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Iraqi woman describes daughter's descent into suicide bombing

  • Story Highlights
  • U.S. military reports 19 female suicide bombers in Iraq this year, up from 8 in 2007
  • Authorities say al Qaeda in Iraq targets desperate women who seek revenge
  • Many women bombers have lost male relatives to the war, officials say
  • Iraqi and U.S. officials fear more women will turn themselves into bombs
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By Arwa Damon
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The mother's voice lacks emotion as she recalls how her daughter became a suicide bomber.

A woman used this car in a February 13 attack in Iraq. "God willing, she went to heaven," her mother says.

"She wanted to die in the name of God," she says on a videotape, her face peering out from under a dark brown head scarf.

"She told me she is sick of this life. ... So she spoke about the Americans. I told her, 'Where will you get Americans?' She said she will go after the Americans." Video Watch as the mother tells her story »

The daughter is one of 19 female suicide bombers this year, a number much higher than in previous years. According to the U.S. military, women carried out eight bombings in all of 2007.

In the February 13 attack, the daughter posed as a journalist with an English-speaking male accomplice, claiming that they had an interview with a prominent Iraqi tribal leader who works with U.S. forces.

Four guards protecting Sheikh Ifan al-Isawi were killed in the attack. Al-Isawi brought the mother in for questioning, and CNN obtained the video of the interrogation.

"God willing, she went to heaven," said the woman, whose son also was a suicide bomber in 2004. "She told me, 'Mom, I want to do it.' "

The latest bombing involving a female came Friday, when a man and woman targeted an Iraqi police checkpoint in Ramadi, west of Baghdad. The explosion wounded three police and two civilians, said an official with the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

Authorities said that al Qaeda in Iraq actively is recruiting women and that increasing numbers of women are offering themselves up for missions. The officials said the women are desperate and hopeless. Most have pre-existing ties to the insurgency, and their main motive is revenge for a male family member killed by U.S. or Iraqi forces in the war, authorities said.

"We do see certain members of cells attempting to persuade women, specifically in many cases wives of those who have been killed as terrorists, to conduct suicide operations," said U.S. Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, whose area of operations includes the volatile province of Diyala.

"Since October, there have been nine suicide bombers who were female, seven of whom were recruited in the last 90 days," Hertling said.

Hertling's troops in Diyala have launched operations targeting members of families of suspected female bombers trying to break up the rings that are recruiting the women and girls. The U.S. military said it has six females in custody who were would-be suicide bombers. The youngest is 14, one U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Intelligence gathered from detainees indicates that al Qaeda in Iraq is looking for women with three main characteristics: those who are illiterate, are deeply religious or have financial struggles because most likely they've lost the male head of the household.

"They are also looking for someone who is young," Hertling said. "They will bypass an older widow."

Sheikh Adel Fahdawi, a Sunni leader, added, "If the woman's psychological state is bad, they try to lure her with the illusions that she will be going to heaven. ... All of them come from the families of terrorists, and they are being recruited and pressured."

In one bombing this year, a woman approached a police station in Diyala sobbing about her son. One witness said the woman referred to the local police commander as a "good man," adding, "I came for help." While she was being searched, her explosives detonated.

A woman who went to the bomb scene expressed outrage that another female would carry out such an attack.

Another female bomber used a similar tactic at an Iraqi army headquarters in Yusufiya, south of Baghdad, asking for the commanding officer, authorities said. As he approached, she blew herself up. The U.S. military detained a woman who it said confessed to being her handler.

"She was the person on the ground responsible for coordinating the final day or two of the attack," Capt. Michael Starz said. "[She] helped her prepare the device. ... She helped her affix it to her body."

According to U.S. intelligence, al Qaeda in Iraq uses suicide missions carried out by women to pressure its male fighters to step up and offer themselves up for attacks.

Classified documents given to CNN also indicate that the terrorist group is having increasing difficulty smuggling foreign fighters across the border from Syria after a recent military crackdown in the north.

The nationalities of most female bombers are unknown, but those identified in recent attacks are mainly Iraqi.

Females always have played a role in the insurgency in Iraq, helping feed militants, hiding them in their homes and helping sneak weapons around the country. They have proven to be highly effective in their operations as a result of the cultural convention that women are not to be searched.

Against a backdrop of such suffering and violence, U.S. and Iraqi officials said they fear that even more Iraqi women will turn themselves into bombs.


Fahdawi, the Sunni sheikh, said that more needs to be done to raise awareness through Iraq's imams, mosques and the media that al Qaeda in Iraq is preying on women.

"They need to expose the crime of al Qaeda. It is like the whole world is targeting Iraq," he said.

All About Al Qaeda in IraqWar and ConflictIraq War

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