government of Nuri al-Maliki for marginalising Sunni Arabs in the post-Ba'ath political process.