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IRAQ: Terrorism and Resistance

Paper No. 919                                 11.02.2004


by B.Raman

(To be read in continuation of my earlier article titled "Iraq Continues To Bleed")

Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., Commander of the US 82nd Airborne Division ( January 6, 2004):"We've turned the corner."

Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, Commander of the US 4th Infantry Division, (January 20): "The former regime elements we've been combating have been brought to their knees."
Despite periodic claims of an improvement in the security situation made by US spokesmen, the security situation in Iraq  continues to be as bad as ever with forces of the anti-US resistance movement and the foreign jihadi terrorists, mainly Arabs of Chechen origin and Pakistanis and foreign elements belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and other components of the International Islamic Front (IIF), continuing  to strike at will in the so-called Sunni triangle and in the Kurdish areas to the north and killing dozens of US soldiers and their Iraqi collaborators.

2. There has, however, been no major incident of targeted attack on non-American foreigners since the beginning of this year.  There has also been a decline in major incidents of sabotage.

3. The following figures give the number of US soldiers killed since August last year, when the security situation took a turn for the worse,  in targeted attacks attributable to Iraqi resistance fighters:

August          35

September    30

October        43

November    82

December     42

January         47

Total            279

Nearly 60 per cent of the US soldiers were killed by improvised explosive devices not involving suicide bombers. The rest were killed in mortar attacks, ambushes and other incidents involving firing with hand-held weapons.

4. As against this, 393 persons have been killed in 11 major incidents (that is, fatal casualties of 10 or more per incident ) involving  suicide  bombers since August last.  While the majority of those killed were Iraqi policemen and innocent civilians, there were also many foreigners, including possibly some American non-combatants, who were killed in these attacks.

5. In respect of incidents suspected to be  involving foreign jihadi terrorists, the first 10 days of February have been the deadliest since August with a car bomb outside a police station in the Shia town of Iskandariya killing  at least 45 policemen and others on February 10 and two human bombs reminiscent of those of the LTTE, the Hamas, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and the Chechen organisations killing at least 100 on February 1 during Eid celebrations in the Kurdish city of Irbil.

6. The available statistics regarding major incidents involving suicide bombings are given below: 

August, 2003  -----   120 killed in three incidents.


October----30 killed in one incident

November---44 killed in two incidents

December ---36 killed in two incidents

January, 2004---18 killed in one incident

February---- 145 killed in two incidents

7. In addition to these major incidents, there have been dozens of other incidents involving fatal casualties of less than 10 per incident in many of which also the involvement of suicide terrorists of foreign origin is suspected.  It has, however, not been possible to analyse them statistically.

8. The continuing suicide bombings mainly directed against soft (civilians) and semi-soft (policemen) targets bring out, firstly, the continuing strong motivation of the foreign jihadi terrorists and, secondly, the ready availability of a frighteningly undiminished number of volunteers for suicide missions. Such suicide bombings on a sustained basis would not be possible without local support for the foreign jihadi terrorists.

9. The around 300 (there has been no increase in their number for over two months now) foreign jihadi terrorists operating in the Sunni triangle and in the Kurdish areas are from the various components of the IIF and not necessarily from Al Qaeda. They operate in small autonomous cells of not more than about six volunteers per cell, with the cells totally avoiding communication with each other and not dependent on a centralised command and control. The rear bases for their logistic and tactical  support are mainly located in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  There is no strong evidence of rear bases in Syria and Iran, though one cannot totally rule out the possibility.

10. Since the beginning of this year, one could see a greater sophistication in the operation of the US troops marked by less public visibility and less aggressive reprisal raids. The US plans to depend more and more on the newly raised and trained Iraqi security forces for passive defence (static and mobile security patrols), with the US troops avoiding too public a role while at the same time remaining available for active defence ( counter-action after an incident, reinforcements to back up the Iraqis etc) have not yet started producing noticeable results.

11. This is due to the inability of the Iraqi security forces to come up to their tasks, a certain lack of dedication in their ranks in carrying out the instructions of American counter-resistance and counter-terrorism officers and the inability of the US intelligence agencies to penetrate either the Iraqi resistance cells operating essentially against US soldiers  or the foreign jihadi cells operating against the Iraqi security forces, foreigners and innocent civilians.

12. It is evident that the US intelligence continues to be clueless regarding the identity of the leading brains behind the Iraqi resistance movement or the foreign jihadi terrorist groups despite the recent arrests of Hassan Ghul, a Pakistani, and some other foreigners. There is so far no satisfactory corroboration of US claims that  Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian operative of Al Qaeda, is the leading brain behind the major suicide operations.

13. The US habit of projecting all foreign jihadis as members of Al Qaeda, seeing an Al Qaeda hand behind every major incident of suicide bombing and constantly harping on a non-existent link between Al Qaeda and the former Saddam Hussein regime is coming in the way of a lucid analysis of the incidents and identification of likely suspects.  Evidently, after the embarrassing failure to locate any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, the Bush Administration has started playing down the WMD angle in justification for its war and has started playing up the alleged Saddam-Al Qaeda nexus angle by a conscious over-dramatisation of unverified information on such nexus and through a policy of disinformation.

14. The Bush Administration has not learnt any lessons from the embarrassment caused by its past attempts to over-play the WMD angle. Its present attempts to similarly over-play the Saddam-Al Qaeda nexus angle could prove counter-productive.

15. The USA's psychological warfare (PSYWAR) operations, which are an important component of any counter-resistance and counter-terrorist operations, have been poor. There has been an over-emphasis on the American casualties and under-emphasis on the Iraqi casualties. Iraqis killing Iraqis and Muslims killing Muslims  in the name of resistance and jihad---that should have been the theme of an intelligently designed and executed PSYWAR campaign based on facts and not on disinformation. There are any number of facts available for such a campaign.  The US officers in Iraq have been unable to mount such a campaign in a convincing manner folr reasons, which are not clear.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: )