One day soon, this somber young man plans to offer up a final prayer and then blow himself up along with as many U.S. or Iraqi soldiers as he can reach. Marwan Abu Ubeida says he has been training for months to carry out a suicide mission. He doesn't know when or where he will be ordered to climb into a bomb-laden vehicle or strap on an explosives-filled vest but says he is eager for the moment to come. While he waits, he spends much of his time rehearsing that last prayer. "First I will ask Allah to bless my mission with a high rate of casualties among the Americans," he says, speaking softly in a matter-of-fact monotone, as if dictating a shopping list. "Then I will ask him to purify my soul so I am fit to see him, and I will ask to see my mujahedin brothers who are already with him." He pauses to run the list through his mind again, then resumes: "The most important thing is that he should let me kill many Americans."
At 20, Marwan is already a battle-hardened insurgent, a jihadi foot soldier in Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi's terrorist group, al-Qaeda in Iraq. Like the bulk of insurgents, he is a Sunni Muslim from the former ruling minority community. In his hometown, Fallujah, he is known for his ferociousness in battle and deep religiosity. Marwan asked his commander to consider him for a suicide mission last fall but had to wait until the beginning of April for his name to be put on the list of volunteers. "When he finally agreed," Marwan recalls, "it was the happiest day of my life." There are, he says, scores of names on that list, and it can be months before a volunteer is assigned an operation. But at the current high rate of attacks, Marwan hopes he will be called up soon. "I can't wait," he says, rubbing his thumbs with his fingers in nervous energy. "I am ready to die now."
Among the embittered population of Iraq, it's not hard to find young men who talk the terrorist talk, boasting of their willingness to serve as human bombs. It's hard to judge the speakers' sincerity. But the latest surge of suicide operations proves there is no scarcity of volunteers to become the most lethal weapon Iraq's insurgents have. Since May 1, Iraq has witnessed at least 129 suicide attacks, accounting for several of the estimated 150 U.S. fatalities during this period, including as many as six soldiers killed in an attack of their convoy near Fallujah last week. Most of the 1,200 Iraqis killed by insurgents since May 1 have died in suicide bombings. And yet, despite the frequency and deadliness of their attacks, almost nothing is known about individual bombers. Their identities have rarely been revealed and then only posthumously, on jihadist websites or carefully edited videotapes aimed at promoting the insurgent cause and attracting fresh recruits. Among the few who have been named, most are foreigners, many from Saudi Arabia.