The battle for Iraq’s sovereign future is a battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. As things currently stand, it appears that victory will go to the side most in tune with the reality of the Iraqi society of today: the leaders of the anti-USA resistance.
Iyad Allawi’s government was recently installed by the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to counter a Ba’athist nationalism that ceased to exist nearly a decade ago. In the aftermath of the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein’s regime shifted toward an amalgam of Islamic fundamentalism, tribalism and nationalism that more accurately reflected the political reality of Iraq. Thanks to his meticulous planning and foresight, Saddam’s lieutenants are now running the Iraqi resistance, including the Islamist groups.
Not only has the United States failed to put into place a viable government to replace the CPA in the aftermath of the so-called “transfer of sovereignty,” but more importantly, it continues to misidentify the true nature of the Iraqi insurgency. As a consequence, the resistance will inevitably continue to flourish and grow until no force can defeat it, Iraqi or American.
Ba’athism is Dead, Long Live Saddam
In August 1995, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, defected to Jordan. In the lead up to the war, much of the attention paid to this event has centered on Kamal’s various debriefings with the CIA, British Intelligence, and UN weapons inspectors concerning Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Fourteen months into the USA occupation of Iraq, Hussein Kamal’s testimony that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed in the summer of 1991 has taken on new relevance, given the fact that to date no WMD have been found.
But more important than the WMD information (which has become abundantly clear through other sources) is Kamal’s self-described reason for defecting: Saddam Hussein’s order that all senior Ba’ath Party officials undergo mandatory Koranic studies. A staunch Ba’athist like Hussein Kamal, schooled in the doctrine of secular Arab nationalism, viewed the command as tantamount to heresy. But for Saddam Hussein, this radical shift in strategy was necessary to his survival given the new realities of post-Gulf War Iraq.
Confronted with the postwar turmoil created by military defeat and economic devastation (prolonged by UN-imposed sanctions), Saddam had to re-engineer his domestic constituency to maintain his power. The traditional Ba’athist ideology, based on Iraq-centric Arab nationalism, was no longer the driving force it had been a decade prior. Creating a new power base required bringing into the fold not only the Shi’ite majority ? which had revolted against him in the spring of 1991 ? but also accommodating the growing religious fundamentalism of traditional allies such as key Sunni tribes in western Iraq.
The most visible symbol of Saddam’s decision to embrace Islam was his order to add the words “God is Great” to the Iraqi flag. He also simultaneously embraced traditional Iraqi tribal culture, de-emphasizing the importance of the Ba’ath Party in 1996 by noting that it was but “one of the tribes of Iraq” ? a move that erased decades of Ba’athist anti-tribal policies.
Getting It Wrong, Again
The transformation of the political dynamics inside Iraq, however, has gone largely unnoticed in the West. It certainly seems to have escaped the attention of the Bush Administration. And the recent “transfer of sovereignty” from the USA-led Coalition Provisional Authority to the new Iraqi government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi reflects this lack of understanding.
For many in the Bush Administration, the greatest and indisputable success of the invasion of Iraq was ridding the world of a dangerous ideology, Ba’athism. Indeed, one of the first directives issued by Paul Bremer, the former head of the CPA, was to pass a “de-Ba’athification” law, effectively blacklisting all former members of that party from meaningful involvement in the day-to-day affairs of post-Saddam Iraq. The law underscored the mindset of those in charge of Iraq: Ba’athist holdouts loyal to Saddam were the primary threat to the USA-led occupation.
Senior Bush Administration officials recognized their mistake ? though a little too late. In April 2004, Bremer rescinded his “de-Ba’thification” order. The architect of the USA invasion of Iraq, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, recently told members of Congress that the Pentagon had underestimated its enemy in Iraq. The Pentagon today speaks of a “marriage of convenience” between Islamic fundamentalists and former members of Saddam’s Ba’athist regime, even speculating that the Islamists are taking over Ba’athist cells weakened by American anti-insurgency efforts.
Once again, the Pentagon has it wrong. USA policy in Iraq is still unable or unwilling to face the reality of the enemy on the ground.
The Iraqi resistance is no emerging “marriage of convenience,” but rather a product of planning years in the making. Rather than being absorbed by a larger Islamist movement, Saddam’s former lieutenants are calling the shots in Iraq, having co-opted the Islamic fundamentalists years ago, with or without their knowledge.
One look at the list of the 55 “most wanted” members of the Saddam regime who remain at large reveals the probable chain of command of the Iraqi resistance today. It also underscores the success of Saddam’s strategic decision nearly a decade past to disassociate himself from Ba’athist ideology.
All the Tyrant’s Men
Keep in mind that there was never a formal surrender ceremony after the USA took control of Baghdad. The security services of Saddam’s Iraq were never disbanded; they simply melted away into the population, to be called back into service when and where they were needed.
The so-called Islamic resistance is led by none other than former Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, an ardent Iraqi nationalist, a Sunni Arab and a practicing member of the Sufi brotherhood, a society of Islamic mystics. His deputy is Rafi Tilfah who headed the Directorate of General Security (DGS), an organization that had thoroughly penetrated Iraqi society with collaborators and informants during Saddam’s regime.
As a former UN weapons inspector, I have personally inspected the headquarters of the DGS in Baghdad, as well as the regional DGS Headquarters in Tikrit. The rooms were full of files concerning those who were working with or on behalf of the DGS. There is not a person, family, tribe or Islamic movement in Iraq that the DGS does not know intimately - information that is an invaluable asset when coordinating and facilitating a popular-based resistance movement.
I also interacted with the former Director of the Special Security Organization, Hani al-Tilfah, on numerous occasions during 1997-98, when he was put in charge of riding roughshod over my inspections. He was also responsible for transferring many of his officers to Rafi’s command, purging the DGS of old Ba’athist nationalists and replacing them with officers loyal to Saddam’s new Islamic-Tribal vision of Iraq. Today he helps coordinate the operations of the Iraqi resistance using the very same officers.
Tahir Habbush headed the Iraqi Intelligence Service that perfected the art of improvised explosive devices and using them to carry out assassinations. In the months prior to the USA-led invasion, he was ordered to blend his agents back into the Iraqi population so as to avoid detection by any occupying force. The intelligence service agents were also told to infiltrate organizations actively opposed to Saddam Hussein, and thus most likely to play a leading role in any post-Saddam Iraqi government. These included both the Kurdish and Shi’ite opposition parties.
The recent anti-American attacks in Fallujah and Ramadi were carried out by well-disciplined men fighting in cohesive units, most likely drawn from the ranks of Saddam’s Republican Guard. The level of sophistication should not have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with former Chief of the Republican Guard Sayf al-Rawi’s role in secretly demobilizing select Guard units for this very purpose prior to the USA invasion. And as the former Director of Tribal Affairs for the Special Security Organization, Rokan Razuki’s knowledge of Iraqi tribal realities is unmatched and his connections unrivaled. His continued access to tribal councils is a tremendous threat to any authority in charge of Iraq.
No More Lebanons
The transfer of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government of Iyad Allawi is a charade that will play itself out over the next weeks and months, with tragic consequences. Allawi’s government, hand-picked by the United States from the ranks of anti-Saddam expatriates, lacks not only a constituency inside Iraq, but also legitimacy in the eyes of many ordinary Iraqi citizens.
The truth is that there never was a significant people-based opposition movement inside Iraq for the Bush Administration to call on to form a government to replace Saddam. It is why the United States has instead been forced to rely on the services of individuals tainted by their association with foreign intelligence services, or drawn from opposition parties heavily infiltrated by agents of Saddam’s former security services.
Regardless of the number of troops the United States puts on the ground or how long they stay there, Allawi’s government is doomed to fail. The more it fails, the more it will have to rely on the United States to prop it up. The more the USA props up Allawi, the more discredited he becomes in the eyes of the Iraqi people - all of which creates yet more opportunities for the Iraqi resistance to exploit to their advantage.
The historical parallel that best underscores the current disaster-in-the-making is not the Vietnam War but rather Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Originally intended to rid Lebanon of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel’s subsequent occupation led to the creation of Hizbollah as a viable force of political and military resistance. The Hizbollah was so effective that Israel was forced to unilaterally withdraw its forces from Lebanon in May, 2000. The 18-year occupation not only failed to defeat the PLO, but it also created an Islamic fundamentalist movement that today poses a serious threat to the security of Israel and the Middle East region.
In Iraq, history may very well produce the same result since neither the Bush Administration nor a possible Kerry Administration shows any inclination to withdraw from Iraq in the foreseeable future. And so the course of American involvement in Iraq and its inevitable consequences are clear. We will suffer a decade-long nightmare that will lead to the deaths of thousands more Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis. We will witness the creation of a viable and dangerous anti-American movement in Iraq which will one day watch as American troops unilaterally withdraw from Iraq every bit as ignominiously as Israel did from Lebanon.
The strength of this anti-American resistance depends on how long the United States chooses to “stay the course” in Iraq. The calculus is quite simple: the sooner we bring our forces home, the weaker this movement will be. And, of course, the obverse is true: the longer we stay, the stronger and more enduring this by-product of Bush’s elective war on Iraq will be.
There is no elegant solution to our Iraqi debacle. It is no longer a question of winning, but rather mitigating defeat.
Scott Ritter was Chief UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq from 1991-1998. He is also the author of “Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America”.
Article courtesy of AlterNet