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    Middle East
     May 25, 2005

US fights Iraq fire with street fighters
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - With the Iraqi resistance showing no signs of wavering and extending its roots deep into the population, the US has realized that to counter this threat it must change its approach.

Asia Times Online has learned that the US, instead of training up a regular professional Iraqi army, will create what in effect will be  armed militias, acting under US central command, to take the militias of the resistance on at their own game.

The Iraqi resistance against the presence of foreign forces in the country has had many faces. Initially, the ousted Ba'ath Party's security committee, members of the Iraqi military and para-military forces were the main drivers.

Later, after many of the top brass were arrested and others were forced to flee, many to Syria - including Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (there are doubts that the former No 2 in Saddam Hussein's regime died while in Syria) - the resistance lost its central command. Various Islamic groups filled the vacuum, and they have dominated the resistance ever since.

In the meantime, various groups, including former communists, members of the Ba'ath Party and even those who were against the Saddam regime, organized themselves in different European countries. These groups played an important role in adding a political face to the resistance: they sent representatives to various Arab countries and finally succeeded in coordinating their activities with those in the field in Iraq.

Recent meetings of the so-called Higher Committee for National Forces (a grouping of Iraqi resistance bodies) and the 16th Arab National Congress held in Algiers played a pivotal role in building consensus among various Iraqi communist, Islamic, Ba'athist and nationalist groups on several issues, such as the right of Iraqis to defend themselves against foreign aggression and imperialism, and the right of Iraq to demand a political process untainted by occupation and which reflects the uninhibited will of the Iraqi people for a pluralistic and democratic Iraq.

The groups also condemned the continued occupation of Iraq and the establishment of any permanent US bases in the country, the privatization of the Iraqi economy and foreign corporations' unrestricted access to Iraq's resources.

On this common ground, the central command of the resistance reorganized its activities, a key to which was merging mohallah-level (street-level) Islamic groups scattered in their hundreds across Iraq to work toward a common goal - defeating the occupation. In turn, these militias would co-opt common folk into their struggle, so that, literally, the streets would be alive with resistance.

Aware of this development, the US has accepted that no conventional military force can cope with such a resistance, and therefore similar mohallah-level combat forces are needed.

According to Asia Times Online contacts, these US-backed militias will comprise three main segments - former Kurdish peshmerga (paramilitaries), former members of the Badr Brigade and those former members of the Ba'ath Party and the Iraqi army who were part of the Saddam regime but who have now thrown in their lot with the new Iraqi government.

All three segments have already been equipped with low- and medium-level weapons purchased from various countries, including Pakistan. Military analysts believe the US military in Iraq will use the Kurd and Shi'ite militias to quell the resistance in central and northern Iraq, while in the south the former Ba'athists and old-guard Iraqi soldiers will be used against anti-US Shi'ite groups.

To date, the Iraqi army has only been supplied with small arms - air and armored forces are still in the hands of the US Army - and there is no indication that the US will hand over any of this, or high-tech equipment, to the Iraqis.

Iraq's future now seems to be in the hands of militias, under the command of the US on the one side and militias under the command of the resistance on the other; reminiscent of wartime Lebanon and Vietnam.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com 

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