Light, portable and easy to lay, sticky bombs are tucked quickly under the bumper of a car or into a chink in a blast wall. Since they are detonated remotely, they rarely harm the person who lays them. And as security in Baghdad has improved, the small and furtive bomb — though less lethal than entire cars or even thick suicide belts packed with explosive — is fast becoming the device of choice for a range of insurgent groups.
They are also contributing, in the midst of an uptick in violence, to a growing feeling of unease in the capital. “You take a bit of C4 or some other type of compound,” said Lt. Col. Steven Stover, a spokesman for the United States military in Baghdad. “You can go into a hardware store, take the explosive and combine it with an accelerant, put some glass or marble or bits of metal in front of it and you’ve basically got a homemade Claymore,” a common antipersonnel mine.
Sticky bombs are not an Iraqi innovation. “Limpet mines” were attached to the sides of ships during World War II, and magnetic booby traps were used during the conflict in Northern Ireland. Magnetic I.E.D.’s, or improvised explosive devices, were first used in Iraq in late 2004 or early in 2005, according to the American military.
According to figures from Iraq’s Interior Ministry, sticky bombs killed 3 people and wounded 18 in Baghdad alone during the month of July. In October, 9 people were killed and 46 more were injured by sticky bombs. Casualty rates caused by sticky bombs are still relatively low. But recent raids on insurgent groups have uncovered caches of the bombs, even “sticky bomb factories,” Colonel Stover said. And magnetic I.E.D.’s have recently been made an explicit part of the training that American soldiers in Baghdad receive.
“We make our soldiers aware of the latest threat, and the latest I.E.D. threat is these magnetic I.E.D.’s,” he said. “We put them in their hands and say, ‘Hey, soldier, this is what this thing looks like.’ They’re sometimes used against us — our vehicles are metallic, too.” Iraqi and United States officials acknowledge that “sticky bombs” have been an effective means of spreading terror among Iraqi urban populations but note that, paradoxically, the bombs are also a sign that terrorists are finding it harder to move freely.
Sticky bombs have frequently been used to attack Iraqi government and military officials and important businessmen. In July, Faris Amir, the deputy general director of Baghdad’s traffic police, was wounded by a sticky bomb attack. In September, an executive at Al Arabiya, the satellite channel, narrowly survived an assassination attempt by sticky bomb, which destroyed his car. In October, the lawyer Waleed al-Azzawi and the police commander of Diwaniya Province, Omar Abu Atra, were killed in Baghdad by sticky bombs.
General Jabieri said that at first “a lot of the sticky bombs came from outside Iraq and local insurgents were trained how to detonate them and attach them to cars. But we’re seeing sticky bombs produced locally in the last couple of months after increasing security measures on the border.”
Sticky bombs are usually designed so that they may be detonated by cellphone, General Jabieri said. “They ring the phone when they want to explode the bomb,” he added. “When the sticky bombs started to emerge it was easy to find them because they were usually attached under the fuel tank.” But the bombs are getting steadily smaller, General Jabieri said. Sometimes, he said, they are painted to better match the paint jobs of their victims’ cars.