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[casi] Iraqi Insurgents Take a Page From the Afghan 'Freedom Fighters'


Iraqi Insurgents Take a Page From the Afghan 'Freedom


Published: November 9, 2003

As the daily attacks against American forces in Iraq
increase in number and sophistication, the Bush
administration continues to portray its adversaries as
an assortment of die-hard Baathists, criminals, thugs
and foreign terrorists, all acting out of desperation.

Certainly, there are Baathists and foreign terrorists
operating against the American-led coalition, and
their ranks probably include criminals. But the
overarching reality is that the American and British
forces are facing a resourceful adversary whose game
plan may be more fully developed than originally

My own experience in war has largely been on the side
of insurgents. I served as the Central Intelligence
Agency's quartermaster and political agent to the
Afghan resistance against the Soviet occupation from
1986 until the Soviets left in 1989.

>From my perspective, the Iraqi resistance has taken a
page from a sophisticated insurgency playbook in their
confrontations with the American-led coalition.

The insurgents' strategy could have been crafted by
Sun Tzu, the Chinese military tactician, who more than
2,500 years ago wrote, in "The Art of War," that the
highest realization of warfare is to attack the
enemy's strategy.

So it was probably no accident that as American forces
approached Baghdad, expecting tough street fighting,
the bulk of the Iraqi forces melted away. The American
troops, forced to shift strategy on the run, have been
bedeviled by the consequences of those early chaotic
days ever since.

Next, according to Sun Tzu, you attack his alliances.

This, again, is what the Iraqi insurgents did.
Presumably acting on the assumption that the
Jordanians were being too helpful to the United
States, insurgents detonated a car bomb outside the
Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad on Aug. 7, killing 11 and
wounding scores. Less than three weeks later, as an
increased role for the United Nations was debated,
suicide bombers attacked the organization's
headquarters in Baghdad, killing 22 people, including
the United Nations special representative to Iraq,
Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Then, in mid-October, as proposals for an expanded
peacekeeping role for Turkey were argued, a suicide
bomb detonated outside the Turkish chancery in
Baghdad, killing one bystander and wounding a dozen

When Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, began in late
October, Baghdad was rocked by a series of suicide
bombings that killed dozens and wounded hundreds,
including an attack on the headquarters of the
International Committee of the Red Cross.

In addition, there have been countless attacks against
individual Iraqis viewed as allied with the United
States, whether police recruits, members of the Iraqi
Governing Council or figures in the judiciary. A
pattern of attack against American allies seems clear.

Consider the following: Since the focused attacks
began, most Arab League missions in Baghdad have
distanced themselves from the coalition; the United
Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, has withdrawn
his international staff from Baghdad; the Red Cross
followed suit, prompting other international aid
organizations to pare down in Baghdad as well. The
Turkish government, for a number of complex political
reasons, has now reconsidered sending troops.

Even Spain, part of the original coalition, has
decided to withdraw the bulk of its diplomatic staff
from Baghdad. It appears that after disrupting the
American strategy, the insurgents have made progress
in undermining its alliances.

Next, Sun Tzu prescribed, attack their army.

This is occurring with increasing lethality. To
misread these attacks as desperation is dangerous. In
the last two weeks, there have been multiple attacks
on the coalition headquarters in Baghdad, with mortars
and rockets landing inside the secure green zone.
Shoulder-fired missiles have brought down a Chinook
helicopter, killing 16 soldiers. The crash of a
Blackhawk helicopter, killing an additional six, is
still under investigation, but according to some
reports a rocket-propelled grenade may have brought it
down. One or two casualties are logged almost daily.

Ordinary criminals and thugs could not deliver this
kind of punch. Mortar tubes, base plates and
ammunition have to be smuggled to within a few
thousand yards of the green zone, carefully set up and
then launched either in a shoot-and-scoot attack or
with timed delay.

Similarly, a rocket attack on the Rashid Hotel while
the deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, was
there required imagination, ability and training.
Die-hards, maybe, but focused ones with a strategy and
the skills to carry it out.

These growing attacks against American forces have two
clear goals: inflict casualties and force a reaction
that alienates the local population. Both are being
achieved, as the quick-response raids by coalition
troops to seize those behind the attacks fuel Iraqi

That suspicion is reflected in an incident described
in a New York Times article about a group of American
soldiers who tossed handfuls of candy to Iraqi
children along a road in Falluja, inside the volatile
Sunni triangle. " `Don't touch it, don't touch it!'
Iraqi children squealed. `It's poison from the
Americans. It will kill you.' "

This is reminiscent of Afghan children being terrified
that Soviet soldiers were seeding the countryside with
booby-trapped toys, or that wells had been poisoned,
or food aid adulterated. All those stories were false,
many of them propagated by the C.I.A. But the
important thing was that the locals believed them.

Similarly, American troops are not offering poisoned
candy, but the point is that the Iraqis families
believe it.

For every mujahedeen killed or hauled off in raids by
Soviet troops in Afghanistan, a revenge group of
perhaps a half-dozen members of his family took up
arms. Sadly, this same rule probably applies in Iraq.

The Soviet Union tried to denigrate the Afghan
mujahedeen by calling them bandits. This did not help
the Russian cause. Americans are confronting a foe
that is playing down and dirty  but remarkably
effectively  on his own turf. Yes, there are
criminals and foreign terrorists among them, but the
Pentagon seems to understand little about the identity
of its enemy beyond that.

Sun Tzu also said "know yourself and know your enemy,
and of a hundred battles you will have a hundred

There were two stark lessons in the history of the
20th century: no nation that launched a war against
another sovereign nation ever won. And every
nationalist-based insurgency against a foreign
occupation ultimately succeeded. This is not to say
anything about whether or not the United States should
have gone into Iraq or whether the insurgency there is
a lasting one. But it indicates how difficult the
situation may become.

Milt Bearden, a 30-year veteran in the C.I.A.'s
Directorate of Operations, served as senior manager
for clandestine operations. He is the co-author with
James Risen of "The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of
the C.I.A.'s Final Showdown with the K.G.B."

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