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The Doomed Insurgency By: Amir Taheri
New York Post | Monday, June 06, 2005


A month after the formation of Iraq's first freely elected government, news of suicide attacks, car bombs and kidnappings continue to dominate the headlines from Baghdad. In April and May the number of people killed in terrorist attacks rose to an average of 15 a day, compared to five for February and March.

Does this mean that the insurgency has fresh wind in its sails? Are the terrorists winning, as some Western commentators suggest? The answers: No, and no.

To be sure, the insurgency still holds the tactical initiative in the sense that, within the area where it has an effective presence, it can still decide where and when to strike. Strategically, however, the insurgency is weaker today than it was a year ago.

This is because the struggle for Iraq is ultimately a political one, the outcome of which will not be decided by how many people each side kills but by how those killings and other acts of violence are translated into political realities.

Understand what the fight is about:

* On one side we have all those who want to remold Iraq into a developing democracy in which power is won and lost through elections. Last January's general election showed that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis are on this side.

* On the other side are those who, for a variety of reasons, do not wish that project to succeed. Here we find the remnants of the Ba'ath, Islamist militants, Arab Sunni sectarians and, to an extent often overlooked, professional criminal elements.

Since 2003 the insurgents and their terrorist allies have killed lots of people, but are no closer to a political victory than two years ago. They resemble a man who wins a large number of tokens in a casino only to be told by the cashier that none can be cashed.

Much to the relief of Iraq's emerging leadership, the insurgency has excluded itself from the political process. Unlike other terrorist organizations that use a political façade as an interface with the rest of society, the Iraqi insurgency has opted for a quixotic strategy of seeking a straight armed victory over the U.S.-led Coalition and the new Iraqi regime. By doing so, it has limited its own options and alienated a good part of the constituency that might share some of its goals.

Right from the start, the political initiative has been on the side of the U.S.-led Coalition and the new emerging Iraqi political leadership, and remains there.

It was the Coalition that took the initiative in removing Saddam Hussein from power, while those who now form the insurgency either watched in amazement or ran to hide in holes.

When the insurgency appeared in the summer of 2003, it based its strategy on a number of illusions. First, it thought that by killing as many Americans as possible it would undermine public opinion support for the war inside the United States. When that did not happen, the insurgency tried to terrorize as many of the allies as possible into withdrawing from Iraq. But that, too, didn't produce the desired results.

Next, the insurgency decided that killing members of Iraq's nascent army and police force could do the trick. But two years of brutal killings have failed to reduce the number of new recruits or slow the training and deployment of new units.

Next the insurgency switched to the tactic of killing Iraqi Shi'ites at random. And once that had failed, random killing was extended to Sunni Kurds and Turcomen. With the insurgency's hope of provoking sectarian wars dashed, we are now witnessing a new phase, in which even Sunni Arabs are being killed indiscriminately.

The insurgents know how to kill, but no longer know who to kill. Nor do they seem to know why they are killing.

By adopting an extremist posture, the insurgency has forced many Iraqis who, for different reasons, resent the occupation or do not like the new government, into the position of passive onlookers.

Politics being the art of the possible, the insurgency's discourse consists of a jumble of impossibilities. It is impossible to imagine a new Iraq ruled once again by Saddam Hussein or Izzat al-Duri, his No. 2, who is the insurgency's principal ringleader. Nor could one imagine the Palestinian-Jordanian terrorist Abu-Mussab al-Zarqawi entering Baghdad as a victorious "Commander of the Faithful" to build an Arab version of the Taliban's now defunct rule in Afghanistan. Anyone with any knowledge of Iraq would know that few Iraqis would find either of those options attractive.

Paradoxically, the insurgency's supposed goal of driving the Coalition out of Iraq could, if realized, prove suicidal for the insurgents.

In the first few months after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the insurgency might have benefited from an American retreat. At that time, the insurgents, especially the remnants of the Ba'ath paramilitary and security organizations, still had a virtual monopoly on weapons in Iraq and thus would have been in a position to regain power by killing large numbers of unarmed Shiites and Kurds, as they had done on other occasions since 1968.

Now, however, the "other side" — the Shiites and the Kurds who together represent 85 percent of the population — are also armed and can fight back both through their own paramilitary organizations and the newly created army and police force.

The insurgency may continue for many more months, if not years, in the area known as Jazirah (island), which accounts for about 10 per cent of the Iraqi territory, plus parts of Baghdad. It may continue killing large numbers of people but will not be able to stop the political process. Its history is one of a string of political failures.

Over the past two years it has failed to prevent the formation of a Governing Council, the writing of an interim constitution, the transfer of sovereignty, the holding of local and general elections and the creation of a new government. This year it will fail to prevent the writing of a new constitution, already being drafted, the referendum to get it approved, the holding of fresh parliamentary elections and the formation of a new elected government in Baghdad.

As the Arabic saying has it: The caravan will continue its journey even if the wolves howl along the way.

Amir Taheri, an Iranian author and journalist based in Europe, is a member of Benador Associates.




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