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    Middle East
     Oct 4, 2005
The indefatigable insurgency
By Ehsan Ahrari

The American military is at a loss about figuring out the seemingly indefatigable Iraqi insurgency. There are only two ways to deal with it. First, eradicate it completely; but that is not possible. How many insurgents can be killed before anyone reaches the imprecise expression: "completely"? Second, quickly prepare Iraqi forces to replace the Americans. The US's top commander in Iraq, General George W Casey Jr, did not have good news on this issue on October 2. He said, "Just one of the 120 US-trained Iraqi army and police battalions was able to operate without US forces."

Preparing the Iraqi forces to take over the security of their country is a time-consuming process. In the meantime, the insurgents keep killing them as much as they can. The bottom line objective

of the insurgents: America should not be allowed to pull out of Iraq in a respectable manner.

The American military's vocabulary and descriptions of the Iraqi insurgency have come a long way within the past two years or so. In the first phase, it was depicted as comprising "deadenders" - meaning that the insurgents were largely Saddam Hussein's fidayeen (militia) and could be easily eradicated.

Then the insurgency was described as being led by those who wished to bring back the old ways of ruling Iraq. That description somewhat broadened the category of insurgents to include all former Ba'athists and army personnel.

The notion of "foreign fighters" was introduced more reluctantly. That phrase drew quite a bit of scorn from the region. One Lebanese journalist contemptuously asked: "Why are Americans condemning foreign fighters in Iraq? Are they including themselves in this category, or considering themselves native fighters of Iraq?"
US military officials were even more reluctant about admitting the growing role of global jihadis in the Iraqi insurgency. Now they are more blunt about it. On September 28, Army Major General Richard Zahner said: "I think what you really have here is an insurgency that's been hijacked by a terrorist campaign. In part, by [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi becoming the face of this thing, he has certainly gotten the funding, the media and, frankly, has allowed other folks to work along in his draft."

If not being able to defeat the Iraqi insurgency is the direct result of not being able to understand its very nature, then that fact becomes clear in the following description: even with Zarqawi's growing significance, Zahner and other officers stressed that Iraq's insurgency remains a complex mix of elements. It includes a variety of factions, often with differing political, religious or tribal aims and sometimes with simply criminal intentions.

What is important to note is that the US military no longer envisions the "Saddamists" (an umbrella phrase used to lump all factions supporting the former Iraqi dictator) as a major threat. Now al-Qaeda fighters top the list of America's concern. The chief reason is that Saddamists might be cowed into submission, bribed, or may even be coopted with some effort.

The global jihadis, on the contrary, have established a worldwide reputation for their zealotry, intransigence and their commitment - almost ebullience - for dying for their cause. The only way to deal with them is to eradicate them, so thinks the American military.

The only question that remains is whether the jihadis are as indefatigable as they currently appear to be. No one knows the answer. An intuitive answer is that perhaps they are. If that is the case, then the American military is left with just one more alternative, aside from killing as many of them as possible. That is to rely on Iraqi forces to take over manning the streets and almost all places in Iraq.

To underscore how serious the American military is about relying on the Iraqi forces, according to one dispatch, one of the most frequently repeated statements in American military circles in Iraq these days is Lawrence of Arabia's famous statement: "It is better to let them do it themselves imperfectly than to do it yourself perfectly. It is their country, their way, and our time is short."

But the insurgents have known about that preference all along. In fact, an important part of their strategy has been to make sure that the American forces remain fully entangled in Iraq. The objective is to force the US out of Iraq, and not allow it the luxury of getting out on its own terms.

That was how the Soviet Union was ousted from Afghanistan. It was forced and, indeed, humiliated into pulling its forces out. The Afghan mujahideen (Muslim guerilla warriors engaged in a jihad) have never forgotten that lesson. Osama bin Laden was one of the busiest of fighters in those days.

How realistic is the insurgents' aforementioned objective regarding the US? Speaking purely from the vantage of military power, the insurgents don't stand a chance. However, the Iraqi quagmire has proven that it has long become a theater of asymmetric warfare. That is where the strength of the Iraqi insurgency appears to be.

The most potent weapons of that insurgency are the suicide bombers and their seemingly infinite desire to die, and their zealotry to defeat the US. The insurgents seem to be coming out of nowhere. It appears there is a factory of those bombers somewhere in Iraq, or in the contiguous area. No country claims them, yet they are citizens of neighboring states. It is their desire to die and take as many of the "enemy" forces with them.

That is not only unfathomable to the American military, but it is also finding it hard to develop countermeasures against this phenomenon. So it is doing the best it can, in terms of preparing the Iraqi security forces to take over securing Iraq. However, the building of security forces is not something that can be done quickly or by relying on shortcuts. Then again, it might be done quickly but not without defeating the very purpose of training them.

A quickly developed Iraqi security force would not amount to anything that can withstand the fighting spirit or sophistication of the insurgency. That is another variable that is haunting the American military leadership.

General Casey has been talking about letting the Iraqi forces carry the brunt of the fight with the insurgency. That becomes a euphemism for having a higher death toll for Iraqi forces, as opposed to the Americans. He is also talking about a "smaller US footprint" for American forces, which is another euphemism for letting the Iraqis do most of the fighting.

But that reality will not materialize for another year or so. But the Iraqi forces are not ready, and they are not expected to be ready soon, while the Iraqi insurgency is appearing increasingly resilient. That is where the rub is. As long as the Iraqi forces don't shape up and take on the insurgents, the Americans are stuck in Iraq.

That is exactly what the insurgents are counting on. That is why they keep killing the Iraqi forces, Iraqi recruits, wherever they find them. As far as the insurgents are concerned, the US should not be allowed a respectable withdrawal from Iraq. It can get out of Iraq the same way the Soviet forces pulled out: after absorbing heavy losses and after facing no choice but to pull out in a humiliating manner. That is the focus of the global jihadis in their current fight in Iraq.

Ehsan Ahrari is an independent strategic analyst based in Alexandria, VA, US. His columns appear regularly in Asia Times Online. He is also a regular contributor to the Global Beat Syndicate. His website: www.ehsanahrari.com.

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