- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

BAGHDAD — The torture and killing of a 56-year-old labor rights advocate had all the hallmarks of Saddam Hussein’s security forces, not the ritual executions of militant Islamists, illustrating a multiheaded terrorist crusade to stop the Jan. 30 elections.

Hadi Saleh, an official with Iraq’s Communist Party, was found in his home strangled with a steel wire, his face beaten to a pulp, his hands bound behind his back.

His personal files, containing the names and addresses of colleagues in both the party and a labor federation he led, were stolen, his home ransacked.

With its signs of politically motivated brutality and torture, the scene brought to mind the interrogation rooms of deposed President Saddam Hussein’s security forces, officials said.

“The people who did this are very clearly members of the Ba’ath Party from the former regime,” said Mohammad Jassem al-Abad, a leader of the once-outlawed Communist Party, which is campaigning boisterously for the Jan. 30 parliamentary election.

“The way they killed him makes it very clear they’re the ones who did this,” he said. “It is their methods. His assassination wasn’t random. It was perfectly chosen.”

After a brief respite following Ramadan and the U.S. assault on Fallujah in early November, the violence in Iraq has resumed at a fever pitch.

Sunni terrorists, who prefer cruder methods such as blowing up themselves or cutting off heads, have attracted much of the attention, with suicide car bombers killing at least 100 people last week.

Twenty months after the U.S. invasion, the insurgency remains a shadowy and multiheaded phenomenon. Officials give numbers ranging from 5,000 to 40,000 to 200,000 fighters and supporters.

Even top U.S. military officials sometimes sound bewildered by the insurgency.

“There are hard-core terrorists fighting for an ideology. There are young, impoverished men looking to make some money,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, commander of all forces in Iraq.

“It would change by province. It changes by time of year. It changes by the illumination of the moon. It changes by the weather.”

In newspaper and television reports, the violence may appear as random and wanton acts, but a pattern emerges from the targets.

The preferred targets are Shi’ites and Kurds in Iraq’s fledgling security forces or serving in official capacities, including the Communist Party, which recruited almost exclusively from Iraq’s Shi’ites and Kurds.

Iraqi and U.S. officials have long believed that Saddam’s old security officials — the fearsome torturers and killers of the Iraqi Intelligence Services who turned the country into a republic of fear — are settling scores against old enemies to destabilize elections that are certain to hand Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and Kurds control of the country.

“These people have blood on their hands and are murderers,” said one high-level Justice Ministry official, who asked not to be named. “They want everyone hiding in behind walls, so they can control the streets.”

The bulk of Saddam’s supporters are Sunni Arabs from Tikrit, Mosul and Fallujah, cities where his government steered most of the country’s construction work.

A majority of insurgents captured or killed have been Iraqi Sunnis, as are up to 95 percent of those detained, military expert Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic International Studies in Washington wrote in a recent report on the insurgency.

As Mr. Saleh’s recent slaying demonstrates, the insurgents are an ideologically mixed lot, experts point out.

They include Sunni nationalists enraged by the U.S. occupation. There are also foreign Islamic extremists — perhaps followers of Osama bin Laden or his disciple, Jordanian terror leader Abu Musab Zarqawi — who see the battle against America as a struggle to save Iraq from democracy, which they consider a Western evil.

There is also a criminal class, mainly of young men carrying out sabotage, kidnapping and killings for money.

But if the insurgency has a brain, U.S. and Iraqi officials say, it comes from the well-trained intelligence operatives of the previous era, the ones who tortured and killed Mr. Saleh.

The insurgents’ methods come from the classic rule book of insurgencies worldwide, Mr. Cordesman wrote. The insurgents attack the security forces, officials and infrastructure to sap the public’s confidence in the government.

They attack the United Nations, embassies, aid organizations to drive foreigners away. Insurgents hire criminals to carry out operations, such as a man caught planting explosives on cars in a quiet residential neighborhood last week.

The insurgents’ fatal flaw may be their divergent visions for the future of Iraq. All want the United States out, but what comes afterward is not clear. Some wish to establish an Islamic utopia modeled on the teachings of puritanical Salafi and Wahhabi strains of Sunni Islam.

Others wish to reassert the supremacy of Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority, ousted from power by the invasion in 2003 after decades atop Iraq’s pyramid of power.

Others may simply see the anarchy as protection from the wrath of those they tormented for decades.

“The violence is part of a big plan to end the democratic process and stop the elections so they can establish a new dictatorship like during Saddam Hussein’s time,” Mr. al-Abad said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide