Who Are the Bombers?
by Jim Lobe
October 28, 2003

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's weekend tour of Iraq appeared to be going splendidly: everywhere he went – even in Saddam Hussein's former stronghold of Tikrit – Iraqis greeted him with smiles and warm handshakes, no doubt adding to his conviction that the war really was for "liberation" rather than "occupation."

Until Sunday morning, that is, when the Pentagon's chief Iraq hawk was rudely awakened by an unprecedented missile barrage fired from a home-made rocket launcher less than half a kilometer – and well within the capital's heavily-patrolled "green zone" – from the Al Rashid Hotel where he was sleeping.

A U.S. colonel sleeping on a floor just below Wolfowitz's was killed in an attack that wounded at least 16 others and proved to be a mere foretaste of a much more devastating series of co-ordinated car bombings carried out early Monday on four police stations and the headquarters of the International Red Cross (ICRC) in Baghdad.

At least 40 people were killed and well over 200 more injured in the blasts, making it the worst day of violence in the capital since US forces captured Baghdad in early April.

President George W. Bush, meeting with Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Chief Jerry Bremer III, insisted Monday that the attacks were merely signs of "desperation" on the part of "terrorists" opposed to the US presence in Iraq, who were motivated by anger over the progress made by occupation authorities in restoring normal life and creating a free society.

"There are terrorists in Iraq who are willing to kill anybody in order to stop our progress," Bush said. "The more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers will react."

But to more impartial analysts, the one-two punch by anti-U.S. forces suggested that, if anything, resistance to the occupation is growing and becoming more coordinated and sophisticated.

Until now, US officials have contended that resistance is confined to die-hard loyalists – or what the Pentagon often refers to as "dead-enders" – of ousted President Saddam Hussein, foreign "jihadis" inspired by or associated with the al-Qaeda terrorist group and common criminals, several thousand of whom were released from prison in a general amnesty just before the U.S.-led invasion.

Such a characterization naturally suggests that the resistance lacks any legitimacy.

But this description appears increasingly at odds with accounts by journalists who have interviewed men identified as resistance fighters, very few of whom have had good words to say about Saddam, as well as recent statements by US military officers on the ground.

They maintain that troops either do not really know who is behind the attacks or that they suspect resistance is much more broadly based than the official rhetoric suggests.

"The attacks are being committed by three broad categories of guerrillas, none with close ties to Saddam," wrote Hassan Fattah, a Baghdad-based journalist, for The New Republic in July.

In addition to former lower-ranking Baathists, the two major groups, according to Fattah and other reporters, include conservative predominantly Sunni tribesmen, increasingly angry at disrespectful behavior by US troops, and an indigenous Islamist group, the best-known arm of which is "Mohammed's Army."

All of them are opposed to US occupation, and their ranks appear to be growing as the larger population becomes increasingly disaffected by the US presence, according to recent reports.

Indeed, despite arrests and round-ups of thousands of suspected fighters over the last several months, the number of attacks on US forces has doubled over the past two months, to well over 20 a day.

And, after a relatively peaceful September, the toll they are taking in US lives has surged over the past two weeks to an average of just about one a day.

"It is my impression that the guerrilla campaign against us is spreading and intensifying, and the other side does not seem to be losing enough people in the process," the former Middle East analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) during the first Gulf war, Walter Lang, told the New York Times recently.

Already in August indications were worrisome, according to John Zogby, whose polling group conducted a major door-to-door survey in four major Iraqi cities. Three in five Iraqis said they wanted to be left alone to work out a future government, while one-half predicted the United States will hurt Iraq over the next five years, compared to 36 percent who said it will help.

Earlier this month, just under one-half of some 1,620 representative Iraqis around the country said they considered coalition forces to be liberators or peacekeepers when they first arrived. Now, according to the survey, which was commissioned by the International Republican Institute (IRI), that percentage has fallen to 19, with 10 percent willing to tell pollsters that they "strongly opposed" the coalition's presence.

Worse, the perception of US troops as occupiers has grown most sharply in Shi'a and Kurdish cities, which, in contrast to the so-called "Sunni Triangle," have been seen as the most pro-coalition areas of the country.

Those statistics are contributing to the notion that Washington now faces a real insurgency – even one that has no explicit political ideology other than being anti-occupation – as opposed to a terrorism campaign carried out by a small and ever-diminishing group of die-hards and foreign Islamists.

The rhetoric around the resistance is already changing, as even neo-conservative war-boosters who predicted US forces would be greeted as "liberators" by the Iraqi population and did not conceive of an active post-war resistance have begun recognizing that opposition to occupation has a broader popular base than they anticipated.

Tom Donnelly of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Garry Schmitt, director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), have now called on Washington to launch a major counter-insurgency campaign based on the experience of US Marines in the Caribbean Basin and the Philippines in the first half of the 20th century.

Instead of using big-unit search-and-destroy missions as in Vietnam, they said, the military should "swamp a given area in order to root out insurgents and their supporting infrastructure."

Such operations could require increasing overall US troop levels in Iraq.

But if, as a growing number of military analysts believe, Washington now faces a real insurgency, fighting it effectively might simply be too costly, both financially and politically, according to retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich of Boston University.

He has called instead for the administration to reduce its expectations of installing democracy in Iraq and the Middle East, give greater authority to the United Nations for administering the occupation if it will accept the mission, and to begin reducing US troop numbers according to a schedule that will make clear "this is not a neo-colonial occupation of indefinite duration."

(Inter Press Service)

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Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since the well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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