WASHINGTON—Most people would never suspect the lowly donkey of being an instrument of terror—which is exactly why anti-U.S. insurgents used the beasts to launch rocket attacks Friday on two hotels and the Oil Ministry in Baghdad.
The coordinated strikes were a twist in the age-old practice of asymmetric warfare, in which weaker forces identify and then exploit the vulnerabilities of their better-armed enemy.
This kind of unconventional strike doesn't have to inflict major casualties and damage to succeed. Just pulling off such an audacious act deals a blow, as occurred Friday in the heavily guarded heart of Baghdad.
"Any attack in a sensitive location takes on a political message far more powerful than the attack itself," said Anthony Cordesman, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy institute.
U.S. officials have identified asymmetric warfare as a growing danger.
Foes and potential rivals, they warn, are seeking ways to strike the world's sole superpower while avoiding direct confrontations that they would almost certainly lose.
"The threats we have faced have not been so much large armies, large navies and large air forces locked in great battle, but suicide bombers, cyberterrorists and low-intensity warfare and the spreading contagion of weapons of mass destruction," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said during a visit in August to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq have been preoccupied with attacks by suicide bombers driving explosives-ladened trucks, gunmen in speeding white pickups or guerrillas planting roadside devices.
So in Friday's attacks, the insurgents used donkeys, a common feature of Iraqi street life, to pull into position carts carrying multiple rocket launchers hidden under agricultural produce.
There are many other examples of unconventional methods of attack.
In Sri Lanka in 1993, a member of the Tamil rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, rode a bicycle close enough to assassinate Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa.
During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Islamic guerrillas hit the largest ammunition dump in the country with rockets fired from launchers made out of sticks. Dozens of Afghan regime soldiers died and tens of thousands of tons of ammunition were destroyed in the massive explosion.
The United States experienced asymmetrical warfare on Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida terrorists hijacked commercial aircraft and used them as flying bombs.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.