Video: Iraqi women becoming more active insurgents

By Richard Engel Chief foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/10/2007 7:40:59 PM ET 2007-04-10T23:40:59

Most often, the images of Iraqi insurgents are of men firing mortars or destroying humvees. But there's another face — of female insurgents.

Of the hundreds of suicide bombings in Iraq, at least seven have been carried out by women — like the one at a Baghdad university in February. Some 40 people were killed.

And insurgents are using more women.

"Women are not only more difficult to stop, but they also tend to be much more successful," says Mia Bloom, a counterterrorism expert at the University of Georgia. They are less likely to be stopped at the entrance to a restaurant, a club or a bus. And they can get in more deeply and cause more damage.

In Iraqi culture, men almost never pat down women. Insurgent leaders know women will pass right through checkpoints.

Tonight I spoke by phone with a 20-year-old woman called Maha. Afraid to meet in person, she said she wants to be a suicide bomber.

"I am tired of living this life," she says through a translator. "I am alone and there is no one here for me."

Her motive: revenge. Five months ago, Shiite militias killed Maha's two brothers, and then burned her home. 

Maha told us a male neighbor saw she was depressed, and then took her to an all-female insurgent cell. They taught Maha how to hide a suicide belt under her loose clothing. 

"Those women who are being employed by the insurgency, they are being manipulated," says Raghida Dergham of Al-Hayat, an Iraqi newspaper.

Iraqi police say women often play a supporting role, sheltering insurgents, looking after hostages, or smuggling weapons. Unlike Iraqi soldiers, U.S. troops do search Iraqi women, but only with female soldiers or interpreters — and both here are in short supply.

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