Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has raised the amount offered to relatives of suicide bombers from $10,000 per family to $25,000, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Wednesday.
Since Iraq upped its payments last month, 12 suicide bombers have successfully struck inside Israel, including one man who killed 25 Israelis, many of them elderly, as they sat down to a meal at a hotel to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover. The families of three suicide bombers said they have recently received payments of $25,000.
Palestinians say the bombers are driven by a priceless thirst for revenge, religious zeal and dreams of glory — not greed.
Mahmoud Safi, leader of a pro-Iraqi Palestinian group, the Arab Liberation Front, acknowledged that the support payments for relatives make it easier for some potential bombers to make up their minds. "Some people stop me on the street, saying if you increase the payment to $50,000 I'll do it immediately," Safi said. He also suggested such remarks were made mostly in jest.
Saddam has said the Palestinians need weapons and money instead of peace proposals and has provided payments throughout a year and a half of Israeli-Palestinian battles. "I saw on Iraqi TV President Saddam saying he will continue supporting the (uprising) even if it means selling his own clothes," said Safi.
Rumsfeld, who said earlier this week that Saddam and the Iraqi government were offering the lower amount, elaborated on the issue at a Pentagon briefing.
"It turns out that he has raised that amount and it's $25,000 per family, not $10,000 per family," Rumsfeld said.
"Here is an individual who is the head of a country, Iraq, who has proudly, publicly made a decision to go out and actively promote and finance human sacrifice for families that will have their youngsters kill innocent men, women and children," Rumsfeld said.
Though he did not say so, he appeared to refer to the current wave of suicide bombings on Israeli civilian targets.
"I am simply trying to let the people of Iraq understand what their leadership is doing, to let the people of the Middle East and the rest of the world ... know what is in fact being done to arm young people and send them out to blow up restaurants and shopping malls and pizza parlors," he said.
Rumsfeld blasted Iraq, Iran and Syria on Monday for inflaming violence in the Middle East, and said he raised the issue of Iraq on Wednesday to suggest it was important to "recognize that there is an infrastructure to terrorism."
Rumsfeld said Saddam had stated publicly the payment for families "if they're able to persuade a family to have their teen-ager strap explosives on them and go out and kill themselves and kill innocent men, women and children."
"He is pleased with his idea and is promoting it in the region," Rumsfeld said of Saddam. "It is a matter of public record."
Under the new Iraqi payscale, decided on March 12 during an Arab conference in Baghdad, the families of gunmen and others who die fighting the Israelis will still receive $10,000, while the relatives of suicide bombers will get $25,000.
Safi and two others from the Arab Liberation Front visit families in the northern West Bank and make the payments. "We go to every family and give them a check," he said. "We tell them that this is a gift from President Saddam and Iraq."
But Saddam is not the only one giving money. Charities from Saudi Arabia and Qatar — both U.S. allies — pay money to families of Palestinians killed in the fighting, including suicide bombers.