Fanatic is awarded posthumous medals
By Adel Darwish
(Filed: 31/03/2003)

Saddam Hussein has awarded the suicide bomber who killed four US soldiers at the weekend with two posthumous medals and bestowed a small fortune on his family in a sign of overt state support for "martyrs" in Iraq.

Lt Ali Jaafer Musa al-Noamani earned a promotion to colonel and his family received 22,000 - a fortune by Iraqi standards - following his car bomb attack on a checkpoint north of Najaf.

The awards were seen as a ploy by Saddam to draw on the history of martyrdom to encourage further such kamikaze acts against American and British forces in Iraq.

According to Iraqi television, al-Noamani emulated the ritual of suicide bombers of the Palestinian group Hamas, kissing the Koran before getting into his booby-trapped car. He beckoned the soldiers to him before triggering the blast. The location of the attack has a certain spiritual resonance for Islamic militants.

Martyrdom started in the same area between Najaf and Karbala in the 7th century, when Al-Hussein Bin Ali, the grandson of the prophet Mohammed, committed the ultimate sacrifice.

The early Hussein found himself and 70 of his followers deserted by the Iraqi people and facing an army of more than 70,000 sent by Yezid, the Caliph of Damascus, in a stand-off that became a defining moment in early Islam.

Al-Hussein's men fought to the last and their reckless bravery has become the stuff of Arab-Islamic legend, making him the most honoured of Muslim saints. The battle is still remembered with a sense of guilt and shame among the Shia of southern Iraq because of the desertion of the saint at his final hour.

Ashoura'a - the festival marking the memory of martyrdom - fell two weeks ago and is celebrated by all Muslims, but particularly by the Shia, who march and beat themselves until blood pours from their wounds to wash their guilt. Extremists would consider themselves absolved of guilt for betraying Hussein by committing the ultimate sacrifice.

The fact that such martyrdom would appeal most of all to Iraqi Shias - and al-Noamani was a Shia - could prove problematic for the coalition forces, which are still hoping for a Shia rebellion against Saddam.

The Shia were the first in modern times to use suicide bombings with a devastating attack in 1983 that killed almost 300 US marines in Beirut.

Saturday's suicide bombing, however, clearly demonstrates that for some Shia extremists the choice of heavenly glory for themselves and earthly wealth for their families may be preferable to the uncertainty and dangers of rising up against the ruling Ba'ath party.

Saddam already has a long track record of encouraging suicide attacks, rewarding Palestinians with sums ranging from 16,000 to 63,000, regardless of whether their targets were military checkpoints or innocent civilians in shopping malls. The rewards have so far totalled 22 million.

"We will use any means to kill our enemy in our land and we will follow the enemy into its land," Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said. "This is just the beginning. You'll hear more pleasant news later."

Saddam hopes that further suicide attacks will make the advancing Allied force more jumpy, causing them to treat Iraqi civilians with the kind of brusque suspicion with which Israeli conscripts have treated Palestinians.

According to an Arab diplomat who returned from Iraq at the weekend, this would increase resentment and anti-Americanism, making it harder than ever for American forces to win "hearts and minds" in Iraq.

13 March 2003: Saddams Palestinian bounty
30 May 2002: Saddam spends millions to win hearts in Jenin
19 February 2001: Palestinians hail their local hero Saddam