The vehicle bomb attack against hotels used by Western news organizations appears aimed at sending a message that Iraq's most feared militant group can stage spectacular bombings that recent military operations were launched to eliminate.
The attacks Monday against the compound housing the Palestine and Sheraton hotels show al-Qaida in Iraq is stepping up operations against U.S. and Western targets on the assumption they will draw less criticism from Iraqis than bombings that kill and maim Iraqi civilians, one analyst said.
The bombings shattered a relative lull in the Iraqi capital, indicating al-Qaida's ability to bounce back from setbacks, including the capture and killing of numerous operatives and cell leaders. Up to 17 people, all Iraqis, were killed in the blasts, according to the Interior Ministry.
"Planning for this kind of attack shows a high level of capabilities and shows that while military operations may temporarily weaken the group, it can still regain its power and rebuild itself," said Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.
Since January, al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has lost 100 of its leaders, according to U.S. officials. At least, 311 foreign fighters have been captured since April. And a number of operations have been launched by U.S. forces to stem the flow of insurgents into Iraq.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned that attacks would continue but have also been expressing optimism about curbing the group's operations.
"We have interrupted the flow of the suicide missions into the large urban areas. Certainly, we have had success denying free movement of car bombs into Baghdad," Brig. Gen. Donald Alston said in a recent press conference.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr has told reporters that so many car bombs have been discovered and would-be suicide bombers killed or captured that such bombings are too costly for insurgents.
On Monday, the insurgents responded to such claims in their own way, carefully picking their target to achieve maximum publicity and to score a symbolic victory by penetrating a fortified compound, guarded by U.S. troops and housing foreign journalists, including The Associated Press and Fox News.
"It was an impressive display of explosives that was captured on film," said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman. "What they did get was a lot of publicity which could be better for them than any amount of casualty", reports the AP. I.L.
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