On 1st February this year, two “suicide” bombers exploded material in two outdoor pet markets in Baghdad, Iraq, killing nearly 100 people.
A senior Iraqi military official claimed shortly afterwards that the two women had Down’s Syndrome and that their vests were detonated by remote control. Major General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of US forces in Baghdad, showed photographs of the alleged bombers to a small number of journalists and commented: “These two women were likely used because they didn’t understand what was happening and were less likely to be searched”. One journalist who was at the press conference, Larry Kaplow, of Newsweek, described the photographs thus: “They looked like they could have been sisters—young women, with the same brown tint to their straight hair, round, smooth cheeks. Both were decapitated just under the chin, but their faces were eerily intact, almost serene… And, according to Iraqi officials, both women had Down’s Syndrome. The theory is that they were tricked into carrying the explosives.” Condoleeza Rice, US secretary of state commented that such a use of disabled people demonstrated the “absolute bankruptcy and brutality of the enemy of the people of Iraq.”
But some sources are now concerned about the story. Indeed, Larry Kaplow, when I contacted him to ask whether he was sure that the alleged bombers were disabled, said: “Some characteristics were there but not conclusive proof.” And a spokeswoman for the Multi-national Forces press desk in Baghdad said only, when questioned further, that “initial medical reports indicate that the women appeared to be disabled.” Bob Lamburne, director for forensic services in Baghdad for the British Embassy, goes further. He says that suggesting that the two bombers had Down’s Syndrome from photographs was “dangerous” and that the “diagnosis would have to be more scientific than that.” Another journalist, Stephen Farrell of the New York Times, says that there are plenty of reasons to doubt the assertion and has noted that “Iraqi officials have made similar claims in the past.”
So why make such claims? There seem to be three possibilities. Firstly, such a story will, of course, sicken decent thinking people around the world. Secondly, the story helps Iraqi and US forces with the propaganda war, in that it suggests al Qaeda has run out of volunteers and is so morally bankrupt that it will murder disabled people. And thirdly, of course, it could be true.