Jihad of the Mujaidaat

Female suicide bombers have recently had an increased impact in the Iraq War.

As the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War billowed into civil unrest in Washington, a female suicide bomber blew herself up in the town of Balad Ruz just northeast of Baghdad, killing at least five people. Perhaps such action from female suicide bombers (known as the Mujaidaat) symbolizes the current strength of al-Qaida’s efforts to rid the Middle East of American presence.

In an attempt to keep in line with Quranic doctrine, al-Qaida and other terrorist networks have been reluctant to use women to carry out bombings. Since the United States invasion of Iraq, women have accounted for 18 bombings of both soft and hard targets. However, the chronology of these attacks is heavily weighted toward the present day. In 2007, the Mujaidaat accounted for seven suicide bombings. Correspondingly, the recent March 19th bombing was the second attack that had taken place that week (which is the first time two female suicide bombers had successfully hit their targets in the same week) and already the eighth attack in 2008.

Farhana Ali, a terrorism specialist (and perhaps foremost authority on the study of female terrorists) at RAND Corporation claims female bombers give the jihadists a “tactical edge” in gaining a status of power in the war in Iraq. Women have less difficulty approaching their targets because bombs can easily be concealed under a burqa (a robe worn by some Muslim women that covers the body from head to toe), and can make explosive devices appear as nothing more than a pregnant belly.

Ali also points out that there is much more to al-Qaida’s transition to the Mujaidaat than just strategic effectiveness. In the Hadith and Wahhabist texts (schools of Islamic thought) there is nothing more important to a mother than her son. She further notes, “When a woman loses her son to occupation forces for whatever reason, it may be Ö such an enormous loss and grief that it could only be motivation she needs to exact revenge.”

Ali and other analysts have also noticed that the recruitment process for female jihadists has been unlike what they have seen in the past. Baghdad military spokesman Maj. Bradford Leighton (who is of no known relation to your St. James’ columnist) told The Washington Times that, “Most suicide bombers tend to be male foreigners from either northeast Africa or Saudi Arabia. With women, it appears terrorists are recruiting Iraqi women as well as foreigners.” Furthermore, intelligence has gathered cases of Iraqi women, who have mutually lost a son or husband to jihad, talking over the Internet about considering joining the cause of the Mujaidaat.

Your correspondent argues that al-Qaida adopting tactics that were once unacceptable solidifies the belief that al-Qaida in Iraq is being stretched thin. On this point, a distinction needs to be made that al-Qaida in Iraq claimed reference to Osama bin Laden after it was formed (in Iraq he is more of a personality figure than a commander). Also, failed jihadi actors have testified in prison that using females to carry out their missions is not desirable, and have commented, “It would take 10 women bombers to have the effect of one man.”

The United States’ military press center has been eager to comment on the recent upsurge of Mujaidaat activity stating, “The use of female bombers, which runs counter to Arabic values, whereby women are supposed to be protected, is precisely the kind of reprehensible activity that has turned Iraqis against al-Qaida.” Although some Iraqis do empathize with al-Qaida’s ideological outcries, the use of women and other acts of violence has helped make Islamic fundamentalism become viewed as increasingly hypocritical in Muslim popular culture.

Understanding the rationale behind female jihadist will be a fundamental step for counterterrorism authorities. Ali cautions that this task will be difficult, because successful female terrorists have failed to fit into a recognizable profile. In addition, the Mujaidaat have exhibited multiple motives for taking terrorist action as opposed to more generalized fatwas by Osama bin Laden calling for religious purity. Some progress has been made by Ali and others by creating four main types of motivation by the Mujaidaat. This lexicon includes seeking revenge for lost family members, becoming an equal partner in jihad, recruiting other women to lead by example, and gaining respect from the larger Muslim community for her sacrifice or martyrdom.

So far the Mujaidaat have directly killed over 140 Iraqis this year, a number that is expected to increase. It is crucial to mention that most Iraqi women do not support extremist groups and terrorist networks. Unfortunately, a stance of such opposition can place women on hit lists for jihadi actors. Creating stability and freedom for women in Iraq will come with increased security measures, a heightened awareness of the Mujaidaat problem, and an effort by the Iraqi people to utilize the help by the international community to resolve this conflict. As long as the war in Iraq continues, women will increasingly be forced into the position of becoming a terrorist, or a victim of terrorism.

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