Relentless resistance

Print edition : January 02, 2004

Every American plan to further the occupation of Iraq is apparently running into rough weather because of the determination of the resistance and the sheer complexity of the Iraqi situation.

AMERICAN forces have further intensified their tough counter-insurgency tactics after the Iraqi resistance targeted Spanish intelligence officers, Japanese diplomats and South Korean workers in late November. The fighting in the town of Samarra, which is in the so-called "Sunni triangle", is an example of the new get-tough approach. The United States exaggerated the number of Iraqis killed in that encounter, but there have been indications that the U.S. is making a last-ditch attempt to stem the insurrectionary tide. According to first-hand reports from Samarra, the causality figure was in single digits and most of those killed were innocent civilians, including an aged man from Iran, who was on a pilgrimage. During the Vietnam war, the U.S. Army used to exaggerate the Vietnamese casualty rate routinely for propaganda purposes.

U.S. soldiers remove the body of a colleague who was killed in an ambush outside Samarra, north of Baghdad, on December 2.-KHALID MOHAMMED/AP

Before the incident in Samarra, President George Bush made a surprise, two-hour visit to Baghdad in late November to celebrate Thanksgiving with a contingent of handpicked U.S. troops. Bush was patently trying to garner political mileage out of a "trip by stealth" in the run-up to the presidential election.

"Operation Iron Hammer", the code name given by the Americans to the new military offensive, which started in early November following the killing of more than 81 soldiers in the month of Ramzan, has involved the use of one-tonne bombs and helicopter gunships. The U.S. media are now full of reports that the U.S. is using military tactics borrowed from its closest ally - Israel. U.S. media reports talk about "a secret war" being waged by the U.S. military against the Baathist-led resistance. This includes an assassination programme targeting leaders and activists of the resistance. U.S. soldiers have started fencing in entire villages with barbed wire. Relatives of suspected resistance fighters have been jailed. Buildings have been demolished. All these tactics are similar to the ones being employed by Israel in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Awja, Saddam Hussein's hometown, has been sealed off for months. The commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, said in the second week of December that the insurgents would be attacked at every opportunity, using whatever weapons that were appropriate, including heavy bombs and munitions. But he admitted that he expected guerilla attacks to increase in the coming months.

Despite the cruel methods resorted to by the U.S. forces, on an average one U.S. soldier is killed every day in Iraq. U.S. officials have admitted that around 130 attacks were made on their forces every day in the last couple of weeks. On December 9, an Iraqi suicide bomber attacked U.S. military base near Mosul, injuring more than 40 U.S. soldiers, many of them seriously. On the same day, a U.S. helicopter was brought down by the resistance forces in Fallujah.

The resistance is no longer confined to the "Sunni triangle", as recent events have conclusively shown. Until mid-December, 446 U.S. military personnel, including women, have died in action. The total number of those injured seriously and those who committed suicide is said to be much higher.

Among the U.S. soldiers killed in early December was Uday Singh, who had migrated to the U.S. only recently. Many men who are fighting in the U.S. Army in Iraq are recent immigrants from developing countries. The U.S. government expedites the process of acquiring citizenship for those enlisting for the war in Iraq. There are allegations in the Arab media that many of those killed in action in Iraq are not U.S. citizens and that their deaths are not listed. The resistance has also turned its attention to collaborators and Iraqis employed by the U.S. authorities. A suicide bombing in Baquiba, a town near Baghdad, in late November killed at least 17 Iraqi policemen. The targeting of soldiers and workers belonging to countries allied to the U.S. is also having an impact. In the second week of December, dozens of South Korean contractors left the country. Korean workers belonging to a Korean company were killed in the last week of November.

THE Bush administration, in yet another obvious attempt to arm-twist countries into sending troops to Iraq has let it be known that the lucrative contracts being doled out in Iraq will be granted only to companies belonging to countries that participated in the Iraq war. U.S. Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, however, has suggested that those countries that are still willing to send troops to Iraq will be allowed to have a share in the economic bonanza. It is not known whether the controversial decision by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to send a small contingent of Japanese troops after December 15 was influenced by financial inducements. The Japanese troops will be officially on a "non-combat mission" and will be engaged only in "reconstruction" activities. Senior U.S. officials have made it clear that German, French, Chinese and Russian companies will not be allowed to bid for contracts.

Simultaneously, the Bush administration is engaged in a desperate attempt to transfer power to a puppet civilian regime at least by the middle of 2004, before the election scene hots up in the U.S. The brief of the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, is to limit the number of U.S. body bags until the presidential election is concluded. The present U.S. plan is to put a government in place in Baghdad even before a new Constitution is approved by the Iraqis. It is quite clear that the majority of the Iraqis want the Constitution to be based on Islamic law and democracy. The Bush administration, however, wants a patchwork government, giving equal representation to Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. Leading U.S. political commentators close to the Bush administration have started calling for the division of Iraq into three countries, on a denominational basis. Iraq, according to them, was an "unnatural state" and therefore should go the way of countries like the former Yugoslavia.

Before the presidential polls next year, the Bush administration wants to halve the number of U.S. troops deployed in Iraq. Currently the number stands approximately at 1,31,000. They will be replaced by Iraqi recruits in the police force. The remnants of the U.S. force will then, in all probability, be confined to secure bases in the vast Iraqi desert, away from the constant barrage of rockets and bombs. In recent weeks, Iraqi gunners have been able to hit U.S. troops in the highly fortified "green zone" with virtual immunity. An American magazine published pictures of an Iraqi resistance fighter using a shoulder-launched missile to attack an Airbus-320 plane taking off from the Baghdad airport. (The missile hit the wing of the plane.)

HOWEVER, the Bush administration's attempts at "Iraqification" has met with strong opposition. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most influential Shiite clerics in Iraq, opposed the American plan for indirect elections. He said that the people of Iraq would have to be consulted before the Bush administration started implementing the plan for so-called "self-rule". The majority of members in the puppet Iraqi Governing Council have been arguing that elections cannot be held in the near future in their country because of the absence of a reliable voters' list. A Shiite member of the Council who is close to the clergy, Mowaffak al-Rubale, has argued that the United Nations food registry should be the basis for the electoral rolls. Almost all Iraqis were registered with the U.N. as they were dependent to a great extent on U.N.-supplied food rations during the sanctions era.

Sistani's views have received widespread support. Another important Shia cleric Taqi al-Modaresi, who is based in the holy city of Karbala, has said that the patience of the Shiites is running out. "I am concerned about the increasing frustration among Iraqis and telling everyone that they are a peaceful people. But it will be a different story if they run out of patience. I fear sedition." The other important Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr, has been asking the Iraqi people to resist the American occupation. He called for the creation of a Shiite resistance army.

Senior Sunni clerics are angered further by the U.S.' plans for the creation of an Iraqi militia force comprising mainly of Central Intelligence Agency-trained Kurdish and Shia units that had fought against the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein. The Committee of Muslim Ulama in Iraq, which represents the Sunni clergy, issued a strongly worded statement in the first week of December. The statement said that using militiamen to restore security in Iraq would be an attempt to break up Iraq. "From a religious point of view, it is unacceptable. U.S. forces intend to set up militias based on several Shia and Kurd parties. This is a way to divide and rule by exploiting confessionalism and racism," the statement said.

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