Global Policy Forum

Solving Iraq's Security Riddle


By Yasser Alaskary and Sama Hadad

Iraqi Prospect Organisation
November 19, 2004

There is growing evidence that the core of the insurgency is almost purely Baathist:

1. The Fallujah experience

Prior to the operation in Fallujah, it was generally believed that the majority of the insurgent leadership were foreign Arab Salafi extremists. However, this is now in question. Arab Salafi extremists, like those associated with the militant Abo Musab Al-Zarqawi, explicitly seek out 'martyrdom' as their victory. On the other hand, Baathists have no interest in being killed and every interest in defeating the new Iraqi government and wearing out the US-led coalition into withdrawal. The sheer ease with which US and Iraqi forces overran Fallujah indicates that most insurgents had left the city. Such a move is not characteristic of Salafi extremists who would have relished a final battle against their perceived enemy. It is, however, characteristic of a Baathist-led insurgency that does not want to face the US at its time of choosing but would rather slip away and attack at a time of their choosing.

2. Baathist were not defeated

Policy makers would do well to remember that whilst the Baathist regime lost the war, it was never defeated. The core of the Baath Party, who made up the dozens of security organizations and local networks trusted by Saddam Hussein, were concentrated in central Iraq. While Saddam's regime threw thousands of foot-soldiers to the south to slow down the advancement of the coalition, the Baathists never fought once the coalition reached central Iraq. In the city of Ramadi, a bastion for the Baath Party, not a single bullet was fired - the Baathists simply melted away amongst the civilian population. The failure of the coalition governments to recognize this danger has allowed these Baathists to lead the insurgency: planning, organizing, and coordinating terrorist activity while using the same 'Islamic' propaganda as Saddam did to lure in militants to carry out the suicide bombings and their other dirty work.

3. The Kurdish phenomenon

Furthermore, every Iraqi city has suffered numerous suicide bombings, explosions and terrorist acts, except for those located in the former Kurdish safe-haven. A foreign terrorist does not have any preference as to where he carries out his attack as he is foreign to all regions of Iraq - so why then is there such a geographic phenomenon? Some argue that this is because the foreign terrorists cannot find any sanctuary in the former safe-haven region, but this is a flawed assumption. There are Salafi Kurdish groups based in these regions and they would be more than willing to provide automatic shelter and help to their ideological brothers. In contrast, external Arab terrorist are very unlikely to find any sanctuary in many Shia cities yet such cities have not been spared from insurgent activity. Therefore, the presumption that the insurgency is at its core made up of foreign Arab Salafi extremists cannot explain the discrepancy between the former Kurdish safe-haven and the rest of Iraq. However, this phenomenon can be easily explained if we assume the insurgency is Baathist at its core. The Baath regime of Saddam have been excluded from the Kurdish safe-haven since 1991, they no longer have a working knowledge of the area, they lack the Baath network which exists in the rest of Iraq, and are therefore unable to carry out any operations in this region.

Policy Strategy

With the evidence pointing to a Baathist-led insurgency, most likely comprising of former members of Saddam's security services and local Baathist leaders concentrated in what is called the Sunni triangle (which would be more appropriately named the Baathist triangle), there must be a clear strategy to finally defeat the Baathists if security is to be restored. This can be done by:

1. Stopping the process of re-Baathification. Why it should come as a surprise that the new Iraqi security forces continue to be 'infiltrated' when Baathists are actively recruited and reinstated in top-level positions is staggering. Building Iraq's security around the people who wish to destroy it is sheer stupidity and dangerously incompetent. Furthermore, this process has only served to alienate those who suffered under the Baath regime, especially amongst the Shia and Kurds, and has done nothing to pacify or appease non-Baathist Sunnis.

2. Actively rounding up any 'former' Baathists associated with Saddam's security forces and local Baathist ring-leaders. For the first few months after the war, when most Baathists had fled their neighbourhoods and were in hiding, the security situation was remarkably calm. When they found they were not being hunted, they grew in confidence and began to launch attacks. There has been a sustained upsurge in terrorist activity since then, dramatically increasing after re-Baathification was launched in the summer. We should have them on the run, not giving them the freedom and time to plan and organize more terror. They should be living in fear of being arrested, not inflicting fear on the people of Iraq.

3. Reinvigorate the process of de-Baathification. The Baath Party has not been defeated by the war as many of its key members are still in positions of power, helping their 'comrades' on the outside (see the IPO's November 1, 2004 analysis for examples of this).

Before an enemy can be defeated, it must be identified. The US-led coalition and the Interim Iraqi Government can continue to convince themselves that the insurgency is not Baathist at its core; they can continue with the failed process of re-Baathification. However, the Fallujah phenomenon will be repeated again and again and Iraq's security will spiral even more out of control and ultimately innocent Iraqis will pay the price.

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