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Who is the Iraqi resistance, and what motivates it? Reasonably soon, we will know whether America’s presence in Iraq represents the beginning of a democratic Middle East, or a preliminary engagement in a civilizational war lasting generations. Saddam Hussein’s capture will demonstrate soon enough whether the resistance to American occupation depends on the personal resources and influence of a deposed dictator, or whether an extensive group of Iraqi military and intelligence professionals is prepared to fight to the death.
If well-planned and executed strikes against coalition forces continue at November’s pace, Washington’s moment of triumph will fade into a crisis of policy.
“Crisis of policy” is the appropriate term, rather than “strategic crisis.” This is not Vietnam, where the Vietnamese communists enjoyed the protection of a nuclear superpower. Iraq has no such friends. The concept of Iraq as such – a nation protected by a superpower – may be the eventual victim of the success of the Iraqi resistance. That would imply a revolution in American policy towards the Middle East.
A former US intelligence official and prolific author, Angelo M. Codevilla, wrote in the November issue of American Spectator that Washington “missed Saddam’s decision to take his regime underground, to expose his army and non-essential cadres to destruction and to wage his fight after what America considered the war.” Saddam, observes Codevilla, emptied the jails of criminals, moved his government out of public buildings, created a US$1 billion reserve fund and took related measures for post-battlefield resistance.
Saddam did not direct the resistance operations against American, Italian, Spanish and Japanese occupiers in November. Who did? Foreign jihadis filtering into Iraq and willing to blow themselves up may offer a convenient resource for the resistance, but these visiting jihadis are incapable of directing a consistent pattern of attacks. If the resistance fails to disintegrate in the wake of Saddam’s capture, America will be fighting an underground regime motivated by something other than loyalty to its erstwhile leader.
Washington has portrayed its antagonists on the ground in Iraq as a band of thugs gathered around a bully, salted with a handful of jihadi fanatics. The US, however, may find itself fighting a well-trained, highly motivated elite willing to die in order to push the American presence out of its country.
The CIA knows the resistance well
Who are these people? If George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin had made the appropriate inquiries among their own people, they would have found that American as well as Russian intelligence still have extensive dossiers on the leaders of the Iraqi resistance. They know Saddam embarrassingly well. As Codevilla explains, the Central Intelligence Agency backed the Ba’athist clique that in 1959 sought to overthrow then-premier Abdul Karim Kassem. Among this group was the 22-year-old Saddam. After a failed coup attempt “the CIA then set up Saddam in luxurious exile in Cairo, where he continued to be handled both through Egyptian intelligence and directly from the US embassy”, reports Codevilla. Another attempt to kill Kassem succeeded in 1963, and Saddam headed the secret police in the new regime.
Under the Jimmy Carter administration, Codevilla adds, the CIA collaborated in effect with its Soviet counterparts to bring down the Shah of Iran. “By 1978,” he writes, “Saddam’s secret services were contributing logistics, cash and Shi’ite agents to the coalition that destroyed the Shah. Although the Ayatollah Khomeini was indispensable to it, so were Soviet line organizations. Notably, Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization provided the bulk of the street fighters. The radio of the Islamic revolution was run by the KGB out of Soviet Baku.”
Codevilla’s article, entitled “The Sorcerer’s Apprentices,” provides critical points of background to the story of American support for Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War. Asia Times Online’s Pepe Escobar recounted this well-known story in his December 19 report (How Saddam may still nail Bush) – to the fury of numerous readers. Yet Escobar’s story is less sensational than the one told by Codevilla, a former Ronald Reagan administration intelligence official and senior staffer for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Saddam’s dossier has the potential to embarrass the US and its intelligence services.
Of greater interest are the dossiers of the thousands of Ba’athist cadre trained by the US or the Russians during the past four decades. What sort of men are they and what motivates them to resist the American occupation?
They are fighting for survival – not of a regime, but of their people and their culture. Europe and Japan will not survive the transition to modern culture from traditional society. With between 1.1 and 1.3 children per female in all the major countries of continental Europe, as well as Japan, the Old World must suffer a slow and miserable death by attrition (see Why Europe Chooses Extinction, April 8). Eliminate the certainties of a world in which religious faith is a reflex and women are relegated to nursery and kitchen, and the will to reproduce shrivels up.
US troops spread bacillus of American pop culture
How much less chance do Muslims coming from traditional society have to make an adjustment that the Europeans themselves cannot make? With the best of intentions, the American soldiers in Iraq bear with them a bacillus quite as deadly as the smallpox with which the Spanish conquerors of the New World inadvertently wiped out most of the native population. That bacillus is American popular culture.
Speak to Westerners who have trained Iraqi officers in the military and security forces – some of them are still around – and they will argue that the guerrillas are fighting not for Saddam, whom they despised, nor for his regime, which most of them hated, but for their country. They want to continue living the way they used to live, without the American-style democracy that threatens to dissolve the bonds of traditional society and destroy everything they know.
The Iraqi resistance will no more disappear after Saddam’s capture than the Russian resistance in World War II would have disappeared had Josef Stalin been captured, observes one old campaigner. Does this mean that America will in turn abandon its Iraqi venture after the fashion of Vietnam? That is extremely unlikely. Much more likely is a revolution in tactics.
Angelo Codevilla began the article cited above with the following observation: “Iraq was not a good idea in the first place. American and British Wilsonians decided to recreate something like the Babylon empire: Sunni Mesopotamian Arabs from the Baghdad area would rule over vastly more numerous southern Shi’ite Arabs, and Arabophobe Kurds. Why the ruled should accept such an arrangement was never made clear.” To frustrate the Iraqi resistance, eliminate Iraq itself, Codevilla implies.
That is the logical response of American policy to the unexpected success of Iraqi resistance. Plans have been floating about for years to create a separate Shi’ite state in the south, hand the west of Iraq over to the Hashemites of Jordan, maintain a semi-autonomous Kurdish zone and leave a rump state around Baghdad to become a killing zone for counterinsurgency.
The report by Angelo M Codevilla cannot be found on the Internet, but may be ordered in hard copy viawww.spectator.org.