- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

The daily attacks on U.S. troops have made Iraq’s killing fields into a geo-political black hole. Many questions are fusing in Washington, fueling the endless debate on the legitimacy of our mission in Mesopotamia. “The body bags are coming,” scream the critics of the administration. “We need more troops on the ground,” respond the advocates of the war.

The debate cycle is on within the Beltway, and soon across the nation. The policy suggestions are sharply divided. One camp, which has never endorsed the very idea of intervening in Iraq, is calling for withdrawal, with other variants of it. The other camp is withstanding criticism and moving forward with the initial objective, that is, to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime and uproot its remnants, regardless of the unfortunate developments.

But no matter what the arguments are about the future, even the immediate one, the central theme remains unchanged: U.S. soldiers — and British as well — are being targetedsystematicallyand hunted down with precision. There is a full-fledged war against the U.S.-led coalition. In sum, the war has not really ended.

Ironically, President Bush has declared the end of the major operations in Iraq. His sentence was unwillingly prophetic; if major military moves have ceased, “small” unconventional operations are still on, and are on the increase. It sounds as if a party, or multiple ones, have waited for the “main U.S. thrust” to be over to start their own “jihad thrust” on their timing and at the location of their choosing.

The current attacks against coalition forces are no doubt the counterwar against the liberation of Iraq campaign. The coordinated, even if separate and limited — attacks are aimed at one superseding goal: defeating the U.S.-led forces politically and driving them out of Iraq. Beyond that, it is a whole other chapter.

The main question today is to identify who is behind those attacks in terms of strategic planning and to determine if these entities are unified. The answers can lead us to understand if the killings of soldiers in Iraq are the work of gangs and isolated terrorists or are the beginning of what will become Iraq-wide guerrilla warfare.

If one reviews the flyers disseminated by the attackers and the statements made by ideological factions within Iraq and listens carefully to the incitement on Al Jazeera and other jihad media, the answer is clear: You have three forces waging amalyat (operations) against American and allied troops,includingfriendly Iraqis.

One are Ba’athist elements, mostly coming from the irreducible segment of the toppled regime, and among them are SaddamFedayeen, Mukhabarat and party militias. All of them are wanted by the country’s civil society for war crimes. Their choice is to flee forward by attacking the U.S. units as a way to hide behind a new status of resistance.

A second element, Wahhabi-Salafi cells, are modeled after al Qaeda.Osama bin Laden’s audiotapes have called on them to wage jihad against infidel forces months before the liberation of Iraq. Instructions on warfare against Americans and British in Iraq were posted on the Web almost one year before Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered his memorable speech at the United Nations.

These jihad manuals for Baghdad bloodshed were also part of a trial against terrorists in the Netherlands last summer. Their objective is to slaughter infidels wherever they can find them — from Bali to Manhattan.

A third element consists of the Khomeinist-type cells operating under the influence of Iranian clerics. In the Shi’ite areas, many elements are connected to Tehran’s radicals. Iraq’s version of Hezbollah wants to repeat the Beirut scenario of the 1980s. Still limited in strength, radicals in the Shi’ite areas count on the “occupiers” mistakes to invigorate their southern jihad.

Mostly in the Sunni center, potentially in some Shi’ite areas, the terror trio fantasizes about an Iraqi intifada against the coalition. This is when terrorism becomes guerrilla warfare. However, they need a popular legitimacy, which they clearly lack. Their vision of Iraq is not widely accepted by the people.

In conclusion, the killing fields of Iraq are less a part of a nationwide revolt than another chapter of jihadism. Irreducible Ba’athists, unleashed Wahhabis and nervous Khomeinists — all oppose the United States, but cannot survive any upcoming democracy.

Walid Phares is a professor of Middle East Studies at Florida Atlantic University and an MSNBC analyst.

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