BAGHDAD, Iraq – As more people lose loved ones to the relentless violence, Iraqis are becoming increasingly angry at insurgents, even staging public demonstrations condemning militants.
While it is impossible to precisely gauge public opinion, it is clear many Iraqis have grown tired of two years of insecurity, and some are directing their wrath at those behind the bombings and attacks.
"I demand that they be put in the zoo along with the other scavengers, because that is where they belong," said Bassam Yassin, who lost his brother to an insurgent attack in Mosul (search). He spoke Wednesday after relatives of victims protested outside a police station in that northern city.
Iraq's majority Shiite Arabs and ethnic Kurds have long criticized the largely Sunni Arab insurgency, portraying the militants as terrorists, loyalists of the Saddam Hussein (search) regime and foreign fighters.
But the insurgents are now also being criticized publicly by prominent Sunnis (search), including opponents of the U.S. presence.
"The real resistance should only target the occupiers, and no normal person should consider dozens of dead people to be some kind of collateral damage while you are trying to kill somebody else," cleric Ahmed Abdul-Ghafur told worshippers Friday at Um al-Qura, the main Sunni mosque in Baghdad. "Everybody should speak out against such inhumane acts."
The growing anger was underlined this week in Hillah, a predominantly Shiite Muslim city south of Baghdad where a suicide car bombing killed 125 people Monday — the deadliest single attack since Saddam's ouster.
It touched a nerve in Hillah. More than 2,000 people chanting "No to terrorism!" demonstrated Tuesday outside the clinic where the bomber drove into a crowd of Iraqi police and army recruits, setting off an explosion that also killed civilians at a nearby market.
On Friday, hostility to the insurgency apparently boiled over into bloodshed in Wihda, 25 miles south of Baghdad. Townsmen attacked militants thought to be planning a raid on the town and killed seven, police Capt. Hamadi al-Zubeidy reported.
Anger against insurgents is being fed, in part, by a government television campaign. Last week, U.S.-financed Al-Iraqiya TV aired a series of reports showing men describing themselves as insurgents calmly talking about how they had beheaded dozens of people, kidnapped others for ransom, and raped women and girls before killing them.
"People are realizing that the captured insurgents are not superheroes. They are timid people who kill for money and they have nothing to do with jihad," said Karim Humadi, head of programming for Al-Iraqiya.
Insurgents have attacked Nineveh TV, Al-Iraqiya's affiliate in Mosul, where most of the purported confessions were taped.
Last week, gunmen kidnapped one of the Mosul station's anchorwomen, shot her four times in the head and dumped her near her home. The victim, Raiedah Mohammed Wageh Wazan, had called the insurgents "terrorists" on air.
The anger over deaths caused by insurgents does not always translate into acceptance of U.S. troops, who are still widely blamed for the chaos in Iraq. And many people support the insurgents, arguing they are fighting a just war to rid the country of U.S.-led troops who invaded in 2003.
"The Iraqi people are brave and won't accept any foreigner on their soil. They will fight the occupation troops until force them to leave Iraq," said Haitham Abdul Razak, who was a captain in Saddam's army, which was disbanded by U.S. authorities.
Although American military deaths in Iraq passed 1,500 this week, they do not approach the toll among Iraqi civilians and their security forces. Bombings and other attacks killed more than 300 Iraqis just in February.
Groups like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq have made no secret that they hope attacks aimed at Iraq's Shiite majority will provoke Shiites into a sectarian war with Sunni Arabs, who make up the core of the insurgency.
They hope such a war will mobilize the Sunni Arab community, thought to comprise 15 percent to 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people but who dominated under Saddam's regime.
Yet the insurgents' tactics are increasingly denounced by prominent Sunnis like Abdul-Ghafur, a cleric with the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, believed to have ties to insurgents.
"This is not the right way to drive the occupation out ... killing Iraqis is not the way to liberation," he told worshippers. "We call upon those who have power over these groups to stop massacring Iraqis."