Army Brig. Gen. Richard Formica, who investigated abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, has launched a wide-ranging inquiry into security lapses that apparently allowed a suicide bomber...

Share story

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Army Brig. Gen. Richard Formica, who investigated abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, has launched a wide-ranging inquiry into security lapses that apparently allowed a suicide bomber to penetrate into a packed mess hall at a base near Mosul and kill more than 20 people, authorities said yesterday.

“Now we have a pretty good idea that it was a suicide bomber,” said Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a spokesman at the Mosul base. Formica “is going to investigate into the how’s — how did that happen?”

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Hastings said the Mosul investigation will be “conducted quickly and thoroughly” but that there was no deadline for its conclusions.

The Mosul blast killed 22 people, most of them American soldiers and civilians — the deadliest single attack on a U.S. base in Iraq. The success of the attack — the Islamic group known as the Ansar al-Sunnah Army claimed responsibility — prompted calls for a thorough investigation on ways to prevent future suicide attacks.

The U.S. military suspects a suicide bomber, possibly wearing an Iraqi military uniform, got into the crowded mess tent to carry out Tuesday’s lunchtime attack at the Mosul base. Investigators are also trying to determine if the attacker had inside help.

“This operation is much more sophisticated than previous ones,” Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on Muslim militants, said. “There seems to be more cooperation between the resistance groups and the Iraqis working with the Americans and Iraqis in general.”

Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of Task Force Olympia, the main U.S. force in northern Iraq, told CNN yesterday he feared insurgents could use such successes to attract volunteers.

Militants “will use this as a recruiting tool, … as evidence of their success and ability to strike at us and at legitimate Iraqi governmental officials,” Ham said.

Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin, a senior Iraqi National Guard officer in the northern city of Kirkuk, said some potential suicide attackers go through training that includes religious lectures designed to convince listeners that Jews, Christians and Muslims who disagree with the extremists are all infidels who should be fought.

Suicide bombers also are recruited at mosques and through personal, ethnic or religious networks. The Iraqi government has cracked down on mosques and television channels it accuses of inciting violence.

It’s mostly militant Islamic groups — not loyalists of the ousted Saddam Hussein regime, many of whom are secularists — who favor suicide bombings, security officials say. The Ansar al-Sunnah Army is thought to want an Islamic theocracy in Iraq.

The average suicide bomber is 19 to 25 years old and poor and has minimal education, making him more susceptible to indoctrination, a senior U.S. military official in Baghdad said.

Many Iraqi officials insist most suicide bombers are foreign fighters, pointing to anecdotal evidence of arrests of Saudis, Yemenis and Syrians. But the U.S. official, who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity, said Iraqis are as involved as foreigners in staging suicide attacks.

In November alone, Iraq saw 133 car bombings, 29 percent of which were suicide operations, according to the U.S. military.

Rashwan, the Egyptian expert, argued that U.S. security practices like raiding homes and mosques where militants are suspected of hiding, have stoked anger among Iraqis, prompting some of them — driven by religious or nationalist zeal — to volunteer for suicide attacks.

Rashwan said that by killing themselves, bombers try to make up for the difference between the militants’ lesser armaments and those of the U.S. military.

And the psychological effects on the bombings’ targets can be as devastating as the physical destruction, he said.

“You can defuse a car bomb, but how can you stop a person who wants to kill himself? You cannot,” he said.