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Inside The Resistance
By Zaki 0aChehab
The Guardian UK
Monday 13 October 2003
Popular anger is forging an alliance between diverse strands of 0aIraq's guerrilla movement
The suicide bomber who yesterday attacked the US-frequented Baghdad 0aHotel was the fourth member of the Iraqi resistance to kill themselves for the 0acause. The bombing came only three days after last week's suicide attack on a 0aBaghdad police station that left at least eight people dead. From the meetings I 0ahave had with resistance fighters in different parts of Iraq, there is no doubt 0athat there will be many more such attacks to come.
The use of suicide bombing in Iraq - the first announced target was 0athe UN in August - signals a clear change of tactics by the growing resistance 0amovement. The US-led coalition forces, frustrated by their inability to control 0athe situation, blame foreign infiltrators for these attacks, emphasising the 0asimilarity between these new tactics and those of al-Qaida and other militant 0agroups in the Middle East. Few seem to grasp the fact that Iraqis, who are 0awell-trained militarily, have simply learned from others' experiences, and 0acarried out the attacks themselves.
I first met Iraqi resistance fighters at a farm in the suburbs of 0aRamadi, north of Baghdad. It was several months after the fall of Saddam 0aHussein's regime, and on that day the people of Ramadi were gathering at a 0amosque to grieve the death of a young Iraqi killed by US forces. The man - 0aunarmed, and driving a civilian car - had failed to stop at a checkpoint. There 0ahad been no signs warning him or other drivers of the danger they were 0aapproaching. I was taken aback by the strength of the anger felt by the local 0apeople - such deaths (this young man was not the first to die at the checkpoint, 0anor the last) were clearly galvanising local people to fight back against the 0aoccupation forces.
After the funeral, with the dreaded 10pm curfew fast approaching, my 0anew Iraqi companions invited me to go with them to a nearby place of safety. As 0awe made the dangerous journey along the road from Ramadi to Baghdad - the site 0aof daily attacks by the resistance and street gangs - the conversation turned to 0athe nature of the Iraqi resistance movement. I was very keen to find out why it 0awas spreading throughout Iraq so quickly, and what motivated its members. My 0acompanions - ordinary Iraqis - immediately offered to introduce me to the 0afighters they knew.
The fighters wore civilian clothes but their faces were covered, and 0athey held a range of small arms and light weapons - AK-47s, RPG-7s to 0ashoulder-mounted rocket propellers and hand grenades.
What struck me most, though, was their intense commitment to their 0acause: the liberation of Iraq from its current occupiers. These were no "Ba'athist remnants". On the contrary, they blamed Saddam Hussein for bringing 0athe Americans into Iraq. They went so far as to say the capture of Saddam by 0aallied forces would sever the links between Saddam and the resistance movement 0aonce and for all. They defined themselves as nationalists. One said: "We do not 0awant to see our country occupied by forces clearly pursuing their own interests, 0arather than being poised to return Iraq to the Iraqis."
Later, I met members of a different strand of the resistance: Saddam 0aHussein loyalists in Tikrit. We were filming in the main street there when two 0ayoung, well-built Iraqis approached us. While they were asking us who we were 0aworking for, a US convoy passed by and the two men shouted abuse at the American 0asoldiers, threatening to turn Iraq into their graveyard.
Then they turned to us, boasting that they had attacked the Americans 0athe night before at Saddam's palace in the town, and would carry out daily 0aattacks until the Americans were driven out of the country. One of the two men 0aintroduced himself as Nabil, and declared that there was no support locally for 0athe Americans, who would never be safe, even in their thousands.
These were not empty threats. I spent that night with an Iraqi family 0ain the town. While sitting in the back garden, we witnessed eight explosions 0awithin minutes of each other. My host, a university professor, explained that 0athey were mortar attacks targeting the US headquarters in Tikrit.
In Mosul and Falluja, the resistance groups are different again. Here, 0amost identify themselves with Islamist organisations such as the Muslim 0aBrotherhood. Recently, there have been reports of meetings in the Jordanian 0acapital between high-ranking members of Hamas and this section of the 0aresistance, which has sought to learn from the experience of Hamas and its 0amilitary wing, well-known for its suicide bomb attacks against Israeli targets.
This development was entirely predictable. When Mosul fell to American 0aforces on April 11, terror and chaos spread over the city. The Pentagon promised 0athat thousands of its soldiers would secure Mosul and prevent mass looting. I 0aentered the city that day. By the time praying started, dozens of worshippers 0ahad gathered to hear one of Mosul's leading Sunni clerics calling for patience, 0abut warning that if peace and security were not restored, then "the inhabitants 0aof Mosul still have the means to resist, as this is not the promised liberation 0abut an occupation. We will never accept Iraq becoming a second Palestine."
Iraq is a country which has faced more than 20 years of war, and more 0athan a decade of sanctions. The motivations of each strand of Iraqi resistance 0avary: the loyalists are driven by the loss of power; the nationalists by the 0adesire to establish independence and security; the Islamists by their dream of 0areturning political Islam to the Iraqi nation. These aspirations may be 0aincompatible, but the focus of each group now is to fight together against the 0acommon enemy of Iraq - the occupying forces.
In some areas at least, this common interest has a structural 0aexpression. In the back streets of Mosul, soon after the fall of the city, I 0acame face to face with a group of armed men, shouting and firing shots in 0adifferent directions. I asked who they were: some introduced themselves as 0aformer Ba'athists, others said they belonged to Islamist organisations. Though 0aideologically worlds apart, they explained that they all took their orders from 0athe same committee in the city, which was headed by a group of religious 0aleaders. I later found there were similar relationships in Falluja and Samarra.
The resolve and ferocity of the Iraqi resistance has been amplified by 0athe blunders of the American soldiers in Iraq. Coalition commanders have dealt 0aineptly with ground operations, and neither the British nor the Americans have 0acome up with a clear road map for the political reconstruction of Iraq that 0awould enable Iraqis to rule themselves.
Random road checks and house-to-house searches, often based on 0ainaccurate information, make a bad situation worse. Culturally inappropriate 0abehaviour - male soldiers body-searching women, for example - and collective 0apunishments have further alienated the population and helped entrench popular 0asupport for resistance.
Given the growing number of Iraqis joining the resistance, there is a 0astrong need for Washington and London to revise their military and political 0aplans for post-conflict Iraq. The occupation forces are in a fragile position. 0aIf they strengthen their military presence in the face of increasing resistance, 0athey will only alienate Iraqis yet further from their attempts to redraw the 0apolitical future of Iraq - and the resistance will continue to spread. Unless 0athere is an early withdrawal, the currently sporadic attacks in the 0aShia-dominated south can be expected to mushroom.
Britain and the US are currently setting the stage for a new phase of 0aIraqi resistance. Its members are learning fast from the experience of the 0aregion, and are already adopting new tactics. The latest of these is suicide 0abombing - a weapon which even the strongest counter-terrorism forces struggle to 0acope with.
Zaki Chehab is the political editor of the Arabic TV station 0aal-Hayat-LBC, and was the first journalist to broadcast an interview with 0amembers of the Iraqi resistance
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