- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

Guerrilla is Spanish for “little war.” If only 1 percent of the Iraqi population is fighting the U.S. occupation, that would still be 250,000 terrorists, not counting the influx of jihadis, or holy warriors, from bordering states. Nor does that include the 100,000 common and hardened criminals Saddam Hussein ordered released from jail before the U.S. invasion. CENTCOM commander Gen. John P. Abizaid says all this boils down to no more than 5,000 guerrillas arrayed against the U.S.

He probably does not recall that in Northern Ireland, no more than 300 Irish Republican Army guerrillas tied down 35,000 of Britain’s best troops and 24,000 local Royal Ulster Constabulary and Ulster Defense Regiment — for a quarter-century. The total population the British were protecting was no more than 1.5 million. Baghdad alone has more than 5 million.

In the 1980s and 90s, IRA terrorists disrupted commuter trains, subways, highways and Britain’s premier horse-racing events. Some 60,000 people had to be evacuated minutes before the Grand National steeplechase at Aintree. It was a hoax, as were many other warnings of imminent bomb explosions. In October 1992, the IRA had the city of London under siege with bombs going off weekly. The following year, Irish terrorists tailspun air services over London and closed Heathrow and Gatwick airports with repeated mortar attacks and bomb threats.

In 1996, at least 120 people were injured by a truck bomb that close down commercial Manchester for three days, and the bomb in London’s 52-story Canary Wharf Tower ripped through an entire block in London’s financial district.

The IRA also assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten, uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh (the husband of Queen Elizabeth), and almost succeeded in killing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when they blew up her Brighton hotel. On “bloody Sunday” in 1972, the IRA had a total of only 40 men, according to last week’s testimony of former IRA commander Martin McGuinness, now a leading Sinn Fein political leader.

Another important lesson for U.S. occupation troops in Iraq is that when British troops originally moved into Northern Ireland in 1969, their mission was to protect Belfast’s Catholic areas against Protestant rabble. It wasn’t long before that role was reversed in favor of the Protestants.

Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, its long-dominant Sunni minority, and the Kurdish minority, make the U.S. military role immeasurably more difficult than what the Brits faced in Northern Ireland. In fact, the IRA was remarkably restrained compared to the Iraqi guerrillas. They even cut a secret deal with the Brits in the late 1970s to cease attacks on restaurants and indiscriminate killing of civilians.

For the Iraqi underground and foreign Muslim jihadis, the fact that coalition forces defeated the bloody tyrant Saddam Hussein is irrelevant. The Bush administration dismisses the underground as the dying embers of a hated regime. That’s a dangerous oversimplification.

The enemy is the occupier, just as France was in Algeria, and where 500,000 French troops and 1 million French settlers — most of them the second and third generation in Algeria — were defeated by fellagha terrorists who were no more than 14 when they began blowing up post offices in November 1954.

Another guerrilla army defeated the French in Vietnam (1946-54) and the U.S. (1964-75). Viet Cong and North Vietnamese guerrillas shot down 3,500 U.S. helicopters and 1,500 fixed-wing aircraft in 10 years. Today’s Iraqi guerrillas have access to more than 600,000 tons of largely unguarded weapons and ammo. They have demonstrated that rocket-propelled grenades fired by one man can hit helicopters and low-flying aircraft.

Palestinian terrorists have been fighting Israel since 1964. Ten years later, the U.N. recognized Yasser Arafat as the Palestinian leader. In 1956, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara launched a guerrilla war in Cuba. Three years later, dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the country and Mr. Castro has been a pitiless dictator ever since.

Saddam Hussein’s underground strategy is predicated on the lessons of three guerrilla attacks that undermined America’s will on the home front:

• The Tet offensive in Vietnam was a total defeat for the Viet Cong. They got into the U.S. Embassy grounds but did not occupy the embassy before they were all killed. They did not reach a single one of their 71 objectives and lost 45,000 men and women, which was their entire corps de bataille. After that, the North Vietnamese army came south to continue the war as guerrillas. But Hanoi won the battle on the U.S. home front when President Johnson decided six weeks later not to run for re-election. Walter Cronkite decided Tet meant the U.S. had lost the war.

• Syrian-backed terrorists truck-bombed U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983, killing 241 Marines and in another attack at the same time 58 French soldiers. The U.S. decided to cut its losses and pulled out of Lebanon.

• In Somalia in 1993, the killing of 18 U.S. Marines — “Black Hawk Down” — was sufficient to provoke another precipitous U.S. withdrawal.

Unless President Bush is prepared to argue convincingly for the need to face what may well be several years of terrorism in Iraq, with a steady toll of U.S. and coalition casualties, he should turn things over as quickly as possible to an Iraqi authority — and get them to face the inevitable protracted conflict.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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