SOMETIMES YOU don't know whether to laugh or cry. Time.com reported last week that the FBI had alerted law enforcement offices around America to be on the lookout for possible suicide bombers. Police forces were told to keep an eye out for people wearing bulky overcoats in the heat of summer, people with electric wires sticking out of their clothing, or people smelling of chemicals.
Unfortunately, such bizarre warnings could be the first of many, because while we have not found the WMD in Iraq, we have found there a disturbing number of PMDs - people of mass destruction.
Consider the car-bombing murder in Baghdad last week of Izzadine Saleem, the Shiite politician and president of the Iraqi Governing Council. According to news reports, Mr. Saleem was in a five-car convoy waiting in a line of cars to enter the Green Zone, the secure American complex in the heart of Baghdad. Suddenly, a Volkswagen Passat jumped out of the line of cars, raced toward his vehicle and blew up next to it, incinerating everything in the area.
We're so shell-shocked, we just treat this as another day, another suicide bomb in Iraq. But we need to think about this. My rough estimate is that there have been 50 to 75 suicide bomb attacks in Iraq in the last year. So the first question I have is this: Where are all these suicide bombers coming from? How do you just get these people off the shelf?
I don't buy it myself, but one can plausibly argue that 37 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank have made Palestinians so crazy that scores of them would have volunteered for suicide bombing missions over the last few years. But the U.S. "occupation" of Iraq is only a year old, and the suicide bombings started there within a few months of U.S. forces' arriving, to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein's warped tyranny. So what does that mean? It means that some group or groups have the ability to recruit a large pool of people willing to kill themselves in attacks against American or Iraqi targets on short notice - and we don't have a clue how this process works.
We don't know who these people are - although reports suggest they are coming from Europe, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia - how the underground railroad that gets them from their local mosques to Iraq, how they connect up with the operating cells in Iraq and how they get wired and indoctrinated for suicide missions.
"I don't think the PMDs are really a product of local Iraqi resentment against us," says Raymond Stock, an expert on Arabic literature and media based in Cairo, Egypt. "They are mainly imported cookie-cutter killers, created by a combination of Arab mass media, certain extremist elements in Muslim culture, and some very shrewd recruiting by al-Qaida and its ilk. When young, angry, futureless, sexually repressed people are taught that death is a permanent vacation of guilt-free pleasure, and they see it glorified in countless videos, all you need is a willing truck driver to ferry them over the border from Syria, Jordan, Turkey or Saudi Arabia and presto - a human bomb."
Whoever "they" are, they seem to be getting more and more sophisticated. What's worse is that these people are utter nihilists. At least Hamas has a stated political goal of ridding Palestine of all Jews and setting up an Islamic state there. The people running the suicide operations in Iraq, whether they are working independently or are just one organization, don't even claim credit, let alone make any demands. They just want to ensure that America fails to produce anything decent in Iraq, and they are ready to sacrifice all Iraqis for that end.
Extremely sophisticated nihilists, able to organize multiple suicide bombings right under our noses - for a year. It's another sign that we never had enough troops in Iraq, and have failed to train and equip a meaningful Iraqi police force to secure Iraq's borders or its interior - which is the necessary foundation for any decent outcome in Iraq.
But it's another reason we need to shift authority and security in Iraq to Iraqis as soon as they can handle it. Only they will have the ears needed to pick up the accents of PMDs, the eyes needed to know who doesn't belong and the smell for where these rotten apples are being stored to solve this PMD mystery. And only they will have the words in Arabic to delegitimize this suicide trend.
We must shut this play down before it comes to a theater near us.
Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.