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[casi] Rebel war spirals out of control as US intelligence loses the plot

"Most worrying of all is the emergence of a broad, post-Saddam
ideology across the groups. And if recent polling in Baghdad is to be
believed, it is rapidly gaining currency with ordinary Iraqis. It is
crudely simple, insisting that the US-led occupation is an assault
against both Islam and the wider Arab nation, that Iraqis must resist
and that anyone who assists the occupiers is an enemy as much as US

If the above extract is correct then the US/UK need to change their
approach. There are signs of desperation like the leaking of
recalling Iraqi army units.

Surely there is more chance of progress if the US lets the UN run the
transition to a new constitution etc?

Sunday November 2, 2003

The ghosts of Vietnam are returning as Baathists, zealots, criminals,
tribal leaders and al Qaeda unite in a deadly alliance of hatred.
Special report by Peter Beaumont in London and Patrick Graham in

Sharp disagreements are emerging between the US and the UK over the
exact nature of the Iraqi resistance, amid warnings that the US is
losing the intelligence war against the rebels.

After eight days in which Iraqi fighters have scored a series of
major blows to the coalition and its Iraqi allies, intelligence and
military officials in Iraq and on both sides of the Atlantic are at
odds over whether they are fighting a Saddam-led movement or a series
of disparate partisan groups. They are just as divided on finding a
way to halt the escalating violence.

The latest violence comes amid increasingly bleak assessments from
Washington, where the latest attacks have been compared in the media
to Vietnam's 1968 Tet Offensive against US forces and described by
Sandy Berger, a former National Security Adviser to President Bill
Clinton, as a 'classic guerrilla war'.

The comments follow leaked assessments by both the US pro-consul in
Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer, and US Defence Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld that war against the resistance was going less well than
planned, with the latter describing a 'long, hard slog'.

By last week that long, hard slog had seen attacks on coalition
forces and the Iraqis co-operating with them reaching a level of 33 a
day - more than twice the level in July. Anti-coalition fighters have
ratcheted up the scale of attacks on schools, police and politicians,
while assaults on the US-led forces have become more confident and

US and UK officials admit that at the centre of the worsening crisis -
 which has seen the UN and other aid agencies withdraw international
staff from the country following the bombing of the Red Cross
headquarters in Baghdad - is a continuing failure of hard
intelligence on exactly who is behind the resistance.

The urgency of the problem was underlined by comments by a former CIA
director last week that unless the coalition forces get a grip on the
intelligence-gathering problem - in particular building relationships
with ordinary Iraqis - it may be too late.

'We're at a crossroads,' Stansfield Turner, told the Christian
Science Monitor. 'If in the next few weeks we don't persuade the
Iraqi on the street that we're going to straighten things out... we
won't get that intelligence.'

A mark of that failure, say officials, has been the inability of
coalition forces and the intelligence and policing agencies available
to them to solve any of the major bombings that began in August.

'The fundamental issue with counter-insurgency warfare is
intelligence. Intelligence is what matters and it is 90 per cent of
the battle,' Gordon Adams, a former associate director for national
security, told the New York Times.

'It's knowing who they are, where they are and when they act. If we
know anything from Vietnam and the various things that have gone on
in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is that our humint [human intelligence]
is terrible. We know that we were woefully under-prepared in

It is a view shared in part by British officials, who concede that
attempts to infiltrate the resistance have been without success.

Others are sharply critical of how the intelligence war against the
rebels has been handled. They point to a woeful shortage of Arab
linguists and analysts familiar with Arab culture in the US-run
sector, despite being six months into the insurgency.

To counter this, Pentagon officials briefed last week that some of
these specialists working among the 1,400-strong Iraq Survey Group on
the unsuccessful search for stockpiles of unconventional weapons
would be transferred to this effort.

So who exactly is the resistance? In recent days American officials
have briefed US papers for the first time that Saddam Hussein may be
playing a significant role in co-ordinating and directing attacks by
his loyalists, despite conceding such reports could not be

The claims are based in part on reports that Saddam met Izzat
Ibrahim, a senior Iraqi general suspected by American officials of
playing a significant role in organising the resistance and co-
ordinating with Ansar al-Islam, linked to al Qaeda.

The depiction by these Pentagon officials of the structure of the
resistance - though tentatively expressed - suggest a hierarchical
organisation, led by former Saddam officials, with Saddam at its
head, and allied to groups of foreign jihadists and al Qaeda under a
single command.

Whether true or not, it is a politically convenient description of
the resistance for the Bush regime, suggesting as it does that the
rebels represent no more than the desperate remains of Saddam's
regime with no wider resonance, despite escalating attacks.

It is not, however, recognised by British officials. The picture that
they paint of what is going on in Iraq is a more chaotic and a far
more dangerous one.

'What we are looking at,' one UK official told The Observer, 'is not
some monolithic organisation with a clear command. That would be far
easier for us to deal with and get into. Instead, we are looking at
lots of different groups with different agendas. They are locally
organised with each having its loyalty focused on middle-ranking
former commanders.'

What he describes is a network of partisan-type groups without a
central command and links between them based on personal
relationships - an organic rather than monolithic structure.

The groups' communications - based, say Iraqis, on couriers, often
teenage boys, to carry messages - have been equally difficult for the
coalition to penetrate.

And they have very little difficulty in getting materiel for attacks
or the money to finance the operations. Iraqi military doctrine under
Saddam, especially after the first Gulf war, long envisaged the risk
of a second US-led invasion that would attempt to depose the regime.
The consequence was the placement across the country of hidden caches
of weapons, explosives, fuel and cash, all in vast amounts -
everything required to run a guerrilla war.

'We are looking at three categories of group involved in the
resistance,' said one official. 'There are ex-Baathists, especially
in the Sunni triangle [where the majority of Special Republican guard
and members of Saddam's security organisations were traditionally
recruited from]. Then there are groups like Ansar al-Islam and groups
that may be affiliated to al Qaeda or sympathetic to them. Finally,
there are foreign jihadists who have been drawn to Iraq to fight

It is a view endorsed by a former colonel in the Iraqi security
services interviewed by The Observer. 'It is a mixture of different
groups - former Mukhabarat [security services], religious groups and
Baath party members. If Saddam is involved in the resistance, as some
at the Pentagon are claiming, then he believes he is just one leader
among many.

'Saddam is playing some role but he is not the only one. Some groups
may not even know he is leading them. I think that he is moving
around meeting as many of these groups as possible.

'These groups are separate, but work together more and more as the
various leaders are contacting each other. Most people are not doing
it because of Saddam, but for religious or nationalist reasons. Some
are criminals, who under other circumstances few people would have
anything to do with. Some are paid, but not many.'

He suggested that last Sunday's rocket attack on the Al Rashid Hotel
showed a level of sophistication that was new for the resistance. An
underground cell working with staff at the hotel, which was once
virtually run by the Iraqi secret service, watched the arrival of
guests while street cleaners worked with an underground cell to
position the rocket launcher.

After the arrival of Under-Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, the
launcher, disguised as a generator, was remotely activated.

Most worrying of all is the emergence of a broad, post-Saddam
ideology across the groups. And if recent polling in Baghdad is to be
believed, it is rapidly gaining currency with ordinary Iraqis. It is
crudely simple, insisting that the US-led occupation is an assault
against both Islam and the wider Arab nation, that Iraqis must resist
and that anyone who assists the occupiers is an enemy as much as US

But it is not only the home-grown resistance that is concerning the
coalition. It has also been struggling to prevent a wave of
devastating suicide bombings against a variety of targets which
Western intelligence officials increasingly believe may be being
carried out by foreigners coming to fight the Americans in Iraq.

Two officials have told The Observer that they do not believe the
suicide bombings are 'Iraqi style'. 'It does not feel to us like
their way of doing things,' said one.

The comments follow warnings from intelligence officials across
Europe, reported in yesterday's New York Times, that since the summer
hundreds of young militants have left Europe to join the resistance
in Iraq, a trend which is also in evidence across the Arab world.

The paper quotes Jean-Louis Brugui?re, France's leading investigative
judge on terrorism, who said that dozens of young Muslim men had left
France for Iraq since the summer, inspired by the exhortations of al
Qaeda leaders, even if they were not trained by the movement.

According to the Iraqi colonel interviewed by The Observer: 'There is
no specific information on these car bombs.' He believes that the
attacks are 'probably organised by religious Iraqi groups but carried
out by foreigners who want to become martyrs during Ramadan.'

But a question that is also worrying coalition and other officials is
precisely who is organising these would-be foreign fighters and
putting them in touch with resistance groups.

One disturbing theory being investigated is that Abu Musab al-
Zarqawi, a former Afghan jihadist of Jordanian-Palestinian extraction
who knows the al Qaeda leadership, may have recently entered Iraq and
be organising foreign fighters the way he once organised them in

According to the former Iraqi security services colonel, 'These
Saudis, Yemenis, Algerians, Syrians and Jordanians were trained for
these kinds of operations and want to die. They are now working with
various resistance groups whether they are religious or not.'

The bloody toll

US troops

359 dead - of which 234 died in combat (119 since end of the war) and
125 in non-combat (102 since end of the war)

563 wounded

UK troops

51 dead - of which 19 died in combat (11 since end of the war) and 32
in non-combat (seven since end of the war)

53 wounded

Iraqi forces

Estimates of between 4,895 and 6,370 (unofficial thinktank estimates)
total deaths during the war.

Iraqi civilians
Estimates range from 7,784 to 20,000 (

Journalists and media workers

19 dead (Non-combat - accidents and friendly fire),2763,1076100,00.html

Mark Parkinson

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