Suicide Bombings in Operation Iraqi Freedom

September 7, 2004

Suicide bombing is the act of blowing oneself up in order to kill (destroy) or injure (damage) a target. The target may be military or civilian or both. Typically, the killing or physical destruction of the target is less important than the terror generated by undertaking the act. This ultimately makes suicide bombing a “disruptive firepower” capability (based on Bond-Relationship Targeting) utilized by opposing forces (OPFORs) which lack traditional destructive firepower.

Suicide bombing can be defined as a “criminal-warfighting” technique because it almost always falls within the “not crime and not war overlap” of nonstate OPFOR operations. When conducted by state forces, such as the Iraqi military, those forces violated the rules of war by taking off their uniforms in an attempt to appear as noncombatants (thus mimicking nonstate OPFORs) for stealth-masking purposes. The Japanese use of Kamikaze aircraft in World War II would be considered a legitimate use of military force against military force, but that early-prototype form of suicide bombing has not been used for almost 60 years.

Persistent suicide bombings in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)—pre-, trans- and postmajor combat operations—promote the perception that this “criminal-warfighting” technique will be used with increasing frequency against U.S. Army and allied forces deployed for combat and humanitarian missions in and around Islamic lands. This will require Army, Marine and constabulary personnel to develop appropriate intelligence, countermeasure and force protection capabilities to interdict, mitigate and respond to what has become a threat against U.S. forces in the global war against radical Islamic terrorism and insurgency.

To support this need, this essay will first provide historical baseline information by discussing suicide operations in the world’s dominant military traditions. Second, it will place suicide bombings in operational context and compare and contrast groups that engage in suicide bombings. Third, it will provide a chronology of suicide bombings that took place just prior to and during the major combat phase of OIF. Fourth, it will cover suicide bombings that occurred postmajor combat OIF up to 20 March 2004. Finally, it will look at the future potential of suicide bombing and provide information on emergent trends for indications and warning purposes.