Resistance Will Win
By Scott Ritter
25 July , 2004
battle for Iraq's sovereign future is a battle for the hearts and minds
of the Iraqi people. As things 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-U.S. resistance.
Iyad Allawi's government
was recently installed by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority
(CPA) to counter a Baathist 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.
In August 1995,
Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, defected to Jordan. Fourteen months
into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, 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.
More important is
Kamal's self-described reason for defecting: Saddam's order that all
senior Baath Party officials undergo mandatory Koranic studies. For
Saddam, this radical shift in strategy was necessary to his survival,
given the new realities of post-Gulf War Iraq.
Baathist 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 Shiite 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.
of the political dynamics inside Iraq, however, went largely unnoticed
in the West. It certainly seems to have escaped the attention of the
Bush administration. And the recent "transfer of sovereignty"
to Allawi's government reflects this lack of understanding.
One of the first
directives issued by Paul Bremer, the former head of the CPA, was to
pass a "de- Baathification" 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: Baathist holdouts loyal to Saddam were the
primary threat to the U.S.-led occupation.
Senior Bush administration
officials recognized their mistake - though a little too late. In April,
2004, Bremer rescinded his "de-Baathification" order. The
Pentagon today speaks of a "marriage of convenience" between
Islamic fundamentalists and former members of Saddam's Baathist regime,
even speculating that the Islamists are taking over Baathist cells weakened
by American anti-insurgency efforts.
Once again, the
Pentagon has it wrong. U.S. 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 years of planning. 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
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 ago to disassociate himself from Baathist ideology.
Keep in mind that
there was never a formal surrender ceremony after the U.S. 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-Douri, 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
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. 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 improvising
explosive devices and using them to carry out assassinations. In the
months prior to the U.S.-led invasion, he was ordered to blend his agents
back into the Iraqi population so as to avoid detection by any occupying
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 the role
of the former chief of the Republican Guard, Sayf al-Rawi, in secretly
demobilizing select Guard units for this very purpose prior to the U.S.
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, and 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 United States props up Allawi, the more discredited he will
become in the eyes of the Iraqi people - all of which creates yet more
opportunities for the Iraqi resistance to exploit.
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 that will one
day watch as American troops unilaterally withdraw from Iraq every bit
as ignominiously as Israel did from Lebanon.
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 byproduct 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 of mitigating defeat.
a UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, is the author of "Frontier
Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America."