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When Marwan gets the call-up, he expects the final stage of his training to be far more rigorous. He anticipates spending his last days in near seclusion, probably holed up in a safe house with a few other bombers-to-be. For non-Iraqis, the isolation can serve a practical purpose, ensuring that they keep a low profile and avoid arousing suspicion with their foreign accents. But all the suicide candidates, he says, are expected to immerse themselves in spiritual contemplation and prayer, to free their minds of negative thoughts toward their fellow men--except Americans and their Iraqi "infidel" supporters. There will be no TV or music, says Marwan, who will have to give up his one addiction, cigarettes. In many ways, these steps mirror the self-purification that devout Muslims undergo before embarking on the pilgrimage to Mecca. "You give up your previous life," he says, "and start a new one."
According to TIME's contacts close to insurgent groups, the bombers have little or no say in planning their operations. The logistics--choosing targets, checking out the site, preparing the bomb-laden vehicles or vests--are left to field commanders and explosives specialists. It is not unusual for a bomber to be told about the details of a mission mere minutes before launching the attack. Marwan says he thought he was going on his operation when his commander sent him to meet TIME. Iraqi Interior Ministry officials claim they have evidence showing that many of the bombers are drafted involuntarily. They say their investigations of car bombings have discovered that some of the vehicles were rigged to be detonated by remote control, indicating that the drivers may not have been aware that they were about to be blown up. "In a majority of cases, you find hands chained to the steering column, so these were not volunteers," says al-Juboori, the Interior Ministry spokesman. But U.S. investigators who have looked into scores of cases believe coercion is rare. Navy Commander Fred Gaghan, head of the Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell, which has investigated more than 60 bombings in the past five months, has not found any evidence of fetters. "They don't need them, because they have plenty of volunteers who will do it willingly," he says.
Marwan says the occasional bomber may ask to be chained to the wheel to make sure he doesn't flinch at the last moment. "If you have any little doubt in your mind about your own ability to carry out the mission, you do that to make sure you don't lose your courage," he says. He scoffs at reports that some suicide bombers are intoxicated. "Those who go on these missions know that they are about to see their Creator," he says. "Do you think we would meet Allah in a state of drunkenness or drugged? It is unthinkable."