HANOI – Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon erstwhile protege, leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), member of the American-appointed Iraqi interim government in Iraq and a convicted criminal in Jordan, went on record in Baghdad saying that he had received intelligence on Thursday, August 14, that “a large-scale act would take place … against a soft target, such as Iraqi political parties or other parties, including the UN.” He even learned that the attack would be a truck bombing – by means of a suicide bomber or a remote-controlled detonator. Chalabi also made clear that according to this intelligence, “neither the Coalition Provisional Authority nor coalition troops” would be attacked.
Chalabi is usually not recognized as a reliable source. But if this startling piece of information is true, it means two things: 1) The Americans in Iraq knew about an attack, and did nothing to try to prevent it. 2) The UN itself didn’t know anything about it, according to Fred Eckhard, spokesman for secretary general Kofi Annan: “To my knowledge, that information was not relayed to the United Nations.”
The frightening possibility that Chalabi knew it, the Americans knew it, the UN didn’t and the Americans did nothing to improve security at the UN headquarters will only benefit one player: the Pentagon, according to which Iraq is now the central battle in the “war against terrorism.” And right on cue, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and US Central Command chief General John Abizaid, in a joint briefing, declared Iraq now to be a sort of terrorist Woodstock.
Whatever goes terribly wrong in Iraq is not enough to force the Pentagon to change its script. It still refuses to acknowledge the indigenous broad-based Iraqi resistance against the occupation, which, as Asia Times Online has reported, spreads out from Sunni mosques and is guided by patriotism. The Pentagon keeps repeating what it wants to hear – and it all comes from none other than Chalabi, according to whom there was an important meeting between the notorious “remnants of Saddam’s regime” and “international terrorists” before the UN bombing.
The Pentagon may have a point when one considers that a substantial part of Iraqi public opinion is convinced that true patriotic Iraqis could not have perpetrated the attack. Some Islamic factions of the Iraqi resistance – like the Iraqi National Islamic Resistance Movement – have in fact condemned the UN bombing as a “criminal act,” although up to now other factions, like the White Flags, the Muslim Youth and the Army of Mohammed, have not said anything. But it’s crucial to note that the Iraqi National Islamic Resistance Movement has denied the involvement of all Iraqi resistance factions, not only in the UN bombing but in the attacks against the Jordanian embassy and the oil pipelines: it says these attacks discredit the true Iraqi resistance.
Even if the Iraqi resistance was not responsible for these attacks, this does not mean that there is no heavy indigenous opposition to the occupation – as the Pentagon script demands. It’s much easier to blame everything on al-Qaeda, the Ansar al-Islam or a fuzzy terrorist Woodstock with players coming from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Afghanistan.
Ansar al-Islam – led by Mullah Krekar, at the moment exiled in Norway – may have been a very convenient tool manipulated by the Pentagon. For three years, the organization was based in the village of Bijara, in northeasten Iraq, almost an enclave in Iranian territory. Last March, its hideout was bombed into oblivion by the Americans. The Pentagon version at the time was that Ansar was virtually extinct. But now Ansar’s leadership has mysteriously managed to resurface – and in heavily-patrolled Baghdad, of all places. According to Kurdish sources, a key element of the leadership is Abu Wayl, a former colonel in Saddam’s security services reconverted into operational chief of Ansar’s “Arab battalion.”
The Americans have already blamed Ansar al-Islam for the attack on the Jordanian embassy. Jordan, for its part, blames Abu Mussad al-Zarkaoui, a Jordanian national, as one of Ansar’s top operatives. Of myriad groups operating in Kurdistan, there have been no Ansar-related arrests so far. On the other hand, the Americans have arrested Ali Bapir, the leader of Jamiya Islamiya, and Mullah Ali Abdul Aziz, the charismatic leader of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan – the main Kurdish Islamic force, which even has two ministers in the local government dominated by Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK, also a member of the interim government).
Nobody knows where Mullah Abdul Aziz is being held. The Americans are accusing both Jamiya Islamiya and the Kurdistan Islamic Movement of having links with Ansar. The complicating factor is that all these groups come from the same source: the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, created in 1988 and fragmented in three factions in 1990. Ansar al-Islam decided to launch a jihad against the kaffirs (infidels) of the PUK. The other two remained legal. But they also consider themselves jihadi groups: the difference is they don’t think a jihad against the PUK – as well as a jihad against the Americans – is justified at this stage.
A crucial fact is that both Islamist groups enjoy huge popular support in Kurdistan: many Kurds are in fact fed up with Jalal Talabani’s barely-disguised dictatorship. But as the Americans have branded these groups as “terrorists,” the only one to benefit is Talabani, an American ally. And why are these Kurds fed up? We come back to the same point: because in a real democratic set up in Iraq, it is Islamist parties that inevitably touch popular sentiment, with their central message that Muslims cannot accept to be pawns of a foreign and non-Muslim occupation force.
The Pentagon line of “remnants of Saddam’s regime,” now composed with “international terrorists,” is supposed to explain the actions of all those anti-American “evil doers” on the loose in Iraq. It’s much more complex than that. During the Saddam era all sort of crypto-Wahhabi groups were more or less tolerated – as long as they did not meddle in politics. Obviously, these groups were all of them anti-Saddam. Post-Saddam Iraq finally offered them the perfect cause: resistance against foreign occupation. This has absolutely nothing to do with al-Qaeda or Ansar al-Islam. Al-Qaeda – which was never tolerated inside Iraq – or the enclaved Ansar al-Islam could never have organized such a disciplined resistance in two or three months.
As the Iraqi resistance is so multi-faceted, there’s every possibility that the UN bombing was perpetrated by elements of this Wahhabi network, already in existence in the Saddam era. And as unfortunate as it may seem, the UN for them is a pretty legitimate target. Human rights groups have extensively documented how UN Resolutions 661 and 687 may have been responsible for the deaths of at least 500,000 Iraqi children in the 1990s, due to entirely preventable diseases. For many strands of the Iraqi resistance, the UN is just a tool of the occupying power.
On top of it, the Baghdad office of the World Bank was also in the UN building . Many Iraqi patriots in fact welcomed the fact that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) “suspended” their activities in Iraq after the bombing. Educated Iraqis are very much aware of the dreaded IMF-imposed “structural adjustments” and the ghastly record of the World Bank in terms of alleviating poverty in the developing world. The rationale of the Iraqi resistance is that there are no holds barred to prevent an occupation designed to steal Iraq’s fabulous oil resources and also plunder its already devastated economy.
So not only soldiers are legitimate targets. Corporate employees of Kellogg Brown and Co (a subsidiary of Halliburton) or any other corporation likely to make a killing out of Iraq’s resources are legitimate targets. UN employees are legitimate targets. The IMF and the World Bank are legitimate targets. The Pentagon’s response is predictable. It will send more troops. Not regular troops, but most of its 29,000 specialists in repression of urban guerrilla and terrorist groups with military training. They may kill thousands more Iraqis, but they won’t kill a national liberation movement, operated by people who lived for years in a militarized society awash with weapons. And the message of this national liberation movement to those who concocted and want to profit from the invasion of their country is stark: welcome to hell.