Iraqi woman 'recruited more than 80 female suicide bombers'
The woman – who was identified as Samira Ahmed Jassim or by her nickname "Umm al-Mumineen", which means the mother of believers – was shown confessing in a video played for reporters at a press conference in Baghdad.
Dressed in an all-encompassing black Islamic robe, she described how she would persuade the women to be bombers, then escort them to an orchard for insurgent training and finally pick them up and lead them to their targets.
She said she was acting on behalf of insurgents based in the volatile Diyala province, north of Baghdad.
Iraqi military spokesman Maj Gen Qassim al-Moussawi said the suspect had recruited more than 80 women willing to carry out attacks and had admitted masterminding 28 bombings in different areas.
The American and Iraqi militaries have made past claims about efforts by insurgents to recruit vulnerable women and children as attackers, but have provided little evidence. Statements that two women who blew themselves up last year in Baghdad had Down's syndrome that later proved to be exaggerated.
Al-Moussawi said Jassim's arrest was the result of tips and produced the video to lend credence to the allegations.
The number of bombings carried out by women has spiked even as overall violence has declined, and US commanders have warned insurgents are actively trying to find more recruits.
At least 36 female suicide bombers attempted or successfully carried out 32 suicide attacks last year, compared with eight in 2007, according to American military figures.
The military said it couldn't provide information on the number of female suicide bombers so far this year, but on Jan 4, a woman who blew herself up in the midst of Iranian pilgrims in Baghdad killed more than three dozen people.
The use of female suicide bombers is part of a shift in insurgent tactics to avoid detection at US-Iraqi military checkpoints that have become ubiquitous in Iraq as part of increased security measures.
Iraqi women often are allowed to pass through male-guarded checkpoints without being searched, and they traditionally wear flowing black robes that make it easier to hide explosives belts.
To counter the threat, the American military has stepped up efforts to recruit women for the Iraqi security forces.
Jassim was arrested by Iraqi security forces acting on tips on Jan 21 and is allegedly linked to the Ansar al-Sunnah insurgent group, al-Moussawi said.
The spokesman would not say where Jassim was arrested because the investigation was ongoing. But he said the recruits had been from Baghdad and Diyala province. He also said she had contact with a pair of recently detained insurgent brothers.
In the video, Jassim said she had to talk to one elderly woman several times before persuading her to blow herself up at a bus station.
It also took Jassim two weeks to recruit another woman who was a teacher and had problems with her husband and his family, according to the confession. That woman eventually attacked members of government-backed Sunni groups in Diyala province, the suspect said.