It was unwise on the part of the US to have invaded Iraq and overthrown the genuinely secular regime headed by former President Saddam Hussein. The result is there for all to see.
Bloody November, which saw a hundred deaths of coalition troops -- 81 of them Americans -- and of an unestimated, but reportedly large number of innocent Iraqi civilians, who had nothing to do with either Saddam or Al Qaeda or the International Islamic Front (IIF), at the hands of the American troops, is a forewarning of more bloody months to come.
Before the US-UK invasion, Iraq had no jihadi terrorists. Some Palestinians belonging to organisations such as the Abu Nidal Organisation and the members of the anti-Iran Mujahideen-e-Khalq, to whom Saddam had given shelter, were terrorists, but not of the jihadi kind.
Since the occupation of Iraq, the country is swarming with jihadis -- more indigenous (about 6,000) than foreign (about 320) -- who have been waging a two-front jihad against the occupation troops -- the jihad of the indigenous resistance fighters, who are not terrorists, and that of the foreign mujahideen, who are. The Iraqi resistance fighters have been attacking American troops and their Iraqi collaborators. The foreign mujahideen have been targeting nationals of countries which have been collaborating with the US and international organisations. There is so far no evidence of a common mastermind guiding the activities of the indigenous and the external.
The jihad of the indigenous has been targeted and well-planned avoiding innocent Iraqi civilian casualties. They are well-organised and seem to have better intelligence than the American troops. If the US version that the Iraqi attack on an American escort party at Samarra on November 30, 2003, was because that party was escorting a vehicle carrying large quantities of newly-printed currency notes is correct, the fact that the Iraqi fighters had advance knowledge of this would show the kind of moles they have in the set-up of the occupational forces.
The large civilian casualties, as during the fighting at Samarra, have been more due to over-reaction by US troops than due to any indiscriminate firing by the indigenous jihadis. Such over-reactions, though regrettable, are unavoidable when the jihadis operate from the midst of civilian-inhabited areas. Fortunately, the indigenous jihadis have till now refrained from using too many explosive devices, which indiscriminately kill civilians.
The jihad of the foreign mujahideen has been ruthless with indiscriminate use of explosive devices and suicide bombers. As many Iraqi civilians have died at the hands of these foreign jihadis as at the hands of the American troops.
The IIF, which was formed by Osama bin Laden in 1998 and whose activities are now co-ordinated by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) of Pakistan, has advised the pro-bin Laden jihadi terrorist organisations all over the world to give priority to the despatch of volunteers and funds to confront the Americans in Iraq even at the risk of a slow-down of the jihad being waged by them in their own countries.
There are clear indications of a stepping-up of fund collection, particularly in Pakistan. During the recent observance of Id, not only jihadi terrorist organisations allied to Al Qaeda in the IIF, but also the Islamic fundamentalist parties, which are members of the pro-bin Laden and pro-Taliban coalition called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), collected funds all over Pakistan ostensibly to support the jihadis in India's Jammu & Kashmir and Iraq and the families of the "martyrs" who sacrificed their lives during the jihad.
The Pakistani authorities did not stop the fund collection, which was made even in Army cantonments. The response was good, but it is difficult to estimate how much was collected, how much of it would go to financing the jihad and how much to the personal bank accounts of the religious leaders. Even assuming that a substantial percentage of the collections would be misappropriated, the balance should still be sufficient to keep the jihad in Iraq going for months.
The response to the call for foreign volunteers to go to Iraq has not been that encouraging. There has been a reshuffling, with Arab nationals of Chechen origin being shifted from Chechnya and Pakistan to Jordan and Saudi Arabia and some Pakistanis and Arabs, including Yemeni-Balochis, also being similarly shifted. While the jihad-hardened veterans of the jihads of the 1980s and 1990s are willing to go and fight the Americans in Iraq, very few post-2001 new recruits are prepared to go to Iraq. They prefer to fight the American troops in Afghanistan by joining the Taliban and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami.
As a result, the number of foreign jihadis active against the US troops in Iraq has remained at about 320 for some weeks now. Media reports of hundreds of jihadis being recruited in different countries and sent to Iraq are not corroborated by ground intelligence.
The US troops continue to be handicapped by the scarcity of precise intelligence about the nature of the enemy, his motivation and capability. As a result, they have been literally hitting out in the dark not knowing whether those targeted by them are friends or foes. This is another reason for the large civilian casualties.
The Iraqi Governing Council, to which the US proposes to transfer provisional authority by June next, is a farce, with very little visibility and credibility in the country. They are viewed by the Iraqi population as American quislings. One cannot win a war with the help of quislings.
It is in India's interest that the US prevails over the jihadi terrorists and is able to exit Iraq with its honour and dignity intact. If the US gets beaten and battered in Iraq by these jihadis, it would be even more difficult to deal with them in the rest of the world than it is today
To be able to do so, the US has no other alternative but to dump these quislings, rehabilitate the intellectuals and the ruling elite of the Baath Party and seek their leadership and co-operation in its efforts to defeat the jihadi terrorists and re-construct the Iraqi civil society which it has destroyed.
Re-Baathification of Iraq is the only solution to the dilemma confronting the US and other occupying powers. There is no other viable option.
This may please be read in continuation of my earlier article of April 21, 2003, After Saddam, The Mullahs & Imams
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter
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