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Tuesday | July 22, 2003

Who is the enemy?

By Steve Gilliard

In yesterday's LA Times there was a long article on the Iraqi resistance. With the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein, the article points out some things which bear noticing.

First, despite the daily number of casualities, the war is intense, but small. What has hampered US efforts is not so much actual combat, but the general lack of widespread cooperation between the Coalition and the general Iraqi public. Some of this is clearly based in residual fear of the Baath party, but there is a strong and open strain of anti-western, anti-American feeling amplified by both Sunni and Shia clerics.

While the war has largely remained in Sunni areas, the Shia clerics have not encouraged more than a wary neutrality towards the CPA, and thus, have not used their power to encourage mass enrollment in any of the CPA's police or militia forces. Why this has happened may be due to a fear of Saddam, but more likely, a disdain for full cooperation with the occupation. While the Shia claim they want stability, their clerics and political parties have done little to nothing to encourage wider participation.

What the CPA calls baathist support may reflect a wider reluctance to do much to help the occupation in any way, shape or form.

Shia clerics have not used their militias to round up Baath Party members and instead have prevented violence against them as a rule. At the hint of the slightest conflict with US forces, they have repeatedly marched on them instead.

So, despite CENTCOM announcements, there is a widespread, tacit, political support for the resisitance. Few Iraqis have chosen to resist these elements and often provide cover for them. In an urban country like Iraq, guerrilla forces need the support of fairly large groups of people.

The guerrillas, operating in groups as large as 50, communicate with a complex series of whistles and track U.S. troops with red, green and white flares — with repeated red flares designating a "kill zone," officials said. Co-conspirators at electrical plants temporarily shut off power to villages to alert anti-U.S. confederates that troops are passing by.

"They have increased in sophistication, and I think that there's a certain amount of regional organization going on, and I think they're attempting to get more organized over time," Abizaid said.

This indicates a couple of things. First, they're using standard Iraqi infantry tactics. There was no time to teach neophytes the ability to attack with audio and visual signals. They have to have done these kinds of things hundreds of times. They had to have practiced their attack and withdrawal techniques in the dark for months. They also have to have sound knowledge of the weapons they use.

Also, the leaders have to have been able to command at least a platoon in action. It is not easy to coordinate nighttime attacks under fire.

But more importantly, they have to be able to meet, form up, conduct their attacks and leave quickly. The one problem for the US is that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men have the basic training needed to do this.

In interviews with Cox Newspapers, three Iraqi foot soldiers in the guerrilla war against American troops told of the coordinated resistance now acknowledged by U.S. officials. They also described the pervasive and protective tribal community that tips them to possible targets and helps foil American attempts to find them.


"Whoever knocks on a door gets an answer," said one of the fighters, who gave his name as Massoud. He claimed the resistance is a natural reaction to the American occupation, noting "We didn't go across the ocean to America."


They have rudimentary military backgrounds and scoffed at U.S. claims that the attacks have been "professional," carried out by those with elite training. They said nearly all male Iraqis learned to fire grenades and rifles while serving in militias that were loyal to Saddam, through training in school or in the frequent wars waged by the highly-militarized ex-regime.

Saddam was so unpopular that he needed 12,000 bodyguards. While some may have continued the fight, why would the Iraqi people support these guerrillas when they hated Saddam so deeply and for so long. It may that the answers lie elsewhere.

Are any of you former Saddam loyalists? Work for Saddam? Love Saddam?" asked CBS News Correspondent David Hawkins.

The men all shook their heads "no" as a translator said, "They just follow the instruction of Holy Koran."

"So this is a religious war?" questioned Hawkins. "It's a holy war?"

"Yes, yes, " said one man. "We are farmers. We're Iraqis. This isn't about politics."

Resentment against the US occupation has little to do with any love for Saddam and his family

How could any Arab watch without comment scenes from Iraq which show foreign soldiers treating Iraqis with nothing but contempt and suspicion? Who gave the Americans and their allies the right to invade a country, topple its regime and occupy it, trying, in the bargain, to change the very identity of that country? Our frustration grows all the more when we consider the rich history, culture and heritage of Iraq that are ignored by the occupation forces. Iraq is a source of pride for all Arabs and it is painful to see its people being kicked around by a bunch of “burger-culture” soldiers.

It is a typically American approach to focus and try to solve a single problem. Remove Saddam, and Iraq will become a model democracy. Arab resistance to colonial occupation has deep cultural and religious roots. To expect it to exist only because of Saddam or to end with the death of Saddam is simplistic. Many of these same people resisted Saddam, who spend much time and effort in a combination of payoffs, threats and the odd attack. It was a delicate balancing act for him and he had no limits on his methods.

The key to success in Iraq is getting the Shia to work with us. Without that, killing Baathists will be a footnote.

Posted July 22, 2003 02:27 PM


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