Understanding the brain. That’s what you have to do in a guerrilla war. Find out how it works, what it’s trying to do. An attack on US headquarters in Baghdad and six suicide bombings, all at the start of Ramadan. Thirty-four dead and 200 wounded. Where have I heard those statistics before? And how could they be so well co-ordinated–well-timed, down to the last second? And why the Red Cross? I knew that building, and admired the way in which the International Red Cross refused to associate themselves with the American occupation–even at the cost of their lives, as the guards outside their Baghdad headquarters carried no guns.
So here’s the answer to question one. Algeria. After the Algerian government banned elections in 1991 that would have brought the Islamic Salvation Front to power, a Muslim revolt turned into a blood-curdling battle between the so-called Islamic Armed Group–many of its adherents having cut their battle teeth in Afghanistan–and a brutal government army and police force. Within three years, the “Islamists”–aided, it seems, by army intelligence officers–were perpetrating massacres against the villagers of what was called the Blida triangle, a three-cornered territory around the very Islamist city of Blida outside Algiers. And the very worst atrocities–the beheading of children, the raping and throat-cutting of women, the slaughter of policemen–were committed at the beginning of Ramadan.
At Ramadan, Muslim emotions are heightened; in these most blessed of days, a Muslim feels that he or she must do something important so that God will listen to him or her. There is nothing in the Koran about violence in Ramadan or, for that matter, suicide bombers, any more than there is anything in the New Testament to urge Christians to carry out genocide or the ethnic cleansingin which they have become experts in the past 200 years, but Sunni Wahabi believers have often combined holy war with the “message”, the dawa during Ramadan.
So what was the message? In Baghdad, the message of the past two days was simple: it told Iraqis that the Americans cannot control Iraq; more important, perhaps, it told Americans that the Americans could not control Iraq. Even more important, it told Iraqis they shouldn’t work for the Americans. It also acknowledged America’s new rules of combat: kill the enemy leaders. The United States killed Saddam’s two sons. It has boasted of killing al-Qa’ida members in Afghanistan and Yemen, just as Israel kills Palestinians in Hamas and Islamic Jihad. So was it by chance that the Black Hawk helicopter shot down in Iraq was hit over Tikrit, just after Paul Wolfowitz had passed through town?
And the assault on al-Rashid Hotel almost killed Wolfowitz. He was “a room away” from one of the missile explosions. The architect of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq was almost assassinated by America’s enemies.
And then there’s the Red Cross, the very last neutral humanitarian organisation, after the double suicide attack on the UN, which might have provided some communication between the US and its antagonists. Now it, too, has been smashed. Some of America’s enemies may come from other Arab countries, but most of the military opposition to America’s presence comes from Iraqi Sunnis; not from Saddam “remnants” or “diehards” or “deadenders” (the Paul Bremer titles for a growing Iraqi resistance), but from men who in many cases hated Saddam.
They don’t work “for” al-Qa’ida. But they have learnt their own unique version of history. Attack your enemies in the holy month of Ramadan. Learn from the war in Algeria. And the war in Afghanistan. Learn the lessons of America’s “war on terror”. Kill the leadership. You’re with us or against us, collaborator or patriot. That was the message of yesterday’s bloodbath in Baghdad.