"Peace" and "reconciliation" were the
patois of Downing Street and the White House yesterday. But all those hopes
of a collapse of resistance are doomed. Saddam was neither the spiritual
nor the political guide to the insurgency that is now claiming so many
lives in Iraq - far more Iraqi than Western lives, one might add - and,
however happy Messrs Bush and Blair may be at the capture of Saddam, the
war goes on.
In Fallujah, in Ramadi, in other centres of Sunni power in Iraq, the
anti-occupation rising will continue. The system of attacks and the
frighteningly fast-growing sophistication of the insurgents is bound up
with the Committee of the Faith, a group of Wahabi-based Sunni Muslims who
now plan their attacks on American occupation troops between Mosul and the
city of Hilla, 50 miles south of Baghdad. Even before the overthrow of the
Baathist regime, these groups, permitted by Saddam in the hope that they
could drain off Sunni Islamic militancy, were planning the mukawama - the
resistance against foreign occupation.
The slaughter of 17 more Iraqis yesterday in a bomb attack on a police
station - hours after the capture of Saddam, though the bombers could not
have known that - is going to remain Iraq's bloody agenda. The
Anglo-American narrative will then be more difficult to sustain. Saddam
"remnants" or Saddam "loyalists" are far more difficult to sustain as
enemies when they can no longer be loyal to Saddam. Their Iraqi identity
will become more obvious and the need to blame "foreign" al-Qa'ida members
all the greater.
Yet the repeated assertions of US infantry commanders, especially those
based around Mosul and Tikrit, that most of their attackers are Iraqi
rather than foreign, show that the American military command in Iraq - at
least at the divisional level - knows the truth. The 82nd Airborne captain
in Fallujah who told me that his men were attacked by "Syrian-backed
terrorists and Iraqi freedom-fighters" was probably closer to the truth
than Major Ricardo Sanchez, the US commander in Iraq, would like to
believe. The war is not about Saddam but about foreign occupation.
Indeed, professional soldiers have been pointing this out for a long time.
Yesterday, for example, a sergeant in the 1st Armoured Division on
checkpoint duty in Baghdad explained the situation to The Independent in
remarkably blunt words. "We're not going to go home any sooner because of
Saddam's getting caught," he said. "We all came to search for weapons of
mass destruction and attention has now been diverted from that. The arrest
of Saddam is meaningless. We still don't know why we came here."
There are groups aplenty with enthusiasm to attack the Americans but who
never had any love for Saddam. One example is the Unification Front for the
Liberation of Iraq, which was anti-Saddam but has now called on its
supporters to fight the American occupation. In all, The Independent has
identified 12 separate guerrilla groups, all loosely in touch with each
other through tribal connections, but only one could be identified as
comprising Saddam loyalists or Baathists.
When the first roadside bomb exploded in the centre of a motorway median at
Khan Dari in the summer, killing one soldier, it was followed by
identically manufactured mines - three mortars wired together - in both
Kirkuk and Mosul. Within a week, another copy-cat mine exploded near US
troops outside Nasiriyah. Clearly, groups of insurgents were touring the
country with explosive ordnance capabilities, organised, possibly, on a
In many areas, men identifying themselves as resistors have openly boasted
that they are joining the new American-paid police forces in order to earn
money, gain experience with weapons and gather intelligence on their
American military "allies". Exactly the same fate that befell the Israelis
in Lebanon, where their proxy Lebanese South Lebanon Army militia started
collaborating with their Hizbollah enemies, is now likely to encompass the
The same men who are going to carry on attacking the Americans will, of
course, be making a secret holiday in their heart over the capture of
Saddam. Why, they will argue, should they not rejoice at the end of their
greatest oppressor while planning the humiliation of the occupying army
which seized him?
© 2003 Independent