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Zaki Chehab: The US knows it will have to talk to the Iraqi resistance


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Nov 15, 2005
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The US knows it will have to talk to the Iraqi resistance
Even Lebanon was not as terrifying as the random menace of occupied
Iraq. But the violence could be brought under control

Zaki Chehab
Friday November 25, 2005

The rate of suicide bombings in Iraq continues its relentless rise:
some days there are more than five attacks. Jihadist leaders are
taking full advantage of the anger and despair of the many Iraqis who
have lost family members at the hands of the occupation. The
recruiters convince them that taking revenge is the way to please God
and to defeat the infidels. Breaking the insurgency has became a
mission impossible for the US throughout Iraq - but most of all in
Anbar province (known in the west as the Sunni triangle), which
accounts for about a third of the country.

Life in the Iraqi capital is worse than anyone could have imagined
when the US and Britain invaded in 2003, and has become unbearable
when it comes to security. I was brought up in a refugee camp in
Lebanon and lived in the country during the civil war. Since then, I
have travelled through war zones from Somalia, Pakistan and
Afghanistan to Kosovo and Bosnia, but nowhere matches the random
menace of Iraq today. In conflict zones, journalists are prepared for
the risk of being shot at or kidnapped if you do not approach the
right groups or militias. In most such situations, some armed groups
will take responsibility for your wellbeing and protect you from
others who do not approve of you being in a particular area. But in
Iraq today no one can guarantee your safety. Killings and kidnappings
- including recently even of the interior minister's brother - are

Lawlessness is rife. It is rare to come across an Iraqi policeman
patrolling the streets of Baghdad who is not covering his face for
fear that one of his neighbours may recognise him and inform
insurgents of his affiliation. Resistance attacks against police and
army personnel are constantly increasing.
A vivid indication of the security situation came last Tuesday during
a ceremony to hand over one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Tikrit to
the Iraqi government, attended by the the US ambassador Zalmay
Khalilzad and the commander of US forces in Iraq, George Casey. While
the ceremony was in full flow, a nearby mortar bomb forced the
bodyguards of both men to hustle their charges inside the palace for

When I visited a polling station in Kirkuk last month in the run-up to
the constitutional referendum, our Kurdish hosts told us that the
neighbourhood was considered very secure compared with the city's many
hotspots. But as we left, we drove through a market that moments later
was the target of a suicide bombing. Many civilians were killed and
injured in the attack, which was not reported in the media. Large
numbers of attacks are believed to go unreported.
Kurds want this oil-rich city to be their capital, while Iraqi Arabs
and Turkmens feel it should be an Iraqi city like any other. Killings
and attacks on US and Iraqi government forces take place in Kirkuk
every day. Many parts of the city are deserted and locals stay inside
unless it is absolutely necessary to leave. At the checkpoints of the
US and Iraqi forces in the city, the soldiers are as nervous as those
being searched.

In recent weeks, there has been a series of offensives by American-led
forces in areas close to the Syrian border, followed by claims that
these areas have been cleansed of insurgents and foreign fighters. But
instead of calming the situation, these attacks have boosted the
resistance, which feeds on the anger and frustration of civilians. The
Americans say they are attacking safe houses for insurgents and
foreign fighters, while the locals report that women and children are
often killed or wounded. There is no doubt that the number of "foreign
fighters" battling the Americans in Iraq is fewer than many western
military experts claim. Iraqi insurgents show every sign of being well
trained and capable of inflicting heavy losses when they want to. They
insist they are far more experienced than fighters joining them from
neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Palestine, Jordan
or even Sudan and Yemen.
The scale of the attacks means that neither the US nor Iraqi
authorities are able to make progress with rebuilding the country's
infrastructure. Iraq is famous for its huge oil reserves, but its
people have to queue to get petrol and have become dependent on
oil-related products from abroad because of the attacks on refineries
and pipelines.

Many Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq are convinced that Washington's
message to the Shia and Kurdish leaderships, after Condoleezza Rice's
first visit to Iraq in May, to allow Sunnis to participate in the
political process, was an important US admission that mistakes had
been made and needed to be corrected. But they also believe that the
political process in Iraq has yet to put them on anything like the
same footing as the Shia and Kurds. As a result, large numbers feel
the attacks are the only way to ensure their interests are taken on

An end to violence in Iraq will not happen while the occupation
continues. But against all expectations, it is not impossible for the
situation to be brought under greater control if Sunnis are given a
role similar to that of the Shia and Kurds. When they feel that their
areas are beginning to benefit from reconstruction and their men are
allowed to go back to their jobs in state institutions and the army,
from which they were expelled as a result of de-Ba'athification, there
is little doubt that the situation could improve. A large number of
Ba'ath party members who are not regarded as guilty of wrongdoing
found themselves with little alternative to joining the resistance -
and that is where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi finds the best environment to
flourish. Many of the attacks against Iraqi and American forces are
led by Ba'athists who have the power to penetrate the system; they are
leaving their options open in the hope that one day they will be
allowed to return to the political scene.

There is a growing American realisation that it will have to deal with
the resistance: General Rick Lynch, spokesperson of the US-led
multinational force in Iraq, this week emphasised it was vital to
differentiate between insurgent elements. Iraq will be unable to
function normally until the insurgency is brought under control and,
as history has shown, a conventional military power can never defeat a
guerrilla force without the support of the indigenous people.

•Zaki Chehab is the author of Iraq Ablaze - Inside the Insurgency,
published this month by IB Taurus (titled as INSIDE THE RESISTANCE in the US, published by Nation Books). He is London bureau chief of the Arabic newspaper al-Hayat and LBC TV

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