'The liberation of Baghdad is not far
away' By Alix de la Grange
Editor's note: Coordinated attacks and skirmishes in several
Iraqi cities on Thursday killed at least 66 people and
wounded more than 250. Forty-four people were killed in
a series of car bomb blasts in the northern city of
Mosul and 216 wounded. Fighting in al-Anbar
province, where there were clashes in Fallujah
and Ramadi, killed at least nine people and wounded 27,
and fighting around Baquba killed 13 and wounded 15.
BAGHDAD - On the eve of the so-called transfer
of sovereignty to the new Iraqi caretaker government on
June 30, former Saddam Hussein generals turned members
of the elite of the Iraqi resistance movement have
abandoned their clandestine positions for a while to
explain their version of events and talk about their
plans. According to these Ba'ath officials, "the big
battle" in Iraq is yet to take place.
Americans have prepared the war, we have prepared the
post-war. And the transfer of power on June 30 will not
change anything regarding our objectives. This new
provisional government appointed by the Americans has no
legitimacy in our eyes. They are nothing but puppets."
Why have these former officers waited so long to
come out of their closets? "Because today we are sure
we're going to win."
Secret rendezvous Palestine Hotel, Tuesday, 3pm. One week after a
formal request, the prospect of talking with the
resistance is getting slimmer. We reach a series of dead
ends - until a man we have never met before discreetly
approaches our table. "You still want to meet members of
the resistance?" He speaks to my associate, a female
Arab journalist who has been to Iraq many times. Talk is
brief. "We meet tomorrow morning at the Babel Hotel,"
the man says before disappearing. Against all
expectations, this contact seems to be more reliable
than the ones we have previously tried.
Babel, Wednesday, 9am. At the entrance of the cybercafe,
mobbed by foreign mercenaries, the man we saw the day
before lays it down: "Tomorrow, 10 o'clock, al-Saadoun
Street, in front of the Palestine. Come without your
We arrive at the meeting place on
Thursday morning by taxi. The contact is there. After a
brief "Salam Alekum" we get into his car. "Where are we
going?" No reply.
We drive for more than two
hours. In Baghdad, even when traffic is not totally
blocked by military checkpoints, traffic jams are
permanent. In one year, more than 300,000 vehicles have
been smuggled into the country. Every other car has no
license plate and most drivers don't even know what
"driver's license" means.
"We'll be there soon.
Do you know Baghdad?", asks our man. The answer is
clearly no. To get oriented in the sprawling city, one
must circulate freely, and on foot. With criminal
behavior spreading like a virus, a wave of kidnappings,
the 50 or 60 daily attacks against the occupation forces
and the indiscriminate response of the American
military, there's hardly any incentive to do any
The car stops in an alley, near a
minibus with tinted windows. One of its doors opens. On
board, there are three men and a driver carefully
scrutinizing all the streets and houses around us. If we
don't know at all what we are confronted with, our
interlocutors seem to know very well who they're talking
to. "Before any discussions, we don't want any doubts on
your part about our identities," they say, while
extracting some papers from inside a dusty plastic bag:
identity cards, military IDs and several photos showing
them in uniform beside Saddam Hussein. They are two
generals and a colonel of the disbanded Iraqi army, now
on the run for many months, chased by the coalition's
"We would like to rectify
some information now circulating in the Western media,
that's why we took the initiative of meeting you." Our
discussion lasts for more than three hours.
Back to the fall of Baghdad "We knew
that if the United States decided to attack Iraq, we
would have no chance faced with their technological and
military power. The war was lost in advance, so we
prepared the post-war. In other words: the resistance.
Contrary to what has been largely said, we did not
desert after American troops entered the center of
Baghdad on April 5, 2003. We fought a few days for the
honor of Iraq - not Saddam Hussein - then we received
orders to disperse." Baghdad fell on April 9: Saddam and
his army where nowhere to be seen.
"As we have
foreseen, strategic zones fell quickly under control of
the Americans and their allies. For our part, it was
time to execute our plan. Opposition movements to the
occupation were already organized. Our strategy was not
improvised after the regime fell." This plan B, which
seems to have totally eluded the Americans, was
carefully organized, according to these officers, for
months if not years before March 20, 2003, the beginning
of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The objective was
"to liberate Iraq and expel the coalition. To recover
our sovereignty and install a secular democracy, but not
the one imposed by the Americans. Iraq has always been a
progressive country, we don't want to go back to the
past, we want to move forward. We have very competent
people," say the three tacticians. There will be of
course no names as well as no precise numbers concerning
the clandestine network. "We have sufficient numbers,
one thing we don't lack is volunteers."
Fallujah The lethal offensive of the
American troops in Fallujah in March has been the
turning point as far as the resistance is concerned. The
indiscriminate pillage by American soldiers during their
search missions (according to many witnesses) and the
sexual humiliation inflicted to prisoners, including Abu
Ghraib in Baghdad, have only served to magnify the anger
felt by most Iraqis. "There's no more trust, it will be
hard to regain it." According to these resistance
leaders, "We have reached the point of no return."
This is exactly the point of view of a Shi'ite
woman we had met two days earlier - a former undercover
opposition militant against Saddam: "The biggest mistake
of the occupation forces was to despise our traditions
and our culture. They are not satisfied with having
bombed our infrastructure, they tried to destroy our
social system and our dignity. And this we cannot allow.
The wounds are deep and the healing will take long. We
prefer to live under the terror of one of our own than
under the humiliation of a foreign occupation."
According to Saddam's generals, "more than a
year after the beginning of the war, insecurity and
anarchy still dominate the country. Because of their
incapacity to control the situation and to maintain
their promises, the Americans have antagonized the
population as a whole. The resistance is not limited to
a few thousand activists. Seventy-five percent of the
population supports us and helps us, directly and
indirectly, volunteering information, hiding combatants
or weapons. And all this despite the fact that many
civilians are caught as collateral damage in operations
against the coalition and collaborators."
they regard as "collaborators"? "Every Iraqi or
foreigner who works with the coalition is a target.
Ministries, mercenaries, translators, businessmen, cooks
or maids, it doesn't matter the degree of collaboration.
To sign a contract with the occupier is to sign your
death certificate. Iraqi or not, these are traitors.
Don't forget that we are at war."
resistance's means of dissuasion led to an
ever-shrinking list of candidates to key government
posts proposed by the coalition, and this in a country
ravaged by 13 years of embargo and two wars where
unemployment has been a crucial problem. The ambient
chaos is not the only reason preventing people from
resuming professional activity. If the Americans,
quickly overwhelmed by the whole situation, had to take
the decision to reinstate former Ba'athists (policemen,
secret service agents, military, officials at the oil
ministry), this does not apply to everybody. The
majority of victims of administrator L Paul Bremer's
decree of May 16, 2003 applying the de-Ba'athification
of Iraq is still clandestine.
Essentially composed by Ba'athists (Sunni and
Shi'ite), the resistance currently regroups "all
movements of national struggle against the occupation,
without confessional, ethnic or political distinction.
Contrary to what you imagine in the West, there is no
fratricide war in Iraq. We have a united front against
the enemy. From Fallujah to Ramadi, and including Najaf,
Karbala and the Shi'ite suburbs of Baghdad, combatants
speak with a single voice. As to the young Shi'ite
leader Muqtada al-Sadr, he is, like ourselves, in favor
of the unity of the Iraqi people, multiconfessional and
Arab. We support him from a tactical and logistical
Every Iraqi region has its own
combatants and each faction is free to choose its
targets and its modus operandi. But as time goes
by, their actions are increasingly coordinated. Saddam's
generals insist there is no rivalry among these
different organizations, except on one point: which one
will eliminate the largest number of Americans.
Weapons of choice "The attacks are
meticulously prepared. They must not last longer than 20
minutes and we operate preferably at night or very early
in the morning to limit the risks of hitting Iraqi
civilians." They anticipate our next question: "No, we
don't have weapons of mass destruction. On the other
hand, we have more than 50 million conventional
weapons." By the initiative of Saddam, a real arsenal
was concealed all over Iraq way before the beginning of
the war. No heavy artillery, no tanks, no helicopters,
but Katyushas, mortars (which the Iraqis call
haoun), anti-tank mines, rocket-propelled grenade
launchers and other Russian-made rocket launchers,
missiles, AK 47s and substantial reserves of all sorts
of ammunition. And the list is far from being extensive.
But the most efficient weapon remains the
Kamikazes. A special unit, composed of 90% Iraqis and
10% foreign fighters, with more than 5,000
solidly-trained men and women, they need no more than a
verbal order to drive a vehicle loaded with explosives.
What if the weapons' reserves dwindle? "No
worries, for some time we have been making our own
weapons." That's all they are willing to disclose.
Claiming responsibility "Yes, we have
executed the four American mercenaries in Fallujah last
March. On the other hand, the Americans soldiers waited
for four hours before removing the bodies, while they
usually do it in less than 20 minutes. Two days earlier,
a young married woman had been arbitrarily arrested. For
the population of Fallujah, this was the last straw, so
they expressed their full rage against the four
cadavers. The Americans, they did much worse to living
The suicide attack which
provoked the death of Akila al-Hashimi, a diplomat and
member of the Iraqi Governing Council on September 22,
2003, was also perpetrated by the resistance, as well as
the car bomb which killed the president of the Iraqi
executive body Ezzedin Salim in May 17 this year at the
entrance of the Green Zone (which Iraqis call the Red
Zone, due to the number of resistance offensives).
They are also responsible for the kidnapping of
foreigners. "We are aware that the kidnapping of foreign
nationals blemishes our image, but try to understand the
situation. We are forced to control the identity of
people circulating in our territory. If we have proof
that they are humanitarians or journalists we release
them. If they are spies, mercenaries or collaborators we
execute them. On this matter, let's be clear, we are not
responsible for the death of Nick Berg, the American who
As to the attack against the UN
headquarters in Baghdad on August 20, 2003: "We have
never issued an order to attack the UN and we had a lot
of esteem towards the Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello
[special UN representative who died in the attack], but
it's not impossible that the authors of this suicide
attack come from another resistance group. As we have
explained, we don't control everything. And we must not
forget that the UN is responsible for the 13 years of
embargo we have endured."
What about the October
27, 2003 attack against the Red Cross in Baghdad? "This
had nothing to do with us, we always had a lot of
respect for this organization and the people who work
for them. What would be our interest to attack one of
the few institutions which has been helping the Iraq
population for years? We know that people from Fallujah
have claimed this attack, but we can assure you they are
not part of the resistance. And we also add: for
political and economic reasons, there are many who have
an interest in discrediting us."
30 "Resolution 1546 adopted on June 8 is nothing
but one more web of lies to the eyes of many Iraqis.
First, because it officially ends the occupation by
foreign troops while authorizing the presence of a
multinational force under American command, without
stipulating the date of their removal. Second, because
the Iraqi right to veto important military operations,
demanded by France, Russia and China, was rejected.
Washington has conceded only a vague notion of
partnership with the Iraqi authority and did not think
of anything in case of disagreement. Iraqis are not
fools, the maintenance of American troops in Iraq after
June 30 and the aid money they will get from the
American Congress leave no doubt over the identity of
who will really rule the country."
What about a
possible role for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO)? "If NATO intervenes, it's not to help our
people, but to help the Americans leave this quagmire.
If they wanted our well-being, they would have made a
move before," say the three officers while looking at
their watches. It's late and we have largely exceeded
our allotted time.
"What American troops cannot
do today, NATO troops won't be able to do later on.
Everyone must know: Western troops will be regarded by
Iraqis as occupiers. This is something that George W
Bush and his faithful ally Tony Blair will do well to
think about. If they have won a battle, they have not
won the war yet. The great battle is still to begin. The
liberation of Baghdad is not far away."
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