Thursday, June 21, 2007
"Reassurance" posted by Richard Seymour
Reports on US attacks on Iraqi cities use the occupiers' terms of reference almost without fail. However, the extent to which one has to be insulated from reality in order to continue to do so is illustrated in this report from the LA Times, which cites the following, without scepticism:
James Phillips, a Middle East and terrorism expert at the Heritage Foundation, said even if large operations such as this one did not capture many insurgents, they could disrupt their activities.
"I think probably the more fruitful raids are the small, pinpoint attacks," he said. "But one possible benefit of the big operations is it reassures the population, and maybe they will provide you the intelligence that you can use to hit insurgent leaders."
As usual, the article discusses the terrible things that have 'be-devilled' the occupiers efforts to bring the locals to heel. But look at that claim that "the big operations" - ferocious military assaults as they are usually known - reassure the population. This is a discussion of the attack on Baquba, and a series of coterminous assaults taking place in the famed 'Sunni triangle'. Now, how many times do the polls need to tell us that Iraqis demand an immediate withdrawal, especially in those areas? How many times do we need to hear that most Iraqis support resistance attacks on troops - again, particularly in the areas currently under attack? When even the cowed souls in the Iraqi National Assembly oppose the occupation, the correct word is intimidation.
According to the New York times, the US forces are once again cordoning off territory in advance of bombardment, this time western Baquba, where they have already dropped several tonnes of sattelite-guided explosives. One of the curious claims emerging from the occupiers at the moment is that the resistance in Baqubah only amounts to 300 'Al Qaeda' fighters. This tiny clique has supposedly governed a city of 300,000 people as the capital of the 'Islamic State of Iraq'. As a result, the US is putting the civilian population through the usual humiliating searches and taking biometric data from them. This is part of a massive operation across Iraq. Using the secret biometric files accumulated by Hussein's mukhabarat, they are cross-checking all fingerprints and iris scans, apparently so that they can separate evil-doers from those who simply need 'reassuring'.
Interestingly, the reports also mention that the '1920 Revolution Brigades' are operating in Baqubah. This is a non-sectarian Sunni resistance group whose name refers to the revolt against British colonialism in 1920. Their strategy has been to use guerilla tactics against military forces rather than the more brutal (but apparently effective) suicide attacks directed against the infrastructure of Iraq. If you're interested in seeing how they work, they have taken video footage of several of their attacks on tanks and helicopters. The curious thing is that the same reports that discuss their presence in Baqubah also discuss their widely noted attacks on 'Al Qaeda'. In fact, the LA Times report above says it is 'chilling': "In Diyala, there were reports of the 1920 Revolution Brigade using its newfound status to chilling effect. Rami Abdullah, a Baqubah schoolteacher, said masked men raided a house near his home and arrested two alleged Al Qaeda loyalists. 'They whisked them away to unknown destinations,' he said. Masked men also took over several homes near a dam and were using them as interrogation centers for people suspected of supporting Al Qaeda. 'They are executing anyone who is proved affiliated with these groups,' he said." Of course, when US troops arrest alleged supporters of 'Al Qaeda', it is called 'counterterrorism'.
The wider point I would like to make about this is that the constant references to the resistance movements in Anbar and other areas of Iraq as 'Al Qaeda', while certainly effective propaganda, are probably laughed at by experts. Among the armed resistance groups based in the Sunni areas of Baghdad, Anbar, Salah ad-Din and Diyala are: The General Command of the Armed Forces, Resistance and Liberation in Iraq (mostly former Ba'athists); Popular Resistance for the Liberation of Iraq (secular Sunni outfit); Iraqi Resistance and Liberation Command (secular nationalist, anti-Ba'ath); Al 'Awdah (former security personnel of the Ba'ath); Harakat Ra's al-'Afa (Ba'athist, linked to tribes in Ramadi and Fallujah); Nasserites, (a small bunch of non-Ba'ath pan-Arab nationalists); Thuwwar al-'Aral-Kata'ib al-Anbar al-Musallahuh (anti-Saddam nationalists); General Secretariat for the Liberation of Democratic Iraq (leftist nationslists); Higher Command of the Mujahideen in Iraq (both religious and nationalist); Munazzamat al-Rayat al-Aswad (religious nationalist); Unification Front for the Liberation of Iraq (anti-Saddam and anti-Baath); National Front for the Liberation of Iraq (incorporates both former Republican Guards and Islamists); Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah (one of the largest groups in Iraq, incorporating both Kurdish and Sunni Arab Islamists); Mujahideen al ta'ifa al-Mansoura (Salafist, includes non-Iraqis); Kata'ib al Mujahideen fi al-Jama'ah al-Salafiyah fi al-'Arak (Salafists, with some connections to former Afghan groups); Jihad Brigades/Cells (Islamist guerillas); Armed Islamic Movement of the Al Qaeda Organization, Fallujah Branch (a little known group with some amount of support in the city); Jaish Muhammad (apparently one of the largest Islamist groups); Islamic Army of Iraq (Salafist); Jaish al Mahdi (you know these guys already, and they do sometimes operate in the north where there are Shi'ites living).
That's far from comprehensive. If you had to estimate the scale of this patchwork of military outfits alone, however, by 2004, it was estimated by American sources to be at least 20,000. By 2005, when Ahmed S Hashim wrote Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq, the resistance groups they were able to put a figure on had tens of thousands of members. The director of the new intelligence services built by the occupiers, General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani claimed in early 2005 that the resistance numbered 40,000 hardcore fighters and 160,000 'part-timers'. In the middle of that year, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the US Army claimed that they had killed an estimated 50,000 people. A large number of those fighting have done so informally, outside the rubric of specific groups. Assume also that a large number of the hundreds of thousands so far killed by the occupiers were fighting the occupiers informally or as part of such cells. There must have been proportionately many more wounded than actually died as well. Add to that the fact that huge areas of Iraq are not under occupation control: Anbar and Diyala in particular are decisively under resistance hegemony, while other provinces such as Salah ah-Din, Ninewah and Kirkuk are contested, and 60% of Baghdad is controlled by different resistance groups (the south, of course, is largely under the influence of diverse Shi'ite militias, some of whom collaborate with the occupation). In several of the largest cities, resistance groups have been sufficiently in control to mount large public parades.
The actual number of resistance fighters is probably substantially larger than the number of occupying troops, and given the trends, it would probably be at least double what it was when General Shahwani made his estimate. The idea that the US army is conducting a counterinsurgency operation in Baqubah against a few hundred 'Al Qaeda' fighters with no base of support is palpably absurd. In mid-2004, Brigadier General Custer (oh yes), director of intelligence for CENTCOM, said that there was little evidence of 'Al Qaeda' operating in Iraq, and he was correct. Since then, one or two groups operating there have declared 'loyalty' to the 'Al Qaeda' network, but it remains the case that the bulk of the insurgency, more than 95%, is Iraqi. We have since been apprised of the massive propaganda efforts that went into persuading people otherwise. The propaganda persists, of course, with precisely the same motifs as before: it's Al Qaeda, it's a small number of foreign fighters, it's mostly evildoers who attack civilians (not so either, as I have repeatedly pointed out), and so on. What the occupiers are facing, as they know very well, a massive, popular (if poorly armed and trained) movement with enormous public support. So, who needs 'reassuring' here?