Iraqi insurgents are no longer using just volunteers as suicide car bombers but are instead kidnapping drivers, rigging their vehicles with explosives and blowing them up, the Defense Ministry said Thursday.
In what appears to be a new tactic for the insurgency, the ministry said the kidnap victims do not know their cars have been loaded with explosives when they are released.
The ministry issued a statement saying that first "a motorist is kidnapped with his car. They then booby trap the car without the driver knowing. Then the kidnapped driver is released and threatened to take a certain road."
The kidnappers follow the car and when the unwitting victim "reaches a checkpoint, a public place, or an army or police patrol, the criminal terrorists following the driver detonate the car from a distance," the Defense Ministry statement said.
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. military. In the past, U.S. officials have said insurgents often tape or handcuff a suicide driver's hands to a car, or bind his foot to the gas pedal, to ensure that he does not back out at the last minute.
Although roadside bombs are the main weapon used by insurgents, suicide car bombers are designed to maximize casualties and sow fear among the population.
According to the Washington-based Brookings Institution, there have been 343 suicide car bombings causing multiple deaths in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
In other developments: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says "there's no way" the U.S. can lose the war in Iraq in military terms. But he says a long-term victory will require more than military power. Speaking to reporters after a meeting with House leaders on Capitol Hill, Rumsfeld said "political progress" and "a reconciliation process" among rival Iraqis are needed to bring stability to the country. Torture in Iraq may be worse now than it was under Saddam Hussein, with militias, terrorist groups and government forces disregarding rules on the humane treatment of prisoners, the U.N. anti-torture chief said Thursday. During a midday Baghdad bank robbery Thursday, an AP reporter saw about 15 armed men in three pickup trucks pull up outside a branch of the Rafidain Bank in the Karrada area, a downtown commercial area of the capital. The well-organized robbery appeared to witnesses to be a regular salary pickup. Two or three of the men entered the bank, then five people exiting with bags, accompanied by a man in civilian clothes who appeared to be carrying documents. In another incident, four employees of a government-owned company were kidnapped by eight armed men in three cars in the commercial heart of the capital as they left work, Khayyoun said. They left the victims' car on the spot and sped off, he said. Six more policemen were killed and one more was injured in an attack on a Baghdad police station in the Khadra neighborhood, when assailants first fired a mortar at the building then drove up in four cars and opened fire with machine guns, police said. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq's Human Rights office warned Wednesday that the number of Iraqi civilians killed in July and August hit 6,599, a record high number that is far greater than initial estimates had suggested and points to the grave sectarian crisis gripping the country. The U.S. military will likely maintain the current force levels of more than 140,000 troops in Iraq through next spring, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East said Tuesday in one of the gloomiest assessments yet of how quickly American forces can be brought home. Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, said the current number of troops "are prudent force levels."
Meanwhile, coalition forces moved ahead with plans to turn security responsibilities over to Iraqi troops by the end of 2007, as Italy formally handed the reins of the relatively quiet southern Dhi Qar province.
It was the second province of Iraq's 18 to be turned over to local control, and paves the way for most of Italy's 1,600 troops to return home by the end of the year — a campaign promise by new Prime Minister Romano Prodi.
The overall U.S. strategy calls for coalition forces to redeploy to larger bases and let Iraqis become responsible for their security in specific regions. The larger bases can act in a support or reserve role to Iraqi troops should they need help. No time frame has been set for the eventual drawdown of troops from Iraq.