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A prescription for Iraq
July 05, 2005
Since April, 2005, there has been a co-ordinated escalation of acts of jihadi terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir in India.
I believe the coming months will see more incidents of jihadi terrorism in these three areas.
In Iraq, there are signs of a decrease in the operations of the Arab Sunni resistance fighters, who owe their loyalty to the old Baath Party disbanded by the Americans after they occupied the country. They are distinct from the Arab Sunni terrorists of foreign origin, who owe their loyalty to Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The Iraqi resistance fighters have been largely depending on attacks with hand-held weapons such as rifles, machine guns, hand-grenades etc or mortars. Incidents involving the use of such weapons have been less this year than last year. The frequency and ferocity of the mortar attacks on the American-protected Green Zone in Baghdad seem to have come down.
Iraqis, like the Afghans, never believed in suicide terrorism in the past and there is no reason to think that they do so now, whatever be their feelings of humiliation over the continued occupation of their country by the Americans.
The pro-Al Qaeda foreign terrorists, on the other hand, have been largely relying on indiscriminate suicide bombings -- car bombs and human-bomb-carriers--- spreading death and destruction.
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There are very few Iraqi Sunnis in their ranks -- less than 15 per cent. The foreign terrorists have been able to step up their attacks in a coordinated manner since April. The American and Iraqi Security forces have so far found no effective answer to them.
The seemingly inexhaustible flow of suicide bombers of foreign origin to the ranks of Zarqawi's Al Qaeda in Iraq speaks of the ineffectiveness and/or unwillingness of the security agencies of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Pakistan to stop them.
It also speaks of the ineffectiveness of the security agencies of West Europe, from where an increasing number of jihadi recruits are going to Iraq. From the UK alone, about 70 volunteers are reported to have gone to Iraq---many of them of South Asian, mostly Pakistani, origin.
Iraq rejects Saudi troops
A sample study of the identities of Arab suicide-bombers who killed themselves over a six-month period by Dr Reuven Paz, the renowned Israeli expert, in March this year. His findings reveal that the 154 Arabs killed in Iraq in the six months preceding his study were of the following nationalities/origin : Saudi Arabia: 94 61%; Syria: 16 10.4%; Iraq: 13 8.4%; Kuwait: 11 7.1%;Jordan: 4 ;Lebanon: 3 (one was living in Denmark); Libya: 2 ; Algeria: 2 ;Morocco: 2 (one was living in Spain); Yemen: 2 ;Tunisia: 2 ;Palestine: 1;Dubai: 1; and Sudan: 1 (living in Saudi Arabia).
The predominant role played by Saudi nationals or persons of Saudi origin in the wave of suicide bombings in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq continues. All available estimates show that their number runs into over a thousand. There were very few Saudis in Iraq before the American-led coalition occupied the country. There are now more Saudis than nationals of any other country.
In a recent interview in London, Dr Saad al-Faqih, who heads the Saudi opposition group Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, claimed that according to his sources in the Saudi Interior Ministry, about 2,500 Saudi nationals were operating inside Iraq. About 200 of them are reported to have returned to Saudi Arabia to replenish the ranks of those operating inside Saudi Arabia, who have been killed by the Saudi security forces.
Al-Qaeda's Saudi unit chief shot
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan continue to be the weakest links in the US' so-called war on jihadi terrorism. While acting against terrorists posing a threat to the security and stability of their own countries, the security agencies of the two countries have been closing their eyes to the terrorist recruits from their countries moving to other theatres of jihadi operations---Iraq in the case of Saudi nationals and Afghanistan and India in the case of Pakistan.
The large-scale involvement of Saudi nationals in the jihadi terrorism in Iraq has serious implications for the rest of the world. If they manage to prevail in Iraq and force the withdrawal of the American troops, they are unlikely to remain in Iraq any longer. Their return to Saudi Arabia could cause serious instability in Saudi Arabia, which could seriously disturb the oil economy of many countries, including India. The triumph of the Saudi-led terrorist forces in Iraq over the Americans is not an outcome to be wished for.
Body counts as a tool of analysis can be very misleading. One saw it in Vietnam.
The repeated claims of Robert McNamara, the then US Defence Secretary, on the basis of body counts that the US troops were making progress proved to be misleading. In Iraq too, officials of the Bush Administration as well as its critics have been relying on body counts to support their respective case.
The past claims of the Bush Administration on the basis of body counts that it has succeeded in pacifying Fallujah have proved to be wrong. Similarly, the claims of the critics about Bush losing the war are based on the body counts of the number of suicide bombers and the people killed by them. The number is devastatingly high, but it does not convey a correct total picture of the ground situation.
The total picture has positive as well as negative factors. Among the positive factors, one can cite the following.
The majority of the population consisting of the Arab and Persian Shias and Sunni Kurds do not support the foreign terrorists. The support enjoyed by the foreign terrorists is confined to the Arab Sunnis.
Despite the repeated attacks directed at the members of the Iraqi police and security forces and volunteers intending to join them, there has been no decline in the flow of volunteers to join the police and the security forces. Even some of the critics of the Bush administration admit that this flow is impressive. The flow of Iraqi volunteers to join the police and the security forces is as impressive as the flow of jihadi terrorist volunteers from abroad to join the Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The Iraqi police and security forces have so far been ineffective in controlling terrorism, but one does not see any noticeable signs of demoralisation in their ranks as a result of the frighteningly large number of casualties inflicted on them by the terrorists. Desertions there have been, but not large.
There are two ways of looking at the TV visuals coming out of Iraq. One is to focus only on the devastation caused by the terrorists and conclude that they are winning. The other is to look at the large number of Iraqi policemen and security forces personnel, who continue to perform their duties in public undeterred by the deaths of so many of their colleagues at the hands of the terrorists.
One talks of the continuing strong motivation of the terrorists. One should also note the continuing strong motivation of the police and the security forces.
What are the negative factors?
The anti-US resentment among the Arab Sunnis continues to be as strong as ever, if not stronger. They may be in a minority in the country as a whole, but are in a majority in the Sunni Triangle. Neither the Americans nor the Iraqi security forces will be able to restore law and order in this area without the local community support, which is not forthcoming.
The political, administrative and security vacuum created in the Arab Sunni majority areas by the unwise decision of Paul Bremer--the American official who headed the interim administration till June 28 2004-- to disband the Iraqi security forces, police and the administration dominated by the Baath Party has not been filled up by other Sunnis willing to co-operate with the new rulers of Iraq.
The Arab Sunnis have by and large kept away not only from the new political process, but also from the newly-created administrative structure and security bureaucracy.
There are very few Arab Sunnis in the newly-created administrative and security infrastructure. The newly-raised security forces and Police consist largely of Arab and Persian Shias and Sunni Kurds. They have been made responsible for counter-insurgency duties in support of the American troops in the Sunni Triangle. They neither know the area nor the people. They are as much strangers and hated aliens here as the Americans.
What one is seeing in the Sunni Triangle is a bloody battle for supremacy between two sets of aliens--- the Americans, the Shias and the Sunni Kurds on the one side and the foreign terrorists of the Al Qaeda in Iraq on the other . The Sunni Arabs have no sympathy for either, but they hate the Americans, the Shias and the Kurds more than they hate the foreign terrorist intruders. This polarisation has the sprouting seeds of a possible balkanisation of Iraq one day.
The US' counter-terrorism policy in Iraq has till now been totally inept ---depending more on firepower than brain-power. There is a need for urgent mid-course corrections.
- First, start treating the arrested ex-Baath Party leaders, including Saddam Hussein, with dignity and respect.
- Second, stop the attempts of the Shia-dominated interim Government to humiliate them by interrogating them before TV cameras and other means.
- Third, postpone, if not delay, their trials.
- Four, allow their followers wanting access to them, to meet them under carefully-controlled conditions.
- Five, allow the arrested leaders to meet each other. End their isolation.
Six, encourage interactions between the Sunni tribal leaders and detained Baath Party leaders.
Seven, encourage the ex-senior officers of the Police and the Army sacked by Bremer to become more active in their respective communities and help in the recruitment of Arab Sunnis to the Police and the Security forces.
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How does one stop the continuing flow of foreign recruits to Iraq?
The American pressure till now has been only on Syria. The Syrian territory is being used only for transit purposes. There is so far no evidence to show that the transit has been with the complicity of the Syrian security forces.
The more important task is how to dismantle the recruiting, motivating and training infrastructure in Saudi territory. The Bush Administration's policy of continuing to treat Saudi Arabia and Pakistan with kid gloves will prove counter-productive.
In the initial stages of the anti-US jihad in Iraq in 2003, the Pakistani and other foreign volunteers of Afghan vintage, who had moved to Iraq from Pakistan from the beginning of 2003, played a leading role. These volunteers essentially came from the Al Qaeda and Pakistan's Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM--now called the Jamiat-ul-Ansar), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM).
The subsequent volunteers were new recruits from Saudi Arabia and other countries with no Afghan background. As the flow of volunteers from these countries increased, there was a decrease in the flow of volunteers from Pakistan.
Recently, one has been seeing the return of the Pakistani and other foreign volunteers of Afghan vintage to Pakistan in order to take advantage of the preoccupation of the Americans in Iraq and step up acts of terrorism in Afghanistan in support of the Taliban members operating from sanctuaries in Pakistani territory.
The recent escalation in acts of violence in Afghanistan as evidenced by two suicide bombings and the downing of two US helicopters is the outcome of the return of the Pakistani jihadis and others from Iraq.
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Some of these Iraq returnees, particularly of the HUM, are also being diverted to J&K. The responsibility for the three recent car bombings in J&K has reportedly been claimed by the Hizbul-Mujahideen (HM), an indigenous terrorist organisation of J&K whose leadership is based in Pakistan.
In the past, the HUM used to refrain from claiming responsibility for its operations in J&K and let the HM claim responsibility in its name. One should not be surprised if the HUM and the HM have resumed this practice.