- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

A wave of bombings has been aimed at local Iraqi leaders. Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim and more than 80 of his followers were killed in Najaf on Aug. 29. A bomb on Sept. 2 in Baghdad was apparently aimed at police chief Hassan Ali. Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, brother the of slain ayatollah and a member Iraq’s governing council, has denounced the United States for its lax security.

These new attacks have brought forth more calls for the United States to involve the “international community” in Iraq, especially through the creation of a United Nations authorized multilateral force. President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have reportedly agreed to move toward this option with a new U.N. resolution.

The problem with this approach is that there is no such thing as the international community. The bitter debate prior to the war clearly showed the United Nations to be an arena of conflicting national interests and ambitions. The situation is not surprising, nor has it changed. The same governments that opposed Washington before the war now demand a voice in running post-war Iraq in exchange for even minimal military and financial aid. This would be a bad bargain for Washington, as it would make Iraq more difficult to govern in conformity with U.S. war aims. It would also send a message to the world that the United States does not have what it takes to play the leadership role it has staked out for itself.

As Iraq gropes toward a more democratic future, it is inevitable than competing factions and parties will form. The U.N.-sponsored presence of foreign troops, business interests and figures of authority with anti-American agendas would lead to domestic political alliances backed by outside resources to contest against those who have cooperated with the United States. There is enough danger already from the covert aid being provided by Syria and Iran to Saddam loyalists and radical Muslims without inviting in more outside interests who could act openly to undermine the U.S. position. This would be more dangerous than terrorism.

The current level of violence does not cross the threshold between terrorism and guerrilla warfare, yet. Terrorism is the weapon of the weak and cannot defeat the superior military presence of the United States and its allies. Mr. Bush cannot be seen as terrorized into retreating, though there is the danger that continuing casualties could be exploited politically by some Democrats who do seem prone to being terrorized.

According to the foremost theorist of guerrilla warfare, Mao Tse-tung, among the missions to be conducted in the early stages of revolution are “raiding and mining the enemy” and “cleaning up traitors and spies.” Ambushing American troops, destroying infrastructure and assassinating Iraqi leaders all fit this stage of war. The objective is to undermine U.S. confidence. There are then two paths toward the expansion of the “revolutionary” movement.

First is gaining outside support, Money, weapons and even “volunteer” troops are needed to give insurgents the means to fight. Foreign sanctuaries are important for training and protection of fighters, or at least their leaders. Diplomatic support is also important in weakening the position of the legitimate government and perhaps reducing the aid it receives from abroad. A major U.N. role in Iraq could lead to calls for mediation and “power sharing” to the benefit of the insurgents, a tactic with a proven record of disaster for U.S. policy.

Second, and most essential, is expanding the number of fighters under rebel command. The Islamic militants flowing into Iraq are important in this early stage, but the final revolutionary push will have to come from mobilized Iraqi radicals. As Mao knew, victory comes only when guerrillas are strong enough to shift to “mobile warfare” and large-scale combat that can annihilate government units. Political collapse and the disintegration of armed resistance follows such a show of force.

Such an outcome is not imminent nor inevitable. Washington must not panic and reach for a U.N. cure that is worse than the disease. The U.S. still has the means to mop up resistance in Iraq before it can grow.

The “shock and awe” of U.S. firepower is weakened when American soldiers are shown to be all too mortal in close combat. That the media has not reported heavy casualties among those who are ambushing U.S. units gives the impression that militants can prove themselves heroic and “make their bones” with impunity. Sustained violence on these terms is an effective recruiting tool. To counter its appeal, the United States must make the point forcefully that any attack on U.S. forces is a suicide mission that will fail.

The U.S. authorities in Iraq must also dry up the pool of unemployed and alienated men of military age, in particular the ex-soldiers of the deposed regime. Nothing better illustrates the old adage that idle hands fill the devil’s workshop better than a demobilized army in a disrupted society. When Washington looks for allies to provide troops to police Iraq, the first place it should look is within Iraq itself. A post-Saddam Iraq government that cannot recruit troops to defend the new order will not endure. The United States must find and protect local leaders who can gain broad loyalty. The U.S. promise of a better Iraq is real, but it needs to recruit Iraqis willing to fight to defend this vision of progress or the forces of reaction will return with fire and sword.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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