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Operation enduring millstone
By B Raman

It is increasingly difficult to make sense out of what is going on in Iraq.

An unending spate of kidnappings, the like of which even Lebanon did not seen in its worst days; 26 foreign hostages already beheaded or otherwise killed and more than 20 still in captivity, one does not know where and in whose custody; more suicide car bombings per week than in the rest of the world put together in a month or even a longer period; a seemingly inexhaustible flow of volunteers for suicide missions, the like of which no other country has seen since suicide terrorism became the vogue 20 years ago; more acts of terrorism and other armed attacks per day (87 according to the latest count as against 60 in April last) than in the rest of the world put together; more civilians killed by the Americans, the terrorists and the resistance fighters since May last year than by al-Qaeda in the rest of the world since it carried out its strikes with explosives outside the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in August 1998 - that is the state of Iraq since the US-led coalition occupied the country about 18 months ago.

Nearly 150,000 coalition troops spread out across the country, more than the USSR had in Afghanistan at the height of its occupation in the 1980s; more helicopter gunships, more aircraft, more modern communication interception equipment, more arms and ammunition of the most lethal kind than ever used by the USSR in Afghanistan; more officers of the US intelligence community swarming across Iraq than the KGB ever deployed in Afghanistan; more money at the disposal of the US intelligence community than it ever had for use in its clandestine war against the Soviet Union. At the height of the Cold War, the US intelligence community, then consisting of about 12 agencies, had a total budget of about US$10 billion per annum to contend with its communist adversaries; today, with 15 agencies, it has $30 billion plus, thanks to Osama bin Laden and the horde of jihadi terrorists confronting the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the world. Despite all this, the US does not have a clue as to who are its adversaries in Iraq.

Resistance fighters? Terrorists? Domestic? Foreign? Al-Qaeda? Pakistanis? Chechens? Arab volunteers from other countries? Ex-Ba'athists? The sacked soldiers of Saddam Hussein's army? Shi'ites? Sunnis? Plain criminals? US intelligence does not seem to have the least inkling of it. The more of the resistance and terrorists the US kills, the more the number of Iraqis and foreign Muslims take to arms against the US. The total number of resistance fighters and terrorists, domestic and foreign, operating in different parts of the country is estimated to have increased fourfold since the beginning of this year from about 5,000 to about 20,000, despite the estimated death of nearly 5,000, if not more, at the hands of US troops.

Is there a common command and control of this rainbow coalition of anti-US elements? If so, how does it function? Where and in whose hands is it located? Which are the organizations involved? Is there a supreme leader? There are visible and invisible enemies. Enemies like Muqtada al-Sadr, who are seen commanding and fighting for the benefit of TV cameras, and enemies like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who orchestrates terrorist incidents unseen and unnoticed. Audible and inaudible leaders. Leaders who brag and make claims. Others who operate silently.

If all the claims are to be believed, more terrorist organizations are being spawned in Iraq every month than in the rest of the world. Each with a bizarre name, the origin and significance of which nobody understands. Why did the group that kidnapped seven foreigners, including three Indians, two months ago call itself the Holders of the Black Banner? Why does the group that kidnapped a Jordanian on Wednesday call itself the Lions of the Monotheism Brigade?

One can understand their anger against the Americans. One can even understand their anger against the Indians, the Pakistanis and the Nepalis, despite the fact that their countries refrained from supporting the US occupation of Iraq. They were working for Kuwaiti, Saudi and other US-surrogate companies involved in keeping the US troops supplied. But why target two French journalists, despite the fact that France was in the forefront of the international community's opposition to the US invasion and occupation? And that, too, for a reason (in retaliation for the ban on the use of headscarves by Muslim girls in France's public schools) totally unconnected with Iraq.

Are al-Zarqawi and Muqtada the source of all the problems of the US? Will their elimination lead to a withering away of Muqtada's Mehdi Army of Shi'ites and Al-Zarqawi's Khalid Ibn al-Walid Brigade, the military wing of his Tawhid Wa al-jihad (Unification and Holy War)? Any fond hopes that they would are likely to be belied.

After 18 months of occupation, the US continues to grope in the dark. Its technical intelligence agencies find themselves totally helpless in the absence of the use of modern means of communications by the terrorists and resistance fighters. Its human intelligence (HUMINT) agencies are as clueless as ever, despite their claimed capture of dozens of alleged terrorists and resistance fighters. Their interrogation, despite the use of shocking techniques of mental and physical torture, has hardly produced any worthwhile intelligence. One does not need a mole in the US intelligence to know this. Had there been any worthwhile intelligence, one would have seen the results on the ground.

The Americans did not understand the Iraqi people before they invaded and occupied their country, deceiving themselves into believing that the Iraqis would come out and sing and dance in the streets as the Parisians did when Paris was liberated from the clutches of the Nazis. They do not understand the Iraqi people even after 18 months of occupation. They are unlikely to understand them even if the occupation extends to eternity. The ability to understand others is not part of the American psyche.

Political and military stooges midwived by intelligence agencies have never been accepted by a people. Remember what happened to the succession of made-in-the-KGB and made-in-the-CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) stooges - the Shah of Iran, the stooges of South Vietnam, Babrak Karmal and Najibullah in Afghanistan, the KGB's stooges in Eastern Europe?

See what is happening to Hamid Karzai in Kabul - a straw ruler who is the CIA-protected monarch of all that he surveys, just a radius of a few hundred meters from his palace windows. He has no control over what is happening in the rest of the country. He does not even seem to know what is happening in the rest of Kabul outside his palace.

See what is happening to President General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. Living in a make-believe world of his own, deceiving himself into believing that 96% of his people love him. And yet he needs American security experts to protect him - after the two failed attempts to kill him last December. As he struts around the world stage as the United States' mascot in the ummah, large parts of his country are burning - Karachi, Balochistan and Waziristan. South Waziristan is fast becoming Pakistan's mini-Iraq. Every day, somebody killing somebody else. Nobody knows who is killing whom, why and for what.

See what is happening to Iyad Allawi, the self-styled interim prime minister of Iraq. He came to office with the roar of a tiger warning the terrorists and the resistance fighters that he would be their nemesis. He seems destined to disappear like the tail of a snake.

The recent escalation of terrorism and other acts of violence in Afghanistan and Iraq is not related only to the promised presidential elections in Afghanistan in October and parliamentary elections in Iraq in January - to make them impossible to hold with any degree of credibility. It is equally related to the presidential elections in the US in November.

President George W Bush is seeking re-election with the claim that his anti-terrorism front is winning. The terrorists and resistance fighters in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan's mini-Iraq are determined to show that it is not so. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect more and more acts of terrorism and violent anti-US confrontations in Afghanistan, Pakistan's mini-Iraq and Iraq as the US presidential elections approach.

On October 7, 2001, Bush embarked on what he thought would be his famous "war against terrorism" under the code name "Operation Enduring Freedom". The famous has turned embarrassingly infamous. Instead of enduring freedom, he has an enduring millstone around his neck, a millstone of his own creation.

It is easier to describe the grim situation facing the world today four years after Bush launched his war than to prescribe a workable way out of the tunnel in which the world finds itself trapped. How one wishes one could suggest a workable and acceptable (to the US) way out. There is only one possible solution that keeps coming to mind: at the risk of being called mad, let me suggest restoring Saddam to power and quickly withdrawing from Iraq. It is unlikely to happen. And so blood will continue to flow.

B Raman is additional secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, government of India, New Delhi, and currently director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter. E-mail:

Sep 18, 2004

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