- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2003

Iraqi exiles and international aid organizations are re-evaluating plans to live and work in Iraq following the brutal bomb attack against the United Nations in Baghdad.

But the deadly bombing, which shocked Iraqis as much as the international community, could also lead Iraqi religious clerics to tamp down their increasingly strident calls to resist U.S.-led forces.

“I don’t think anybody now could defend what they used to call Iraqi resistance,” said Hamid al-Hayati, London-based spokesman for the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

“This is not Iraqi resistance anymore. This is a terrorist attack,” he said. “This is a sabotage operation.”

Mr. al-Hayati agreed with U.S. military suspicions that Tuesday’s bombing indicated a new element operating in Iraq.

“Suicide bombers are usually extremists, so the indication is that this is a completely new group” that could be connected to al Qaeda, he said in a telephone interview.

While U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated yesterday the world organization would not be intimidated by the attack, Mr. al-Hayati said Iraqi exiles who had been determined to return to Baghdad and work to rebuild the country are now rethinking their plans.

“I think the general feeling among Iraqis is that the security situation is not appropriate for them to return. Families are recommending them not to come back,” he said.

The SCIRI spokesman said that a former Iraqi general who was part of the U.S.-led administration for the first three months was no longer certain he wanted to return to Baghdad.

Members of the Iraqi Jurist Association, who have been working on a new constitution for Iraq, had said even before the latest attack that they were not comfortable returning to Baghdad because they were not sure coalition forces would adequately protect them.

The consequences for Iraq if the international community, including aid groups that fill in numerous humanitarian gaps, decides to hold back “would be horrendous,” said Iraqi exile Zanaib Salbi, who leads one such group.

“It’s not an easy thing to operate in a country where [expatriates] are targeted. I would not be surprised if some groups do postpone their assistance to Iraq,” she said.

“If we don’t have security, we will have difficulty in having reconstruction, business, everything. Even some international organizations will be hesitant to go,” agreed Mr. al-Hayati. “Maybe this is the purpose of such an attack.”

The United States moved to bolster international support for its efforts in Iraq in the wake of the U.N. blast by agreeing to a new U.N. resolution encouraging increased multilateral participation.

But terrorism expert Tom Sanderson of the Center for Strategic International Studies warned that the terrorist onslaught is far from over.

“It is definitely not the parting shot,” he said.

“We are in the middle of a campaign against the U.S.,” he said, one designed “to disrupt efforts and inflict pain on the U.S. and our policies.”

Mr. Sanderson predicted “more pain for the short term” until the United States restructures its forces in Iraq and manages to shut Iraq’s borders to extremists trickling in.

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