Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 37 October 19 - 25, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
anger is forging an alliance between diverse strands of Iraq's guerrilla
suicide bomber who yesterday attacked the US-frequented Baghdad Hotel was the
fourth member of the Iraqi resistance to kill themselves for the cause. The
bombing came only three days after last week's suicide attack on a Baghdad
police station that left at least eight people dead. From the meetings I have
had with resistance fighters in different parts of Iraq, there is no doubt that
there will be many more such attacks to come.
use of suicide bombing in Iraq - the first announced target was the UN in August
- signals a clear change of tactics by the growing resistance movement. The
US-led coalition forces, frustrated by their inability to control the situation,
blame foreign infiltrators for these attacks, emphasising the similarity between
these new tactics and those of al-Qaida and other militant groups in the Middle
East. Few seem to grasp the fact that Iraqis, who are well-trained militarily,
have simply learned from others' experiences, and carried out the attacks
first met Iraqi resistance fighters at a farm in the suburbs of Ramadi, north of
Baghdad. It was several months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, and on
that day the people of Ramadi were gathering at a mosque to grieve the death of
a young Iraqi killed by US forces. The man - unarmed, and driving a civilian car
- had failed to stop at a checkpoint. There had been no signs warning him or
other drivers of the danger they were approaching. I was taken aback by the
strength of the anger felt by the local people - such deaths (this young man was
not the first to die at the checkpoint, nor the last) were clearly galvanising
local people to fight back against the occupation forces.
the funeral, with the dreaded 10pm curfew fast approaching, my new Iraqi
companions invited me to go with them to a nearby place of safety. As we made
the dangerous journey along the road from Ramadi to Baghdad - the site of daily
attacks by the resistance and street gangs - the conversation turned to the
nature of the Iraqi resistance movement. I was very keen to find out why it was
spreading throughout Iraq so quickly, and what motivated its members. My
companions - ordinary Iraqis - immediately offered to introduce me to the
fighters they knew.
fighters wore civilian clothes but their faces were covered, and they held a
range of small arms and light weapons - AK-47s, RPG-7s to shoulder-mounted
rocket propellers and hand grenades.
struck me most, though, was their intense commitment to their cause: the
liberation of Iraq from its current occupiers. These were no "Ba'athist
remnants". On the contrary, they blamed Saddam Hussein for bringing the
Americans into Iraq. They went so far as to say the capture of Saddam by allied
forces would sever the links between Saddam and the resistance movement once and
for all. They defined themselves as nationalists. One said: "We do not want
to see our country occupied by forces clearly pursuing their own interests,
rather than being poised to return Iraq to the Iraqis."
I met members of a different strand of the resistance: Saddam Hussein loyalists
in Tikrit. We were filming in the main street there when two young, well-built
Iraqis approached us. While they were asking us who we were working for, a US
convoy passed by and the two men shouted abuse at the American soldiers,
threatening to turn Iraq into their graveyard.
they turned to us, boasting that they had attacked the Americans the night
before at Saddam's palace in the town, and would carry out daily attacks until
the Americans were driven out of the country. One of the two men introduced
himself as Nabil, and declared that there was no support locally for the
Americans, who would never be safe, even in their thousands.
were not empty threats. I spent that night with an Iraqi family in the town.
While sitting in the back garden, we witnessed eight explosions within minutes
of each other. My host, a university professor, explained that they were mortar
attacks targeting the US headquarters in Tikrit.
Mosul and Falluja, the resistance groups are different again. Here, most
identify themselves with Islamist organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
Recently, there have been reports of meetings in the Jordanian capital between
high-ranking members of Hamas and this section of the resistance, which has
sought to learn from the experience of Hamas and its military wing, well-known
for its suicide bomb attacks against Israeli targets.
development was entirely predictable. When Mosul fell to American forces on
April 11, terror and chaos spread over the city. The Pentagon promised that
thousands of its soldiers would secure Mosul and prevent mass looting. I entered
the city that day. By the time praying started, dozens of worshippers had
gathered to hear one of Mosul's leading Sunni clerics calling for patience, but
warning that if peace and security were not restored, then "the inhabitants
of Mosul still have the means to resist, as this is not the promised liberation
but an occupation. We will never accept Iraq becoming a second Palestine."
is a country which has faced more than 20 years of war, and more than a decade
of sanctions. The motivations of each strand of Iraqi resistance vary: the
loyalists are driven by the loss of power; the nationalists by the desire to
establish independence and security; the Islamists by their dream of returning
political Islam to the Iraqi nation. These aspirations may be incompatible, but
the focus of each group now is to fight together against the common enemy of
Iraq - the occupying forces.
some areas at least, this common interest has a structural expression. In the
back streets of Mosul, soon after the fall of the city, I came face to face with
a group of armed men, shouting and firing shots in different directions. I asked
who they were: some introduced themselves as former Ba'athists, others said they
belonged to Islamist organisations. Though ideologically worlds apart, they
explained that they all took their orders from the same committee in the city,
which was headed by a group of religious leaders. I later found there were
similar relationships in Falluja and Samarra.
resolve and ferocity of the Iraqi resistance has been amplified by the blunders
of the American soldiers in Iraq. Coalition commanders have dealt ineptly with
ground operations, and neither the British nor the Americans have come up with a
clear road map for the political reconstruction of Iraq that would enable Iraqis
to rule themselves.
road checks and house-to-house searches, often based on inaccurate information,
make a bad situation worse. Culturally inappropriate behaviour - male soldiers
body-searching women, for example - and collective punishments have further
alienated the population and helped entrench popular support for resistance.
the growing number of Iraqis joining the resistance, there is a strong need for
Washington and London to revise their military and political plans for
post-conflict Iraq. The occupation forces are in a fragile position. If they
strengthen their military presence in the face of increasing resistance, they
will only alienate Iraqis yet further from their attempts to redraw the
political future of Iraq - and the resistance will continue to spread. Unless
there is an early withdrawal, the currently sporadic attacks in the Shia-dominated
south can be expected to mushroom.
and the US are currently setting the stage for a new phase of Iraqi resistance.
Its members are learning fast from the experience of the region, and are already
adopting new tactics. The latest of these is suicide bombing - a weapon which
even the strongest counter-terrorism forces struggle to cope with.
Chehab is the political editor of the Arabic TV station al-Hayat-LBC, and was
the first journalist to broadcast an interview with members of the Iraqi
October 13, 2003