Friday, August 1, 2003

Uday and Qasay's death may not make a difference

This piece in the New Republic Online (sign up for the trial online subscription) might give pause to the Paul Wolfowitzes of the world, who have proclaimed that the death of Saddam's two sons shows that there's no future in opposing the American occupiers.

In fact, Fattah's piece makes a case that there are more people than ever opposing the American occupiers.

The ambushes are not coordinated, nor are the groups that spring them, Fattah writes. But numerous small groups of Islamists have sprung up in recent weeks, some of them announcing their presence on Arabic television, some of them having connections to the Ba'ath party, few of them wanting Saddam back - but all of them wanting America out:

All of which suggests that the deaths of Uday and Qusay may have less impact than Wolfowitz predicted. Worse, since the anti-U.S. attacks are less coordinated than some American officials believe, they could prove even harder to stop.

Fattah also brings up something I hadn't realized: That there are some 15-20 ambushes of American forces per day in Iraq, though only the attacks that result in American casualties get reported.

But these former Baathists are not attacking U.S. forces to bring Saddam back: They are on the warpath largely for revenge or to boost their own power. "They are gangs, and they have money," Amiri says, suggesting that many of the Baathists are trying to stake out positions for themselves as local leaders in a new Iraq. Some want to scare off U.S. soldiers, while others are simply interested in killing Americans--who may have killed friends or members of their families in the war--or find the occupying forces insulting to them.

Other political analysts say tribal chiefs, independently of the former Baathists, are also organizing violence. Many of these tribesmen are based in the Anbar region of western Iraq, which included Falluja, though some are even in Baghdad. One American officer told me the tribesmen have become violent in response to what they see as assaults on their dignity by occupying troops who have invaded their homes. What's more, some chiefs are instigating violence because their tribal codes hold they must kill anyone who killed a member of their tribe.

What to do? The answer, Fattah suggest, is not to bring in greater firepower, but to try an end run:

Dulaimi and other Iraqi political analysts believe that, because there is no one leadership of the resistance to strike against, military operations by the U.S. forces may be of limited value. Instead, he says, the American soldiers need to not only identify and eliminate resistance fighters but also work to rebuild local institutions and develop a greater understanding of local culture.

Some American troops have already started down this path. As The Washington Post reported this week, in Falluja, some American officers have delivered formal apologies to local tribal leaders for offenses committed by American soldiers, have paid money to the families of noncombatants killed, have ordered soldiers to knock on doors before conducting most residential searches, and have begun building local institutions, starting with the local police force. "It comes down to how well the Americans respond," Dulaimi says. Hopefully, Wolfowitz and the other bosses will get the message.

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