[Marxism] "In Western Iraq, fundamentalist forces hold US forces at bay"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Aug 28 15:20:18 MDT 2004


What follows is not a particularly pretty picture of life in Fallujah
and some other places, but it shows the continuing decay of US control,
and the breakdown of Washington's efforts to turn toward former
Baathists linked to Saddam Hussein to contain the resistance to
occupation. Some of the alleged reactionary characteristics of
resistance forces and leaders in this area -- and I will be glad to see
any reports showing that this portrayal is false or incomplete -- will
no doubt serve as "democratic" pretexts for Washington's next attempt to
take the offensive. Note also the rising skepticism about the outcome in
Najaf, which the Times has attempted to present as more positive for the
occupation than have the WaPo or LATimes.
Fred Feldman

August 29, 2004  New York Times
INSURGENCY 
In Western Iraq, Fundamentalists Hold U.S. Forces at Bay
By JOHN F. BURNS and ERIK ECKHOLM
 
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 28 - While American troops have been battling
Islamic militants to an uncertain outcome in Najaf, the Shiite holy
city, events in two Sunni Muslim cities that stand astride the crucial
western approaches to Baghdad have moved significantly against American
plans to build a secular democracy in Iraq.

Both of the cities, Falluja and Ramadi, and much of Anbar Province, are
now controlled by fundamentalist militias, with American troops confined
mainly to heavily protected forts on the desert's edge. What little
influence the Americans have is asserted through wary forays in armored
vehicles, and by laser-guided bombs that obliterate enemy safe houses
identified by scouts who penetrate militant ranks. Even bombing raids
appear to strengthen the fundamentalists, who blame the Americans for
scores of civilian deaths.

American efforts to build a government structure around former Baath
Party stalwarts - officials of Saddam Hussein's army, police force and
bureaucracy who were willing to work with the United States - have
collapsed. Instead, the former Hussein loyalists, under threat of
beheadings, kidnappings and humiliation, have mostly resigned or
defected to the fundamentalists, or been killed. Enforcers for the old
government, including former Republican Guard officers, have put
themselves in the service of fundamentalist clerics they once tortured
at Abu Ghraib.

In the last three weeks, three former Hussein loyalists appointed to
important posts in Falluja and Ramadi have been eliminated by the
militants and their Baathist allies. The chief of a battalion of the
American-trained Iraqi National Guard in Falluja was beheaded by the
militants, prompting the disintegration of guard forces in the city. The
Anbar governor was forced to resign after his three sons were kidnapped.
The third official, the provincial police chief in Ramadi, was lured to
his arrest by American marines after three assassination attempts led
him to secretly defect to the rebel cause.

The national guard commander and the governor were both forced into
humiliating confessions, denouncing themselves as "traitors" on
videotapes that sell in the Falluja marketplace for 50 cents. The tapes
show masked men ending the guard commander's halting monologue, toppling
him to the ground, and sawing off his head, to the accompaniment of
recorded Koranic chants ordaining death for those who "make war upon
Allah." The governor is shown with a photograph of himself with an
American officer, sobbing as he repents working with the "infidel
Americans," then being rewarded with a weeping reunion with his sons.

In another taped sequence available in the Falluja market, a mustached
man identifying himself as an Egyptian is shown kneeling in a flowered
shirt, confessing that he "worked as a spy for the Americans," planting
electronic "chips" used for setting targets in American bombing raids.
The man says he was paid $150 for each chip laid, then he, too, is
tackled to the ground by masked guards while a third masked man, a burly
figure who proclaims himself a dispenser of Islamic justice, pulls a
12-inch knife from a scabbard on his chest, grabs the Egyptian by the
scalp, and severs his head.

The situation across Anbar represents the latest reversal for the
Marines' First Expeditionary Force, which sought to assert control with
a spring offensive in Falluja and Ramadi that incurred some of the
heaviest American casualties of the war, and a far heavier toll, in the
hundreds, among Falluja's resistance fighters and civilians. The
offensive ended, mortifyingly for the marines, in a decision to pull
back from both cities and entrust American hopes to the former
Baathists. The American rationale was that military victory would come
only by flattening the two cities, and that the better course lay in
handing important government positions to former loyalists of the ousted
government, who would work, over time, to wrest control from the Islamic
militants who had emerged from the shadows to build strongholds there.
The culmination of this approach came with the recruitment of the
so-called Falluja Brigade, led by a former Army general under Mr.
Hussein, and composed of a motley assembly of former Iraqi soldiers and
insurgents, who marched into the city in early May, wearing old Iraqi
military uniforms, backed with American-supplied weapons and money.

But the Falluja Brigade is in tatters now, reduced to sharing tented
checkpoints on roads into the city with the militants, its headquarters
in Falluja abandoned, like the buildings assigned to the national guard.
Men assigned to the brigade, and to the two guard battalions, have
mostly fled, Iraqis in Falluja say, taking their families with them, and
handing their weapons to the militants. 

The militants' principal power center is a mosque in Falluja led by an
Iraqi cleric, Abdullah al-Janabi, who has instituted a Taliban-like rule
in the city, rounding up people suspected of theft and rape and
sentencing them to publicly administered lashes, and, in some cases,
beheading. But Mr. Janabi appears to have been working in alliance with
an Islamic militant group, Unity and Holy War, that American
intelligence has identified as the vehicle of Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, the
Jordanian-born terrorist with links to Al Qaeda whom the Americans have
blamed for many of the suicide bombings in Baghdad, which is just 35
miles from Falluja, and in other Iraqi cities.

The videotapes showing the killing of the guard commander, the
humiliation of the governor, and the beheading of the Egyptian all
display the black-and-yellow flag of the Zarqawi group as a backdrop,
and the passages of the Koran chanted as an accompaniment to the
killings are drawn from passages of the Muslim holy book that have
accompanied some of the videotaped pronouncements by Qaeda leaders,
including Osama bin Laden. Iraqis who have watched the Falluja tapes say
the Egyptian's executioner speaks in a cultured Arabic that is foreign,
possibly Jordanian or Palestinian.

A Severe Blow in Falluja

Perhaps the harshest blow to the American position in Falluja came with
the Aug. 13 execution of the national guard commander, Suleiman Mar'awi,
a former officer in Mr. Hussein's army with family roots in Falluja. In
the tape of his killing, he is seen in his camouflaged national guard
uniform, with an Iraqi flag at his shoulder, confessing to his
leadership of a plot to stage an uprising in the city on Aug. 20 that
was to have been coordinated with an American offensive. For that
purpose, he says, he recruited defectors among the militants' ranks and
met frequently with Marine commanders outside the city to settle details
of the attack. 

American commanders in Baghdad acknowledged ruefully that Mr. Mar'awi
had been killed, but they denied that there was any plan for an
offensive. Still, Marine commanders at Camp Falluja, a sprawling base
less than five miles east of the city, have been telling reporters for
weeks that the city has become little more than a terrorist camp,
providing a haven for Iraqi militants and for scores of non-Iraqi Arabs,
many of them with ties to Al Qaeda, who have homed in on Falluja as the
ideal base to conduct a holy war against the United States. Eventually,
the Marine officers have said, American hopes of creating stability in
Iraq will necessitate a new attack on the city, this time one that will
not be halted before it can succeed.

Some of these officers have also acknowledged that Iraqi "scouts"
working for the Americans, some disguised as militants, others working
for the national guard and police, have been a source of intelligence on
militant activities in Falluja, and on the location of bombing targets.
The American command says it has carried out many bombing raids since
the Marine pullback from the city in May, killing scores of militants.
One such raid that was reported this week in a popular Baghdad
newspaper, Al-Adala, said that 13 Yemenis had been killed in an air raid
in Falluja as they prepared to carry out suicide bombing attacks in
Baghdad, and that the Yemeni government was negotiating to bring the
bodies home.

Among militants in Falluja, there has been one point of agreement with
the Americans - that many of the bombing raids have hit militant safe
houses, and with pinpoint accuracy. A clue as to how this has been
possible is given in the tapes of the beheadings of Mr. Mar'awi, the
national guard commander, and of the Egyptian, a man in his mid-30's who
identifies himself on the tape as Mohammed Fawazi. Both men confess to
having planted electronic homing "chips" for the Americans. As they
speak, the tapes show a man wearing a red-checkered kaffiyeh headdress
holding a rectangular device, colored green and encased in clear
plastic, about the size of a matchbox.

The tape of Mr. Fawazi's execution breaks from the scene of the Egyptian
kneeling in confession to a combat-camera film from a bombing raid on
Falluja that has been posted on numerous Internet Web sites in recent
weeks. The black-and-white tape, giving the pilot's eye view, shows a
district of Falluja on a moonlit night, with the targeting crosshairs
fixed on a large, low building across the street from a mosque, whose
minaret throws a moon shadow onto the street. The sound of the pilot
breathing into his mask can be clearly heard, with an exchange with a
controller that speaks for the nonchalance of modern warfare.

"I have numerous individuals on the road, do you want me to take them
out?" the pilot asks as the tape shows a stream of about 40 men coming
out of the building and heading down the street away from the mosque,
toward what some Web site accounts said was a firefight between
militants and American troops. 

After a pause, the controller replies, saying, "Take them out." 

The pilot, having fired his weapon, begins the countdown. "Ten seconds,"
he says.

"Roger," the controller replies. The combat camera swings suddenly,
picturing the scene from behind the men below. A huge blast of smoke and
flame erupts on the road, enveloping the men, as the pilot cries
"Impact!" 

The controller then closes the exchange. "Oh dude!" he says, with what
appears to be a chuckle.

The execution tape then shifts to scenes of devastation after an air
attack on Falluja. It shows a crater, rubble, people piling up
belongings, injured being carried into a hospital, and
distraught-looking groups of civilians, including children. Shifting
back to Mr. Fawazi, it shows him with his hands tied behind his back,
looking downcast at the ground, then nervously toward the camera, as the
heavyset man towering over him quotes passages from the Koran ordaining
death. "He who will abide by the Koran will prosper, he who offends
against it will get the sword", he says, his right forefinger pumping in
the air, pointing first to heaven, then down to Mr. Fawazi.

"The only reward for those who make war on Allah and on Muhammad, his
messenger, and plunge into corruption, will be to be killed or
crucified, or have their hands and feet severed on alternate sides, or
be expelled from the land," the man says. With that, the two gunmen
flanking the executioner shout "Allahu akbar!" God is Great, drop their
Kalashnikovs and tumble Mr. Fawazi face down on the ground. The killer
pulls his knife from behind a magazine belt on his chest, grabs Mr.
Fawazi by the hair, severs his head, holds it up briefly to the camera,
then places it between his rope-tied hands on his back. On Aug. 21, the
Marine headquarters issued a brief news release. The police chief of
Anbar, Ja'adan Mohammed Alwan, had been arrested that day in Ramadi on
suspicion of "corruption and involvement in criminal activities to
include accepting bribes, extortion, embezzling funds, as well as
possible connections with kidnapping and murder." A Marine spokesman,
Lt. Eric Knapp, declined to offer more details of Mr. Alwan's charges,
beyond saying, "everyone knew he was corrupt." 

In the Hussein years, Mr. Alwan was a senior police officer but also a
high-ranking Baathist, people who knew him at the time say. But unlike
many Iraqis who prospered under Mr. Hussein, these Ramadi residents
said, he had never been known as a thug. When the Americans arrived,
leaders of a local clan that had secretly cooperated with the invaders
vouched for him. But soon, the Ramadi residents said, " People started
to hate him because he was too cooperative with the Americans." Repeated
death threats followed, and the three assassination attempts. The third,
in May, especially shook him, acquaintances said, because he survived a
rocket attack on his car, but his eldest son lost a leg.

Soon after, the verdict on the streets of Ramadi about the police chief
began to change. Although he may have raked in illegal profits, Ramadi
people say, he also began cooperating with Islamic militants, even
passing American military plans to them. Although such claims are
unverifiable, the assassination attempts stopped. But so too, last week,
did Mr. Alwan's tenure as police chief. The Marines say his arrest
followed a three-to-five month investigation, that "countless government
officials were afraid of him" and that the provincial chief "contributed
to crime and instability." 

Asked whether Mr. Anbar was also charged with aiding the insurrection,
Lt. Knapp, the spokesman, said tersely by e-mail, "We are investigating
suspected ties to the insurgency." Lt. Knapp described how the police
chief was lured to captivity. "To avoid bloodshed and to make the arrest
as clean as possible," he wrote, a Marine officer who had been working
with the police invited him to a meeting in an American camp. On his
arrival at the gate he climbed into a car where he was advised of his
arrest. The e-mail message concluded, "He was then removed from the
vehicle, handcuffed, and blackout goggles were put on him for security
reasons."

Sabotage by Humiliation

In the case of the provincial governor, Abdulkarim Berjes, Mr. Zarqawi's
group, Unity and Holy War, appears to have decided that it could achieve
its ends, nullifying American efforts to build governing institutions in
the province, by humiliating him - a punishment many Iraqi men regard as
worse than death. They then passed the videotape to the Arab satellite
news channel Al Jazeera, the most-watched channel in Iraq. "He cried
like a woman," one of the Iraqis who watched the tape said, after
viewing the governor's reunion with his kidnapped sons in a militant
safe house,

At the end of June, Mr. Berjes, a former Anbar police chief under Mr.
Hussein, complained in a discussion at Camp Falluja, the Marine base,
that his government was riddled with agents of the resistance. "I can no
longer trust anybody" Mr. Berjes said in a farewell meeting with L. Paul
Bremer III, the departing leader of the American occupation authority.
"I don't know if people are working for me, or for the resistance." Mr.
Berjes was visibly shaken, having survived an insurgent ambush on his
motorcade as he drove in his old American limousine to the Marine base
from Ramadi.

In fact, Iraqis in Anbar say, the governor had become a despised figure,
for the same reason as Mr. Alwan, the Anbar police chief - because he
too enthusiastically embraced the Americans and took to calling the
resistance fighters "terrorists." Following a common ritual among the
resistance, militants sent him a note of formal warning, paraphrased by
those who say they had been told about it as saying: "We are watching
you. Remember that we consider anybody who cooperates with the Americans
a traitor, to be killed under Islamic law." 

On July 28, assailants entered the governor's residence in Ramadi,
snatching his three grown sons and setting fire to the house. The
governor got his final warning: repent and resign, or your sons die. His
capitulation was broadcast on Aug. 6, in the video now circulating in
Anbar markets. Standing under the Zarqawi group's flag, he glumly
recites: "I announce my repentance before God and you for any deeds I
have committed against the holy warriors or in aid of the infidel
Americans. I announce my resignation at this moment. All governors and
employees who work with infidel Americans should quit because these jobs
are against Islam and Iraqis." 

As the governor is reunited with his sons, a voice on the tape recites
the Zarqawi group's attacks on public officials in the last three
months. "We killed the president of the Iraqi Governing Council, and
then the deputy minister of the interior," the voice says. "The minister
of justice survived our attack, but we killed the governor of Mosul. And
now we have captured the governor of Anbar. The list is just beginning,
and is far from finished.'' More than three weeks after Mr. Berjes
resigned, the Allawi government, seemingly hard put to find anyone to
take the job, has yet to name a successor.

No Answers in Anbar

American commanders confess they have no answers in Anbar, and say their
strategy is to curb the militants' ability to project their violence
farther afield, especially in Baghdad, only 35 miles east of Falluja. A
recent meeting between Iraq's interim prime minister, Mr. Allawi, and a
delegation of tribal sheiks from Falluja who have pledged fealty to Mr.
Janabi is said to have reached a standstill accord, with Mr. Allawi
promising not to sanction large-scale American attacks on the Anbar
cities, and the sheikhs conveying Mr. Janabi's pledge to halt militant
attacks on the Americans,

But leaving the militants in control could pose a disabling threat to
American political plans, which may already have been shaken more than
American officials will admit by events in Najaf. Top American officials
say that events there, with Moktada al-Sadr's militiamen finally driven
from the Imam Ali shrine, have set the stage for a turn in American
fortunes across the Shiite heartland of Iraq. But even there the
prospects seem deeply clouded by the failure to effectively disarm Mr.
Sadr's surviving fighters as they left the shrine with shouldered rifles
and donkey carts loaded with rockets,

Mr. Sadr has signed a new pledge to join the democratic political
process that will be the final measure of American success here. But he
has abrogated similar undertakings, and many of his fighters vowed to
take up arms again. Coupled with the militants' control in Anbar, this
could unsettle plans for elections scheduled across Iraq by the end of
January - the next crucial step toward a fully elected government by
January 2006, an event American officials see as a way station on the
path to a draw down or withdrawal of the 140,000 American troops here,

These Americans say a rapid buildup of the new Iraqi Army, the national
guard and police, coupled with gathering momentum in "turning dirt" on
the thousands of reconstruction projects financed by $18-billion in
American money, should eventually improve security across Iraq. But the
Americans acknowledge that a full, nationwide election in January may
not be possible. For now, they have identified 15 cities across the Arab
parts of Iraq that they contend can be stabilized to make voting in
January possible. For the moment, they say, Falluja and Ramadi are not
among them.


Iraqi staff members of The New York Timesin Baghdad contributed
reporting for this article





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