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Capture of Saddam Won’t Stop the Guerrilla War

“Peace” and “reconciliation” were the patois of Downing Street and the White House yesterday. But all those hopes of a collapse of resistance are doomed. Saddam was neither the spiritual nor the political guide to the insurgency that is now claiming so many lives in Iraq–far more Iraqi than Western lives, one might add–and, however happy Messrs Bush and Blair may be at the capture of Saddam, the war goes on.

In Fallujah, in Ramadi, in other centres of Sunni power in Iraq, the anti-occupation rising will continue. The system of attacks and the frighteningly fast-growing sophistication of the insurgents is bound up with the Committee of the Faith, a group of Wahabi-based Sunni Muslims who now plan their attacks on American occupation troops between Mosul and the city of Hilla, 50 miles south of Baghdad. Even before the overthrow of the Baathist regime, these groups, permitted by Saddam in the hope that they could drain off Sunni Islamic militancy, were planning the mukawama–the resistance against foreign occupation.

The slaughter of 17 more Iraqis yesterday in a bomb attack on a police station–hours after the capture of Saddam, though the bombers could not have known that–is going to remain Iraq’s bloody agenda. The Anglo-American narrative will then be more difficult to sustain. Saddam “remnants” or Saddam “loyalists” are far more difficult to sustain as enemies when they can no longer be loyal to Saddam. Their Iraqi identity will become more obvious and the need to blame “foreign” al-Qa’ida members all the greater.

Yet the repeated assertions of US infantry commanders, especially those based around Mosul and Tikrit, that most of their attackers are Iraqi rather than foreign, show that the American military command in Iraq–at least at the divisional level–knows the truth. The 82nd Airborne captain in Fallujah who told me that his men were attacked by “Syrian-backed terrorists and Iraqi freedom-fighters” was probably closer to the truth than Major Ricardo Sanchez, the US commander in Iraq, would like to believe. The war is not about Saddam but about foreign occupation.

Indeed, professional soldiers have been pointing this out for a long time. Yesterday, for example, a sergeant in the 1st Armoured Division on checkpoint duty in Baghdad explained the situation to The Independent in remarkably blunt words. “We’re not going to go home any sooner because of Saddam’s getting caught,” he said. “We all came to search for weapons of mass destruction and attention has now been diverted from that. The arrest of Saddam is meaningless. We still don’t know why we came here.”

There are groups aplenty with enthusiasm to attack the Americans but who never had any love for Saddam. One example is the Unification Front for the Liberation of Iraq, which was anti-Saddam but has now called on its supporters to fight the American occupation. In all, The Independent has identified 12 separate guerrilla groups, all loosely in touch with each other through tribal connections, but only one could be identified as comprising Saddam loyalists or Baathists.

When the first roadside bomb exploded in the centre of a motorway median at Khan Dari in the summer, killing one soldier, it was followed by identically manufactured mines–three mortars wired together–in both Kirkuk and Mosul. Within a week, another copy-cat mine exploded near US troops outside Nasiriyah. Clearly, groups of insurgents were touring the country with explosive ordnance capabilities, organised, possibly, on a national level.

In many areas, men identifying themselves as resistors have openly boasted that they are joining the new American-paid police forces in order to earn money, gain experience with weapons and gather intelligence on their American military “allies”. Exactly the same fate that befell the Israelis in Lebanon, where their proxy Lebanese South Lebanon Army militia started collaborating with their Hizbollah enemies, is now likely to encompass the Americans.

The same men who are going to carry on attacking the Americans will, of course, be making a secret holiday in their heart over the capture of Saddam. Why, they will argue, should they not rejoice at the end of their greatest oppressor while planning the humiliation of the occupying army which seized him?

Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s hot new book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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