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Enemy in Iraq Remains Hard to Define - 2003-11-18

Know your enemy, it is said, but that seems hard to do in Iraq. Striking here and there with little warning, anti-American forces remain hard to define, and estimates of their strength range from 5,000 diehard Baathists to 100,000 well organized guerrilla fighters. Is this a continuing war of indefinite length, as some argue, or a more limited action, as others contend? VOA's Ed Warner put the question to some top military analysts.

You want to know what's happening in Iraq? Go back 2,500 years, advises Milt Bearden, former CIA director of clandestine operations and co-author with James Risen of The Main Enemy, an inside account of the last years of the Cold War.

In a column in The New York Times, Mr. Bearden says the ancient Chinese writer Sun Tzu laid down the basic rules of insurgency in The Art of War. The enemy in Iraq today is following his guidance almost step by step, writes Mr. Bearden. First attack allied groups Jordanians, Italians, United Nations, Red Cross. When they retreat, turn on the main force and wear it down with hit-and-run tactics.

Know yourself and know your enemy, says Sun Tzu, and victory is assured.

The trouble is we do not know the enemy very well, says Mr. Bearden, and we tend to underestimate him, which is dangerous: “We could be misleading ourselves if we just say these are diehard Baathists or remnants or criminals or thugs. Certainly, those elements are all present, but evil as they are, if you make an objective evaluation of their accomplishments, they are following in one form or another the playbook of every successful insurgency that I have had any dealings with.”

And insurgencies almost always win, says Mr. Bearden, if they gain popular backing. Superior weaponry or troops do not prevail: “If this resistance in Iraq becomes nationalist based, or a combination of Islamist and nationalist, where ordinary young men in families begin to take up arms against us because we are there - even groups that may have hated Saddam Hussein but have decided that right now they want their country back - then you have a real serious problem because I do not think there has been a single nationalist-based insurgency in the last 50, maybe 100 years that ever failed.”

It is true a variety of groups are attacking Americans, says Jack Spencer, senior policy analyst for defense and national security at Washington's Heritage Foundation. But the Baathists, al-Qaida members and foreign jihadists are not following any discernible strategy other than terrorist attacks of convenience:

“I don't think these elements are really working together in terms of in-depth planning and things of that nature, says Mr. Spencer."What they do share are the common objectives of not seeing the coalition succeed in Iraq. They are all turning to the same tactic to achieve that, which is essentially terrorism. It cannot be sustained over the long term because the Iraqi population does not want it.”

Top U.S. commanders argue among themselves about enemy strategy. Major General Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, told the Washington Post that the intensity and sophistication of the insurgency, along with its ample supply of arms and money, shows it was well planned before the war began. But General John Abizaid, top U.S. commander in the Middle East, says any planning of this kind by the incompetent Hussein regime is beyond his imagining.

Numbers count, says Scott Ritter, former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq. There were 25,000 Republican Guards, loyal to Saddam Hussein, who chose not to fight and melted away to fight, as it were, another day and on their terms: “They went home to their villages, and in doing so the villages will provide the manpower for this resistance. There is a potential pool of a 100,000 fighters. This is a widespread, deeply rooted resistance, and it is getting bigger. There are a lot of people who are just sitting on the sidelines who are not inherently sympathetic to Saddam but are waiting to see how the U.S. occupation would go.”

And they have the available arms, says Mr. Ritter. His pre-war search did not turn up any weapons of mass destruction, but he did find more relevant plans for IED's; that is, improvised explosive devices which are taking their toll of U.S. forces today what Mr. Ritter calls a terrifying phenomenon to American soldiers patrolling Iraq.

Writing in The Christian Science Monitor, he tells how he came across covert Iraqi agents training with IED's and car bombs. In a room the size of a gymnasium, he found floor maps locating all the houses in various neighborhoods along with dossiers on the people living in them ideal for postwar reprisal.

He writes that regime loyalists became familiar with every part of Baghdad and beyond. If they lacked the weapons of mass destruction to attack others, they were well equipped to deal with whoever attacked them: “I found a tool that was known to be used by the regime of Saddam Hussein to suit their purposes. They used these explosives to take out the enemies of the regime, and right now the United States is viewed as the enemy of the regime, and the regime will use those devices necessary to survive. We did not defeat them.”

Mr. Ritter says he passed this information along to Washington, but it did not make an impression. News of this kind tended to be dismissed, says Bob Graham, top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. Washington was looking for something more dramatic.

How to respond to the current challenge in Iraq? Milt Bearden, whose efforts drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan, admits he is at a loss. It's easy enough to criticize: “It is like driving off a cliff, and as we are hurtling through space I'm sort of berating the driver, and he says, 'Well, what do you suggest we do now?' I'm not sure.”

Mr. Bearden doubts better intelligence on the enemy is the answer. It is very hard to come by, as the Soviet occupiers learned to their distress. The best thing to do, he says, is get more countries involved in Iraq so that the United States is not the sole occupier and the biggest target.

Jack Spencer of Heritage is more confident. In his opinion, the coalition has sufficient troops and tactics to win eventually: “I think what we are doing properly is not sticking to a rigid plan and moving forward. What we are doing is learning and responding and reacting to events as they change on the ground. What we are fighting here is not necessarily something that requires large military operations, and therefore putting more troops on the ground is not necessarily going to help you achieve your objective any quicker.”

How long will the American public support the war? As long as it takes, says Mr. Spencer, if Americans continue to believe it is in their national interest. That is key. “Now when the United States will not support an operation and will not take casualties is when one of two things are happening: either there is no national security element involved, such as in Somalia, the Balkans or Haiti those sorts of operations or they feel that the political leadership has lost its way, and that certainly I do not think has happened yet.”

In the end, says Jack Spencer and other analysts, winning a war depends on its legitimacy in the eyes of the people conducting it.