A teenage Iraqi girl has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for attempting to blow herself up at a checkpoint in north-eastern Iraq, but questions remain as to whether she was victim or villain.
Rania Ibrahim was sentenced in a juvenile court on Sunday for the attempted attack in August 2008 on Iraqi forces near the town of Baquba, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, a provincial judge, Zaid Khalaf, said today.
The incident was captured in dramatic police footage that was seen around the world on the internet, but conflicting accounts surrounded her arrest from the outset. US officials said the 15-year-old turned herself in after being wired up to the explosives against her will, while Iraqi police said she was caught by a patrol after arousing suspicion while walking in Baquba town centre.
After her arrest, a video of Ibrahim's confession was released to the media. In the first part of the video, Ibrahim is seen standing in a street, handcuffed to a metal railings attached to a wall behind her. A police officer is heard saying she seemed to have been drugged. Another officer opens her robe, and shouts out to his colleagues, apparently to confirm he spotted a vest that was later found to be packed with explosives.
In the second part of the video, and with reporters present, Ibrahim first said she was given the vest by women she did not know. But moments later, she said the explosives were strapped to her by female relatives of her husband. She said she was shown the vest's two detonators and told how to use them.
Throughout her trial, Ibrahim stuck by the story that the two women put the vest on her. But the court concentrated on the fact that Ibrahim was in possession of an explosives vest and was caught wearing it.
Last year, female suicide bombers carried out or attempted 32 attacks, compared with eight in 2007, according to the US military. There have been several female suicide bomb attacks this year. In March, one targeted Shia worshippers in Karbala, killing at least 49 people.
In January, police arrested a 52-year-old woman, Samira Ahmed Jassim, for allegedly recruiting female suicide bombers. But the "Mother of Believers" – the accused matriarch of al-Qaida's female suicide bombers – told the Guardian she was simply a shopkeeper.
"That's all I am. I don't know how to read or write. How could I possibly be responsible for all of this?" she said in June, saying that she had been tortured into making a video confession.
US and Iraqi forces have stepped up efforts to recruit and train female police officers to search women at checkpoints and entrances to public buildings. Iraqi policemen are reluctant to search women.
In a separate development, the Iraqi government announced that it would dismantle the towering concrete blast walls that went up at the height of the sectarian violence. Although the walls helped to reduce violence, they also divided the city, separating one community from another. The walls are to come down in the next 40 days, Iraqi officials said.
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