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Paper No. 873                                 29.12.2003

by B.Raman

A fortnight after the much vaunted capture of Saddam Hussein by the US under circumstances, which are still far from clear, the ground situation shows no signs of improvement. The total number of violent incidents per day admitted by the coalition forces, which went down from an average of 30 plus to 20 after the end of the Muslim fasting period in November, has again increased to 26.

2. I am using the word "admitted" because the coalition spokesmen are admitting only those incidents which independently come to the notice of the  media. No public announcement is made about other incidents. This became obvious when the attempt to kill Paul Bremer, the civilian head of the US operations in Iraq, in an ambush laid by the Iraqi resistance on December 6 was admitted only a fortnight later after a TV channel had come to know of it.  Thus, there is obvious management of statistics by coalition spokesmen in general and by US spokesmen in particular.

3. The interrogation of Saddam and hundreds of others arrested by the US troops at Samarra and other places has apparently not yielded any worthwhile intelligence  as could be seen from the  repeatedly exhibited ability of  the resistance fighters and the foreign jihadi terrorists to strike at will at targets of opportunity or of  their choosing even in areas where the US troops in their search and arrest sweeps had rounded up hundreds of suspects.

4. Baghdad and Samarra and their neighbourhood  continue to see targeted attacks on the US troops, the Iraqi Police and establishments associated with them despite the campaigns of intimidation periodically undertaken by the US forces by using heavy weapons, tanks and artillery in inhabited areas. The incidents of repeated mortar firing by resistance fighters  on buildings in Baghdad  used by the US troops and civilian personnel and foreign journalists around Christmas show the continuing fragility of the security situation even in the capital. Paul Bremer and the members of the US-controlled Iraqi governing council hardly move around in the capital and have practically no interaction with the people except the anti-Saddam elements, who have returned from exile in the US and West Europe.  Bremer's tours are confined to the Kurdish areas in the North and the Shia areas in the South under British control.

5. The US continues to avoid much interaction with large sections of the Iraqi elite, who had remained loyal to Saddam before the occupation.  This is the section, which had always contributed the best of the  professionals of the Iraqi society such as bureaucrats, law enforcers, engineers, doctors, teachers etc.  These are the people with their ears close to the ground, who know the country and the pulse of the people. In its continued reluctance to make a distinction  between Saddam and those who had served his regime and to seek to win over the latter while acting against the former, the US has laid the seeds of the failure of its policies, whether relating to the restoration of law and order or rehabilitation and reconstruction.

6. The political exiles, who have returned after a long comfortable life in the West, and dominate policy-making under the protection of the US gun and watchful eyes of Bremer, neither know their country nor their people.  There are already allegations of some of them  making money by asking for commission from foreign contractors and traders. The allegations are particularly serious with regard to contracts for the purchase of arms and ammunition from abroad for issue to the newly raised Police and Army.

7. The morale of the newly-raised police and army is low. Police officers have been increasingly the targets of attacks by the resistance fighters and foreign jihadi terrorists.  Over 250 Iraqi police officers have died since May at the hands of the resistance fighters and jihadi terrorists, though US spokesmen have admitted the death of only about 120 as on December 19 ( they call them the Iraqi security service personnel).

8. There have been already unreported incidents of desertions from the police and the new Army.  The desertions have been partly due to the low morale and partly to unhappiness over what they view as discriminatory conditions of service. While the US troops have the highest scales of remuneration and canteen facilities plus a handsome war hazard allowance, the pay scales fixed for the officers of the Iraqi Police and Army are perceived to be low.  The mercenaries of the Iraqi members of the governing council such as Ahmed Chalabi are better paid.  The staff of the Iraqi Police and Army were till recently not entitled to the war hazard allowance.  A proposal to grant that allowance even to them was under consideration.

9. The counter-insurgency methods adopted by the US troops have been reminiscent of those adopted by them  in Vietnam and by Israel against the Palestinians--- massive acts of reprisals, indiscriminate arrests, restrictions on the movements of Iraqis inside their own country and often inside their own towns as, for example, in Samarra.

10. The fact that despite such intimidatory methods, the Iraqi resistance movement continues to get volunteers for operations directed against the occupation troops speaks much  of the continuing high level of motivation.  The motivation has in no way been weakened by the capture of Saddam.  The local support enjoyed by the resistance fighters has facilitated their operations and thwarted the attempts of the US and other coalition troops to penetrate the resistance movement, identify its individual cells and their leaders and members and neutralise them.

11. It is remarkable that eight months after the resistance movement started, the US has even now very little idea of its organisational structure, leadership, sanctuaries and modus operandi.  Despite spectacular successes such as the killing of the two sons of Saddam in July and the capture of Saddam  himself on December 13, which were apparently made possible by betrayals by individual Iraqis, there have been very few instances of arrests of resistance fighters and foreign jihadi terrorists by the coalition troops on the basis of similar betrayals.

12. Those arrested seemed to have had very little to do with the resistance movement and those in the core and forefront of the resistance movement have successfully evaded capture. The resistance movement continues to be well organised in autonomous cells of not more than five persons per cell capable of acting on their own in pursuance of their master objective of making the occupation troops and their Iraqi collaborators bleed without the need for centralised command and control and modern means of communications.

13. The resistance fighters avoid operating in large groups and do not indulge in direct confrontational tactics despite claims to the contrary made by US spokesmen with regard to Samarra. The claims of the US spokesmen that the resistance fighters in Samarra, who, according to them, confronted a US column,  were wearing fedayeen uniform illustrate the confusion or ignorance, which continues to prevail among the coalition troops, about their enemy, whom they hardly know. The resistance fighters do not wear any uniform in order to avoid attracting attention to themselves.

14. The resistance cells avoid identifying themselves by any name,  do not issue fatwas and threats like Al Qaeda and other jihadi organisations do, do not make claims of success, do not indulge in propaganda and publicity and avoid using modern means of communications, including the Internet.

15. The coalition troops continue to be as ignorant of the identity and strength of the foreign jihadi terrorists, who have infiltrated into Iraq and have been operating  independently of the resistance fighters, as they are of the resistance fighters. The spectacular and well-orchestrated attacks in Karbala on December 27, which killed four Bulgarian and two Thai troops and six Iraqi Police officers, bear the signature of the Chechen elements in the foreign jihadi force.

16. There have been no reports of any fresh infiltration of jihadi terrorists from abroad. The tightening of border controls by the Saudi authorities has deterred any fresh bid to infiltrate into Iraq. The total assessed number of foreign jihadi terrorists already operating inside Iraq remains at around 320 or even less due to attrition.  Like the resistance fighters, the foreign jihadi terrorists too operate in small autonomous cells and avoid claiming success and using modern means of communications, including the Internet.

17. By adopting suitable evasive flying tactics, US helicopters have been able to avoid any loss in December similar to those of November.

18. The US and other coalition troops will continue to bleed till they are able to get a better measure of the resistance fighters and the external jihadi terrorists and their modus operandi. While the short-term prospects remain negative, the US should still be able to turn the tide in the medium and long term and soften and win over the resistance fighters if only it tries and succeeds in winning the co-operation of the estranged and sulking Iraqi elite of the Saddam days.  Continued reliance on stooges could prove counter-productive.

19. As I have been repeatedly reiterating in my writings and talks, it is not in India's interest that the US fails to prevail in Iraq. Whatever its past mistakes---there have been many  and of a very serious nature---some of the adversaries which it faces in Iraq post-May are India's adversaries too. Many of them were previously killing hundreds of innocent civilians in India, Russia (Chechnya) and other countries. They are now killing Americans and Iraqis.  If they succeed against the US, they will receive a shot in the arm and will gravitate to other jihadi fronts, including India, with renewed confidence and heightened morale.  This has to be prevented.

20. India's decision not to send troops to Iraq was the right one. We cannot afford to get involved in a counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism role in a Muslim country. At the same time, we should not hesitate to consider other ways of discreetly assisting the US such as intelligence-sharing, training of the new Iraqi bureaucrats, including military, police and intelligence  officers, in Indian institutions and acting discreetly as an interface between the US and the angry and sulking Iraqi elite in an attempt to bring the two together. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: )