IRAQ: Who are the resistance fighters?

Issue 

BY ROHAN PEARCE

The "terrorist problem" in Iraq, General John Abizaid told journalists on August 21, "is emerging as the number-one security threat" to the US-led occupation. Abizaid, the head of US Central Command, is responsible for overseeing the military side of the US-led occupation.

Faced with a population back home which is increasingly alarmed about the cost — both in soldiers' lives and tax dollars — of the occupation, Washington is trying to link the armed Iraqi resistance to those who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York's World Trade Center.

Hence, it has now become a mantra for the White House and the Pentagon to claim that daily attacks on US soldiers in Iraq are being carried out not only by "Saddam loyalists", but increasingly by "foreign Islamic terrorists", possibly linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

Most Iraqis, however, don't buy it. The results of a survey by the Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies, released August 6, show that only a minority of Iraqis believe that supporters of the former regime are behind the attacks on the US occupation troops.

In Ramadi and Fallujah — two towns in the area dubbed the "Sunni triangle" by US Central Command — less than 5% of participants in the poll believed that members of Saddam Hussein's now-banned Baath Party are responsible for the attacks, while 52% named "resistance" as the cause of the attacks.

It is inside the "Sunni triangle" that the majority of attacks on US soldiers have occurred since Hussein's regime was toppled in early April by the US invaders.

The British Guardian reported in a July 18 article that "in the Sunni triangle the truth is more complex than the simple stereotype that the area has long been pro-Saddam. For example, the Alawani, one of Ramadi's largest tribes, opposed Hussein since the 1995 execution of a tribal hero from the Iran war."

Jihad Abed Hussein al Alawani, the imam of Ramadi's al Saleh mosque, told the Guardian: "It is wrong to put these attacks down only to fedayeen, remnants of the Baath party, or former army officers... They are coming from ordinary people and the Islamic resistance because the Americans haven't fulfilled their promises."

On July 14, Qatar-based television station Al Jazeera reported that a group called the 1920 Revolution Brigades, the military wing of the Iraqi National Islamic Resistance Group (INIRG), issued a statement calling for further attacks on US and British occupation personnel. The statement claimed that the group was coordinating its attacks with other resistance fighters and that it was not associated with supporters of Hussein's regime. The group's name refers to the 1920 uprising against British colonial rule in Iraq.

The 1920 revolt began after Arnold Wilson, Britain's high commissioner to Iraq, refused Iraqis self-government. The revolt was brutally crushed. Significantly, the revolt was led by Shiites, and, according to Cambridge University academic Glen Rangwala, most Sunni tribes did not take part.

Al Jazeera broadcast a video message from the INIRG on August 17. A spokesperson in the video stated: "The Iraqi resistance, as it is well-known, has started to make substantial progress on the domestic front, putting the enemy on the defensive rather than offensive. And our varied and frequent attacks have prevented the occupiers from planting themselves on Iraqi soil, thanks to God.

"The enemy is suffering so many casualties on a daily basis that this news is being severely blacked-out by the media to protect Bush's chances in the forthcoming election and to protect the policies of the White House from the American public."

On July 14, Al Arabiya Television, a Dubai-based station, reported that a leaflet had been distributed in Baghdad publicising the existence of the Iraqi National Liberation Army, supposedly drawn from all ethnic and religious groups and having the support of the Al Najaf Hawzah (religious seminary) in southern Iraq.

According to a July 17 Radio Free Europe report, the leaflet "threatens attacks against newly opened embassies in Iraq and addresses the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, declaring that it refuses to recognise 9 April [the date of the fall of Baghdad to the US invaders] as a day of liberation", as has been proclaimed by Washington's puppet Iraqi Governing Council.

On August 9, Al Arabiya broadcast a video of five masked men who claimed to be members of organisations called the White Flags, Muslim Youth and the Army of Mohammed. One of the men stated: "We want to tell other organisations that guerrilla warfare is the only way to free the country and we want to say that foreign troops who were sent here must be attacked to prove to the world that we are against occupation. We warn countries of the world, and for the last time, not to send troops into Iraq."

The speaker went on to criticise the August 7 bombing of Jordan's Baghdad embassy as counter-productive to the resistance's cause.

Washington has publicly linked the Jordanian embassy bombing, and the August 19 bombing of the UN's offices in Baghdad, to the Ansar al Islam (AI).

The existence of an AI presence in Iraq was used by Washington to try to link Hussein's regime to al Qaeda. However, AI is led by Jordanian-born Abu Msab al Zarqawi and was based in Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Iraq — out of reach of Baghdad's influence.

Responsibility for the UN bombing has been claimed by three different groups — Abu Hafs el Masri Brigades (named after an ally of bin Laden, quoted in the August 25 edition of the London Arabic-language Al Hayat), Mohammed's Army (a claim made in a video broadcast by Lebanese TV station LBC on August 23), and the Armed Vanguards of the Second Mohammed Army. The later claim was based upon a written statement received by the Al Arabiya station on August 21.

Another group that has taken credit for attacks on US and British occupation troops is Al Anbar's Armed Brigades, which has also distanced itself from Hussein regime. A resistance group called the Black Banners Organisation has issued calls for bombings of oil industry infrastructure to prevent Washington earning revenue from the export of Iraqi oil, according to the Al Zaman newspaper on July 16.

Ironically, Washington's claims that Iraq has become a breeding gound for "terrorists" rather than Iraqi national liberation fighters may politically backfire on it. Already, some liberal commentators in the US are using this argument to criticise the decision to invade Iraq. In an August 17 interview with CNN, retired US army general Wesley Clark, a former US commander of NATO, said: "Seems to me that the only terrorists we're finding there are the ones who have come back in to attack us since we arrived."

From Green Left Weekly, September 3, 2003.
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