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Iraq's "Martyr Bonus" To Suicide Bombers Controversial In Arab World

by Ferry Biedermann

Arafat, by Feeding on Martyrdom, Dooms His People
(IPS) RAMALLAH -- Mohammed Shkukeini received a $25,000 check just a few months ago from Iraq to compensate him for the 'martyrdom' of his eldest son, Amar.

Amar, 24, had gone to blow himself up in a car near a Tel Aviv disco in May last year but was shot before he could reach the entrance. The car exploded and a dozen people were wounded.

"This check is not going to make me support Iraq more," said a still mourning Shkukeini. "I already supported Iraq before this. They have always helped the Palestinian people."

Iraq is said to have distributed some $35 million to families of Palestinians who were killed or wounded in the latest intifada resistance and towards some reconstruction of demolished buildings.

One very controversial aspect of the aid is the difference it makes between ordinary 'martyrs' of Israeli violence and those militants who die in successful attacks on Israelis. The families of the ordinary victims get $10,000, rather than the $25,000 for the families of the successful militants.

Even with the military strike against his regime looming, Saddam Hussein's emissaries continued handing out the largesse last weekend in Gaza. The Arab Liberation Front, a Palestinian faction with close ties to the Iraqi Baath party, organized the now familiar 'festivals' where a number of families received the money together.

The donations are accompanied by speeches and the chanting of slogans in support of Saddam Hussein.

Israel and the U.S. as well as some others in the international community contend that Iraq is encouraging attacks on Israeli civilians by putting up a bonus for the families of the attackers.

Palestinians reject this resolutely. "All the money in the world is not worth even a nail on the finger of my son," says Shkukeini.

Still, even Palestinians admit that the toll taken by the current Israeli crackdown has reduced many to extreme poverty and despair. Some speculate that this has contributed to the readiness of militants to carry out suicide attacks. In the rest of the world it is not unheard of that people commit suicide so that their families can claim their life insurance.

It is not such a huge leap to speculate that the extra high bonus form Iraq may at least have played a supplementary role in the decision of some to sacrifice themselves. But many Palestinians say that the Israeli policy of demolishing the homes of the families of the attacker is an effective deterrent.

To begin with, Mohammed Shkukeini totally rejects the notion that his son Amar may have thought even in the slightest about the money for his family. "We didn't even know that there was such a reward."

However, it emerges that Mohammed and four of his sons had in January 2002 attended one of the ALF festivals, in the Merryland Hotel in Ramallah. The sons each received $500 from Iraq for the wounds they had sustained during the intifada.

Amar's brother Umran, 18, says he spent the money on snacks and CDs and that Amar did not save any of it either. He never heard Amar mention that he intended to carry out an attack, let alone that he wanted to do it for the money.

At the ALF office in Ramallah, a large picture of Saddam Hussein hangs next to that of the Front's leader, Raked Salem, who has been arrested by Israel. "The Israelis are also looking for me," says a leader of the ALF who only wants to be identified as Abu Ala'a.

"We don't decide who gets money and how much. Those decisions are taken directly in Iraq, including the difference in the payments to the families of martyrs who died in attacks," says Abu Ala'a.

This confirms Israeli assertions that they have found documents in the Palestinian territories that bear the signature of Iraq's vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan.

The ALF does not in any way profit from the payments, says Abu Ala'a. "Neither we nor Iraq get more support because of it. That is not the reason anyway that we give the aid."

He rejects the notion that the bonus to the families of attackers encourages suicide attacks, saying that militants are motivated purely by 'nationalist ideals'. Iraq, says Abu Ala'a, pays more to the families of attackers, "to show appreciation for those people."

Israel contends that the Palestinian Authority itself is involved in the payments, in order to encourage attacks. But the PA has publically expresses deep misgivings about the donations.

"We do not approve of donations that are distributed independently of the PA," says Azzam Al-Ahmed, Minster of Public Works and decade-long PLO-ambassador to Iraq. "It is very difficult at the moment to combine the jobs," he says, because "the Israelis make travel very difficult."

"A money stream like that only undermines the authority of the PA," says Al-Ahmed. He appreciates Iraq support but says Saddam Hussein has his own agenda. "All the Arab countries only use the Palestinians for their own purpose."

He links the aid to the ambition of Saddam and his Baath party to lead the Arab world. Also, Iraq is one of the leaders of the 'rejectionist' camp that did not agree to the peace process between Israel and the PLO.

Al-Ahmed may be right that the support undermines the PA. Mohammed Darraj received $10,000 from Iraq after his son Obai was killed in his room by Israeli shots from the nearby Jewish settlement of Psagot at the beginning of the intifada.

He also received $2,000 from the PA. "The PA received a lot more money from other donor countries for distribution to the families of the victims," asserts Darraj. "They put the money in their own pockets, they are so corrupt."

Darraj does not mind that his innocent son's life is apparently worth less to the Iraqis than that of a militant. "They have the right to make that judgement. It is their money and they can do with it whatever they want."

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Albion Monitor March 20, 2003 (

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