Monday's car bomb attack in Iraq, which killed at least 125 people and left scores of others wounded, was the bloodiest terrorist incident in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Yet, despite the carnage, some see signs of progress in the battle against the insurgency, with the apprehension of the former dictator's half brother and the capture of a lieutenant of terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Iraq's anti-insurgency efforts could also get a boost from local television broadcasts of purported confessions of captured terrorist operatives.
Amid an almost-daily drumbeat of violence and bloodshed, Iraq's minister of national security, Qassim Dawood, could not help but smile last week when telling reporters about the capture of an al-Zarqawi co-plotter. "We have reached a point very close to al-Zarqawi, and you will hear good news shortly," Mr. Dawood said.
Even more expressions of satisfaction have been heard since Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan, half-brother and former advisor to Saddam Hussein, was taken into custody, reportedly with Syrian assistance.
Iraqi officials are eager to demonstrate that they are aggressively pursuing every avenue toward a more secure nation. Yet, horrific attacks, like Monday's car bombing, have always been more visible to the public than subsequent investigations and detentions of suspects, until now, that is.
Iraqi television has begun broadcasting what it says are the confessions of detained insurgents. The program, called "Terrorists in the Hands of Justice," has featured men claiming to have carried out beheadings and bombings, in some cases with the alleged backing of Syrian operatives.
Speaking on the U.S. ABC television network, Interior Ministry Spokesman Sabah Kadhim said, in the face of horrific bloodshed, simply announcing the capture of suspected terrorists is not enough.
"The people say, 'Well, if you have these people [in custody], why do you not show them?'"
The authenticity of the taped confessions has yet to be verified, and it is unknown to what extent detainees may have been coerced to speak in front of a camera. But the television program already appears to be having an impact on those who have seen it.
One Baghdad resident condemned the insurgents as Iraq's enemies.
"In fact such elements have affected the people and country, and they are saboteurs," he said.
Reports quote Iraqi police officials as saying they have been getting more tips about insurgents since "Terrorists in the Hands of Justice" began airing.
But what of a longer-term impact? By channeling popular outrage and resentment over terrorist plots, could the program truly weaken the insurgency? Could it lead Iraqis who are embittered over the prolonged U.S. military presence in their country to re-direct their anger?
Probably not, according to Muqtedar Khan, a scholar of U.S.-Islamic relations at Washington's Brookings Institution. "When Sunnis watch these tapes, they are going to respond by saying that these people [suspected insurgents] are being forced to do it as a product of torture. The Shiites are going to see these tapes as what is already known," he said.Mr. Khan says confessions of suspected insurgents will have a greater impact, if and when U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, at which point the terrorists will no longer be able to say they are fighting a foreign occupation.