Army of Mohammed

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Aug 11 07:36:14 MDT 2003

Inside an Enemy Cell
Three resistance fighters talk about their group and its role in the 
developing struggle against the American military presence

By Scott Johnson NEWSWEEK

Aug. 18 issue —  The streets outside the house were practically 
deserted. Most inhabitants of Amriyah, some 30 miles east of Baghdad, 
were indoors, praying or napping out of the relentless Friday-afternoon 
sun. Pro-Saddam slogans on the neighborhood’s yellowing concrete walls 
underscored its bleakness.

INSIDE ONE OF the Soviet-style houses, up a flight of stairs, was a 
small family apartment where three Iraqi resistance fighters had agreed 
to be interviewed. They emerged from a back room, armed with AK-47s and 
grenades, their faces hidden by red-and-white kaffiyehs. Seating 
themselves on floor mats, they talked about the war against America. 
Their group, calling itself the Army of Mohammed, has claimed 
responsibility for the deaths of at least 15 U.S. soldiers since the 
fall of Saddam Hussein. “We did kill U.S. soldiers and we destroyed some 
of their vehicles and equipment,” said the leader of the three, calling 
himself Mohammed al-Rawi. “We will do it again.”

Such threats worry Bush officials more than they want to admit. “We’ve 
made good progress,” the president said last week, marking the 100th day 
since he declared an end to major combat. “Iraq is more secure.” 
Nevertheless, 56 Americans were killed in action during those 100 days, 
an additional 404 Coalition forces were wounded badly enough to be 
knocked out of duty, and there’s no sign that the attacks are letting 
up. On the contrary, the resistance seems to be getting bigger, smarter 
and more organized. U.S. officials in Baghdad have estimated its total 
strength in the thousands, and recently acknowledged that its efforts 
may be coordinated at the regional level, if not nationally. Coalition 
officials can’t travel without heavy escorts, reconstruction efforts 
have been hobbled and ambushes have forced even the Red Cross to cut 
back its operations. Last week a truck bomb killed 19 people at the 
Jordanian Embassy in one of the bloodiest attacks yet. It wasn’t 
immediately clear who did it or why.

The Army of Mohammed is one of several clandestine groups that sprang up 
after the regime’s collapse. At first it was known only from leaflets 
found scattered outside Baghdad’s Abu Hanifa mosque, where Saddam was 
last seen in public on April 9. Recently the name has begun appearing on 
walls in Saddam’s hometown, Tikrit. Members of the Army of Mohammed have 
claimed several attacks on Coalition forces; if those claims are 
legitimate, the group is one of the deadliest in Iraq. The Americans, 
though, aren’t sure. The group’s aims, its acts and its membership are 
topics of fierce debate among intelligence analysts. Some have even 
contended that no such armed group really exists.

In order to learn more about the anti-American resistance’s motives and 
methods, NEWSWEEK asked a well-connected intermediary for help in 
contacting some fighters. He arranged a meeting with al-Rawi, 40, and 
two comrades, Ali Saadi, 32, and Kadim Baghdadi, 34. The three were 
carrying illegal weapons, which would get them arrested or shot on sight 
by U.S. forces. They also seemed well organized, arranging the 
rendezvous at a location they chose, and arriving and departing 
precisely on time. They say they have 5,000 armed fighters, and a 
“centralized” command structure extending west to Ar Ramadi, north to 
Tikrit and east to Baghdad. There’s no way to confirm such details, and 
the three guerrillas refused to provide specific information on attacks 
they had carried out, claiming a need to protect “operational security.”

Baghdadi says the organization initially was a gathering of tribal 
fighters, many of whom had served previously in the Iraqi armed forces 
and had been using firearms since childhood. “Most of our youth are 
trained to carry weapons,” he added. The fighters were angry with U.S. 
forces for the deaths of 13 Iraqis after an anti-occupation protest 
turned violent in Fallujah. “Through the key figures of the tribes, we 
contacted each other,” said Baghdadi. “We met in small cells at first, 
far from the cities, in farms, and we started talking. We took the 
decision that we must liberate the country.”

By all accounts, the fighters are taking Mao Zedong’s classic advice for 
guerrillas to move among the people like fish through water. They live 
in the civilian population, depending on its support and using it for 
protection. It’s a strategy that severely complicates U.S. efforts to 
wipe them out.


The fighters described a simple but apparently effective communications 
system for coordinating the group’s actions. “There is a central 
command, and we communicate on a daily basis,” said al-Rawi. At the top 
of the organization is a man the fighters call “a high-ranking officer 
who knows the art of fighting.” Couriers deliver his handwritten 
instructions on paper. The orders often mention specific targets or 
preferred means of attack. Al-Rawi said the group also has special units 
that carry out surveillance of U.S. targets. Weapons practice is an 
almost daily affair, according to the fighters, who all said they were 
veterans of Saddam’s military. All three are members of the same clan in 
the Dulaimi tribe, which was mistakenly attacked by U.S. forces early in 
the war. The fighters claim their group has no need of recruiters; they 
say their neighbors are “begging for weapons” to fight the Americans.

The U.S. military is counting on ordinary Iraqis to help stamp out the 
insurgency. Whoever wins this battle for hearts and minds will 
ultimately win the war. The results so far have been mixed. U.S. troops 
recently withdrew completely from the city of Fallujah after attacks 
became too frequent and costly. Now the fighters want to repeat that 
success elsewhere. They have learned to hit Coalition targets with 
explosives and get away before the Americans can start shooting in all 
directions. Besides the steady attrition in U.S. lives, every 
counterattack deepens the people’s resentment against the foreigners. 
And the dislike is mutual. “Too many of our soldiers out there are 
beginning to hate the Iraqis,” says a senior Defense Department civilian.

The fighters seemed able to move openly in Amriyah, without fear that 
anyone might report them to the Americans. The house was located near a 
former weapons factory; on Friday afternoon a U.S. military patrol came 
within a 10 minutes’ drive from the place. The neighborhood was drab but 
relatively affluent by Iraqi standards. “The Americans will go to their 
funerals here,” al-Rawi said. The Iraqis and the Americans alike have 
already attended too many funerals. But no one has any easy formulas to 
make the killings stop.



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