This is a Resistance Movement, Whether We Like
It or Not
By Robert Fisk
30 October , 2003
Robert Fisk joins us on the phone right now. Middle East correspondent
for the London independent. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Robert.
ROBERT FISK: Hello,
AMY GOODMAN: It's
good to have you with us. Well, the killings in Iraq continue. We hear
about one side. We hear about the continual killings of U.S. service
men and women. We hear about the bombings of the Red Cross, the bombings
of the police stations in Baghdad and Fallujah. You've spent a lot of
time in Iraq. Can you explain?
ROBERT FISK: Well,
I think, you know, part of the explanation needs to include a kind of
a cultural comment. We were just listening to your reading of the news
where we were hearing you quoting American statesmen as saying that--
talking about the number of foreign fighters in Iraq. Well, I can tell
you there are at least 200,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and 146,000
of them are wearing American uniform. You know, Americans in Iraq did
not grow up in Tikrit eating dates for breakfast. The largest number
of foreign fighters in Iraq, a thousand times over anything Al Qaeda
can do, are western soldiers. And we need to realize that we're maintaining
an occupation there.
Are there foreign
Arab fighters, which is really what your question is about. I think
there are probably a few, though we don't know how many and we don't
know how many of them actually entered Iraq. Not as friends of Al Qaeda,
but in heeding the call of Saddam Hussein to defend Iraq before the
American invasion. But, you know, at the end of the day, this is what
we call a canard. It's a game. It's a lie. The resistance to the American
presence, and these ferocious, brutal, cruel attacks on Iraqis themselves
are being carried out largely by Iraqis. The Americans claimed, after
the bombings, oh, they managed to get one of the suicide bombers who
didn't kill himself and he had a Syrian passport. I noticed we've not
been given his passport number or his nationality, date of birth or,
indeed, his name. Well, he may be real. He may be real.
But the vast majority
of the, quote, resistance, unquote, are Iraqis and my own investigations,
particularly around the city of Fallujah, which is where so many Americans
have been killed, American servicemen, is that these people were originally
Iraqis with a growing interest in the politics of Islam, who, under
Saddam Hussein, were permitted, because Saddam knew when to let the
top off the kettle and let it not boil over. Were permitted to form
an organization called the committee, or the organization, of the faithful.
They weren't pro-Saddam; in many cases they, like the people of Fallujah,
were arrested and very cruelly treated by Saddam's henchmen. But they
were allowed to form individual groups who could discuss religion, providing
they didn't talk about politics.
When the regime
fell, when the Americans entered Baghdad on the ninth of April this
year, these groups became the only focused resistance against American
rule. And they did decide, individually and then in coordination, that
they would become the Iraqi resistance. I wrote about this actually
on April 9. But, these people did begin to believe that they could be
the new nationalists, aided, of course, with the weapons of Saddam,
the former henchmen of Saddam, and, to some considerable extent, by
a population which felt that the American occupiers were behaving brutally.
One man, a tribal
leader around Fallujah, whose village I went to and, indeed, I had lunch
with him a few weeks ago said to me, you know, originally when the Americans
came here, we shouted our greetings to them. But when we staged a protest
against their presence, they shot 14 of us dead. There were indeed 14
Iraqis shot dead in Fallujah. After that, he said, it became a question
of tribal honor. We had to take our revenge against the Americans, and
as they shot back, it became a question of resistance. So, what you
found is that the way in which the Americans behave, the way in which
the Iraqis behaved, plus this cellular system of groups of the faithful,
which were permitted to exist under Saddam, though not with much enthusiasm
from the previous regime, turned a war of resistance-- or, rather, turned
a war of revenge into a war of resistance. And the people who are killing
Americans, at the moment, and killing fellow Iraqis, are largely Iraqis.
Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Bush can go on talking till cows
come home about foreign fighters. These are not, for the most part,
people who were born outside Iraq, which most Americans were. They are
people who are called Iraqis. This is a resistance movement, whether
we like it or not.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert
Fisk, you described your experience simply at Baghdad Airport, who was
there, the rocket attacks that were coming in as you were trying to
leave, what the soldiers there were saying, what the perimeter is there.
ROBERT FISK: Yeah.
Well, it was -- As I said in the piece which you quote, a crazy mixture
of Walt Disney and Vietnam-- you know? They didn't even have any-- the
only international flyer or airline operating out of Baghdad Airport,
we can't call it Saddam Airport anymore, and who would want to, is Royal
Jordanian, which is a comparatively small Middle Eastern airline company.
Heaven knows who insures them for this trip.
But they -- When
I was flying out, they had a flight on the ground. There were supposed
to be two planes of Royal Jordanian, one of which was a small executive
jet, the other which was to be an Airbus and they kept changing the
times, there were no seat numbers, etc. But as I was waiting hour after
hour for the planes to take off, mortars started landing at the airport.
Five in all. And I was actually chatting to a group of special forces,
Americans, with their black webbing with lots and lots of radios and
telephones and weapons. And they were actually-- as special forces tend
to-being quite appreciative of their enemy. They were saying: Not bad.
They're getting better. They're getting better. In other words, they
were aiming their mortars to land closer to the actual runway of the
airport. Each mortar landing would be succeeded by a large kind of smoke
ring that would go up in the sky about 20, 30 feet wide. And then an
Apache helicopter took off to try and rocket the attackers.
One of the special
forces men said to me that they previously had a five-mile-wide radius
around the airport, a security screen, in which they had-- the Americans
had successfully occupied, totally, a five-mile radius. But because
of attacks, this had been reduced to a two-mile radius. The Americans
in Baghdad, and all along the main highways to the south and north are
cutting back the vegetation. Palm trees, olive trees, orange trees,
the farmers and sometimes on government land. This is what the Israelis
did to prevent attacks in southern Lebanon in the early 1980's, here
where I'm speaking to you from now, and the purpose, of course, is to
make sure that attackers have no cover of vegetation. But, of course,
this in itself has caused much anger among Iraqis who live off the olive
trees and orange trees and so on.
In any event, the
five-mile radius around the airport has now been reduced to two miles
and with the maximum range of a ground-to-air handheld missile now being
estimated at 8,000 feet. That, in the words of one of the special forces
men, put any flier out of the airport on the edge-- in other words,
any plane going out is now have at risk of being hit by a ground-to-air
shoulder-fired missile because of too-little radius of security around
the airport to prevent anyone firing at an aircraft and hitting it.
We did eventually
take off, and instead of making a gradual ascent to cruising altitude,
the Airbus did this howling, air-biting G-forces turn up and up, a spiral
like going up the side of a corkscrew, which you might open a wine bottle
with, where the airport kept appearing through the right porthole, and
the left porthole, and then upside down and so on. And as I said at
the end, you know, when we leveled off at 35,000 feet and the stewardess
came around and said, would you like a juice or a red wine, I said,
Rita-- guess which one I chose.
AMY GOODMAN: We're
talking to Robert Fisk. He is the correspondent for The Independent
newspaper, has spend much time during the occupation and the invasion
in Iraq. He is speaking to us from Beirut and we want to ask, Robert,
if you can stay with us.