Monday, July 19, 2004

More than a year after the war, the Iraqi insurgency appears to be an unyielding stumbling block in the path of the new Iraq. It is painfully obvious to all Iraqis that the country can never move ahead until the ever-strengthening insurgency is dealt with decisively.

The new Iraqi government has a role to play in obliterating the insurgent obstacle domestically, but the United States also has a crucial role to play in ending the support that allows them to continue to function.

The unholy alliance between the former regime supporters and Islamist terrorists who have poured across open borders from neighboring countries is the driving force for this insurgency.

Remnants of the old regime are now standing in the streets of Samarra and Fallujah in the Sunni triangle, directing attacks against the U.S. and Iraqi government forces and facilitating the suicide attacks of the foreign jihadis in Baghdad and other areas.

The ongoing insurgency has been sustainable only through the support of the neighboring countries that harbor their leaders and allow the free flow of fighters and money across Iraq’s borders.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting revealed last week that Iran is harboring and assisting the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, a large, mostly Iraqi Kurdish affiliate group of al Qaeda.

Their journalists also report that in Fallujah Syrian militias are openly operating. One Syrian combatant told a reporter that he was in Iraq fighting the United States because “if we don’t fight them here, we will have to fight them in Syria.”

An Iraqi journalist, who lived under Saddam Hussein, visited Syria recently. He returned home and said he felt like he was back in Saddam’s Iraq. “The place was heaving with sons of Ba’athists and former regime officials,” he observed.

The war against this insurgency must concentrate on breaking this alliance. To do that, it has to be fought on two fronts: at home by bringing criminal Ba’athists into the courtroom and non-criminal Ba’athists into the political process; and abroad by issuing a serious threat to Iraq’s neighbours, namely Syria and Iran, to cut their supply lines.

At home, the Iraq interim government already has started a long-overdue campaign of mass arrests in Baghdad and emergency powers legislation last week, coupled with indications of an amnesty and talks with the remnants of the former regime.

While the Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was instituting these measures, his deputy, Barham Salih, was touring neighbouring countries to urge “cooperation in combating terrorism.” Both Iraq and its neighbours know that this “cooperation” will not happen.

It is not in any neighboring government’s interest for terrorism to end in Iraq. It would signal a victory for the United States and for the new interim government and a “defeat” for autocratic neighboring states.

For Syria and Iran, in particular, the more Americans and Iraqis killed and the more chaos in the country, the less likely Iraq will be stable. And the more unstable Iraq, the less likely the Syrian and Iranian people will demand political and social freedom from their governments.

For just this reason, the Syrian and Iranian governments have been — at best — turning a blind eye on infiltration and — at worst — assisting and accommodating their leaders.

Here, there is a crucial and positive role the United States can play. The neighbors will not take the interim government seriously. With Iraq still on its knees, these countries can and will play hardball politics.

A serious threat by the United States must be made to these countries if they do not stop fueling the insurgency.

It needs to step in with its political might — backed by its military muscles — to fight this war against the insurgents, alongside the Iraqis.

The Iraqis can fight on the home front. The United States can fight on the external front. This is what a constructive partnership means today.

After the war, the Ba’athist dregs of the regime slithered into their rat holes and waited for the knock at the door that would lead them to the prisons they knew they deserved.

But the knock never came, and they regrouped and emerged as a “resistance.”

Had the United States instituted an aggressive hunt-them-down policy against these criminals, we might not be in the violently debilitating situation we are in today.

Syria and Iran today are like the defeated Ba’athists of last year. While they are keeping their heads low, they are quietly and devastatingly accommodating the forces that rock Iraq today and keep it on its knees.

If the United States does not knock at their doors, they will be running the show soon, not only in Iraq but in the Middle East.

Hiwa Osman is a Baghdad-based journalist.

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