Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The new Jihad in Iraq
The last week has seen some great journalism from Time magazine in their coverage of Islamic extremism in Iraq. Michael Ware has spent the past few months in communication with Islamic extremist groups operating in Iraq and the results are fascinating, breaking some common misconceptions about the insurgent operations in Iraq. Ware concludes that the militant's outlook has changed markedly, from one of guerilla tactics to drive US forces from Iraq, to an international religious jihad movement with a view to becoming both a call to action and a training ground for future jihad militants and leaders.

The first such misconception is that the insurgents are largely Baathist groups trying to regain power. Ware writes that whilst this was true in the immediate aftermath of the war, their investigation "reveals that the militants are turning the resistance into an international jihadist movement. Foreign fighters, once estranged from homegrown guerrilla groups, are now integrated as cells or complete units with Iraqis. Many of Saddam's former secret police and Republican Guard officers, who two years ago were drinking and whoring, no longer dare even smoke cigarettes. They are fighting for Allah, they say, and true jihadis reject such earthly indulgences." Defence of city barricades and skirmishes with US forces have seen Syrians, Saudis and Pakistan fighting side-by-side with Iraqi operatives, previously a rare occurrence.

The second such misconception is that these terrorist activities will dilute in the coming months after the handover of power. Ware reports that the militants goals extend much further than merely forcing US forces out of the country. "They want to transform Iraq into what Afghanistan was in the 1980s: a training ground for young jihadists who will form the next wave of recruits for al-Qaeda and like-minded groups."

U.S. intelligence officials say they now believe Iraq is a magnet for fanatical Muslims around the world. "It's become the proving ground," says a senior U.S. intelligence official. The jihadists are convinced they can continue fighting indefinitely."

In a similar way to Bin Laden's leadership, Zarqawi's leadership seems to be similarly based on magnetism and a loose ideological connection as opposed to a hierachial membership structure. This makes it incredibly difficult both to control and halt insurgent activities, as operations are completed on a cell basis. Zarqawi is involved in planning and operations structure, and then it is left up to cells to implement at will. Time yesterday released a videotape from Zarqawi showing how recent operations were planned and executed in shocking detail, as anyone who saw the video on Sky or CNN last night would attest.

With new Prime Minister Iyad Allaw planning to declare martial law within the next few weeks to build an assault against the insurgents, the bloodiest battles in Iraq could be on the near horizon. A final piece from Ware "The insurgents' aspirations are growing. Abdullah, a midlevel leader of Kata'ib, says he's happy U.S. troops are staying in Iraq: it means he can be part of the jihad. Asked what the jihadists will do if U.S. forces finally pull out, one of Abdullah's comrades offers this answer: 'We will follow them to the U.S.'"

It will be up to history to prove whether Bush's war in Iraq was misguided or inspired, but we may find out sooner...