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Guerrilla War in Iraq?

July 8, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: For two months now attacks on Americans have come at a rate of 13 per day says a U.S. commander. The assailants have employed grenades and machine guns and in recent days homemade bombs. They’ve also started to attack in broad daylight. At Baghdad University Sunday a gunman walked up, fired, and killed a U.S. soldier at close range, then disappeared. In all, the incidents have killed 30 Americans since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat over.

CAPT. SANDRA CHAVEZ: We do not view it as an escalation. It is still a small, small organization here, as far as the regime loyalists or Ba’ath Party remnants who are doing the terrorist attacks against coalition forces.

RAY SUAREZ: Lately, gunmen have targeted local policemen and other Iraqis working with the Americans. An attack on a police station Saturday killed seven Iraqis who had just trained with U.S. forces. Today U.S. Administrator Paul Bremer said he suspects the various attacks are linked.

PAUL BREMER: These attacks appear to be the work of small groups of men, usually a squad-level operation. They are conducted, however, with considerable professionalism, which is why we are — that plus the information from the people we capture and other information — we are certain that these are emanating from people who have military training.

RAY SUAREZ: Whether Saddam Hussein is the coordinator remains unknown, but U.S. officials have expressed concern that fear is growing among Iraqis about a comeback of Saddam and his followers.

Today two Arabic language TV networks aired another audio tape said to be recorded by Saddam. It urges covert attacks, and comes three days after a similar tape the CIA said was most likely Saddam’s voice. So far, top administration officials have rejected the idea that the attacks represent a guerrilla war. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke last week.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Looters, criminals, remnants of the Ba’athist regime, foreign terrorists who came in to assist and try to harm the coalition forces, and those influenced by Iran: I would say that those are five — if that was five items — five different, different things. They’re all slightly different in why they’re there and what they’re doing. That is… doesn’t make it anything like a guerrilla war or an organized resistance. It makes it like five different things going on that are functioning much more like terrorists.

RAY SUAREZ: He was also asked if the Iraq occupation is a quagmire.

DONALD RUMSFELD: What happened in Eastern Europe? Were they in a quagmire when the Berlin Wall fell down, and they started struggling and working their way towards democracy? Was Afghanistan in a quagmire, as they went through that awkward stage of trying to schedule a Bonn process, and then a Loya Jirga, and now they still don’t have a permanent government, nor is it perfectly peaceful there. If you –you call it what you want, and then be held accountable for it. My personal view is that we’re in a war.

RAY SUAREZ: In the last two weeks, the U.S. has stepped up that war with military sweeps around Baghdad. The occupation force numbers 145,000 American troops and 12,000 from Britain. Another 20,000 have been promised from other countries. That extra help is necessary, according to a delegation of U.S. senators who just returned from Iraq.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Our troops are stretched very thin. We need the participation of other countries for that reason alone. And so, particularly in those areas where the United States, since we were the instrument of their removal, are the target of their violence and terror, it seems to me could well try to reduce that target, the size of that target, if we could be substituted by forces from other countries.

RAY SUAREZ: The senators echoed a warning issued before the war by outgoing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki.

GEN. ERIC SHINSEKI: I would say that what’s been mobilized to this point, something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers, are probably a figure that would be required.

RAY SUAREZ: But Shinseki’s projection was abruptly dismissed by top Pentagon civilians. And yesterday, as he prepared to retire as head of central command, General Tommy Franks said the troops levels are sufficient.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on the situation facing U.S. forces in Iraq and what can be done about it, we get three perspectives. Colonel W. Patrick Lang is a former Army Middle East intelligence analyst and former Special Forces officer. Retired Marine Corps Colonel Gary Anderson had extensive experience commanding troops, saw combat in Somalia, and has focused extensively on urban combat operations. And Louis Cantori is a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He has written extensively about the Middle East. Gentlemen, welcome all.

Given what we’ve seen since the president declared an end to active hostilities, how would you describe what we’re seeing now, Colonel Anderson, and the level of threat to U.S. forces in the field?

COL. GARY ANDERSON: I agree with Secretary Rumsfeld. We are not seeing a classic three-stage guerrilla war, or if we are, the Ba’athists have badly botched it. Normally what happens in the first stage of such a conflict is that the guerrillas — the insurgents — lay low, they organize, they do sabotage, undermine the government — which they are doing. But they don’t attack the enemy’s strength. And they don’t — they don’t encourage the enemy to come to strength in their sanctuary, which really the — Fallujah — what is called the Ba’athist Triangle there, should be their natural sanctuary, so now what they’ve done by acting as precipitously as they have, if in fact this is — the Ba’athists are behind it — and I believe they are behind a lot of it — they have tipped their hand a little bit too early and exposed their cadres.

So quite frankly I don’t — I don’t think — if it’s their game, I think they’ve made a mistake. I frankly think they have another model. I think they’re going to attempt to cause us to overreact to the various incidents that are occurring, do something that might incite the population to a popular uprising like Tehran in ’79 or the people power thing in Manila. That makes more sense to me. It’s entirely possible they’re just shooting people to see what happens. But it makes more sense to use that model. But that’s very dangerous for them

RAY SUAREZ: Colonel Lang, what do those attacks look like to you and what are they a sign of?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: I think you have to remember this is Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, and places like these, these are big built up areas in an open country where there are not a lot of trees or things like this. If there is going to be resistance, it has to be in the towns pretty much and at night along the roads. That’s largely the pattern of what has been happening here. And as I look at these, the pattern of the… emerging pattern of more and more of these attacks, many, many small attacks in different places, and increasing levels of weaponry — now they’re using mortars. You don’t learn to use 82 millimeter mortar, which is what they probably got, by walking down the street somewhere. Somebody has to teach you.

This looks like a reasonably organized effort by at least some of the factions as Secretary Rumsfeld was talking about and I would add former officers and men of the Iraqi army to that who have been dispossessed in their career and living in the process. So I don’t see a reason not to think that this, in fact, real resistance that is effective in terms of its political effect. Everybody knows that they can’t destroy the U.S. Army. But what is intended here is some sort of political effect, maybe the one Colonel Anderson means, but some sort of political effect.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor Cantori, let’s look at it in a political dimension. When Mr. Bremer, when other U.S. officials say they see signs of growing coordination in these attacks, what should we conclude from that?

LOUIS CANTORI: Well, I think we need to start with a little bit of sociology in order to explain the following. These attacks are coming from what is called the Sunni Triangle, which is Baghdad and cities to the North and to the West. And what is characteristic of this area is that historically it was heavily tribalized. Then it… became agricultural. As it became agricultural, different social social groupings were created. Now, what I’m trying to describe very quickly is a kind of onion. There are layers of classes and groups and so forth in this situation.

From ’91 onward, when the sanctions began to cut at the society, what began to happen is the formal organizations that had been set up in that area began to deteriorate. And what has happened is that area now is back to a basic structure of tribalism. But it is not simply tribalism, because there are probably Ba’athist elements involved in this as well. But the Ba’athist leaders themselves have tribal backgrounds and loyalties. So from this comes discipline, and from this comes coherence.

We don’t need command and control in this type of an operation. It resembles the Palestinian resistance the same way. In other words, there is a task that is to be accomplished. You must kill Americans if you want to make their presence in the country awkward and if you want to get rid of them. And everyone understands that’s the task at hand. Then what happens is different groups bring their different talents to bear on this. And then what I think we’re experiencing is, this is becoming sustained. There is a social reservoir for this, and it has elements of revenge and of offenses that are taken at the Americans’ effort to try to repress all of this and so forth and so on.

So I think this guerrilla warfare is real, and I think it is enduring, and I don’t think that the American forces have the capability of being able to deal with this effectively.

RAY SUAREZ: You wanted to say something?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: There is no reason to think this is going to die out of its own accord. I agree with Professor Cantori. I think… taking into account these processes he is talking about, and the different groups that Secretary Rumsfeld is talking about, there is a sufficient well of resentment, hatred, nationalism, anti-American feeling there that it can go on generating resistance to us for quite a long time.

RAY SUAREZ: And a lot of young men with nothing to do, right?

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: Exactly. Especially all those soldiers who were sent home with their weapons and no paycheck every month, to tell mama why it is they can’t bring groceries home anymore. That’s a big problem. And this could go on for a long time. A lot of these counter guerrilla operations like Sidewinder, if you are not careful, they may net you a few people, but they also irritate the devil out of people in the area where you conduct the operation. There is a cordoned search, and you search these houses that are full of women. And if he and I know a great deal about Arabs, I think, and in fact you do that in somebody’s house, you make him so mad he can’t hardly stand himself. So you got to be careful there isn’t a big negative effect there.

RAY SUAREZ: So what is the military response?

COL. GARY ANDERSON: No insurgency has ever been won militarily. The military can control it. They can control the manifestations of it. But if you want to nip an insurgency in the bud — and we are in the bud stage right now — you take away the causes. There are two drums that the Ba’athists are beating right now. The Americans are occupiers, and things are not — things are worse than they were under Saddam Hussein.

Things are going to get better. Ambassador Bremer is working hard to put the country back on its feet. Things are getting better in the South. They’ll get better if we can stop the sabotage that’s going on in the Sunni Triangle. And things are going pretty well in the North. But as that happens, then one of those causes goes away.

Second cause, the Americans are occupiers. How do you deal with that? You start to put Iraqi security forces on the street, slowly reduce the American presence to a very healthy reaction force to deal with situations when they might start to get out of hand. But get the Iraqis on the streets doing the searches, doing the things that they need to do. And then all the Ba’athists have to do is run on their record, which is not particularly good.

RAY SUAREZ: So Professor Cantori, you’ve just heard a virtuous cycle being described. Isn’t there also a vicious cycle we have to be afraid of in this situation, where the Americans can’t do the nation building because they’re pinned down doing the security part of all this?

LOUIS CANTORI: I’d like to develop that point, because this goes back to General Shinseki’s testimony in February — and that is that we don’t have the troops in the country to do this job effective military way at all. I think the colonel has mentioned quite correctly that you don’t win these types of wars, and I think he’s right. So the question is, what’s the degree of pressure can the Americans mount? And I’m suggesting that they can’t mount very much pressure.

If you want a good example of this, look at what happened when two soldiers got lost and then they ended up being killed. The question is, …you don’t have command and control when two soldiers can get lost, and the reason is because they were stretched thin. They were detached. The same thing happened with the six royal policemen. They were detached and freed from their command and control structure. So the 144,000 or 145,000 troops that are in the country now are quite inadequate to keep even a kind of reasonable pressure while the other things that the colonel was mentioning might be happening. The problem with these other things is that they assume that there’s order.

So what we have is a Catch-22 situation. We can’t… we cannot guarantee order. We can’t establish order. We don’t have the troop level to do that. And then, on the other hand, we have the expectations of gaining acceptance from our reconstruction successes. But we can’t do that because of, among other things, the interdiction of what are regarded as quislings and Vichy-ites on the part of the Iraqis who are working for the Americans. They’re being painted as traitors, and so forth and so on. It’s all part… I think what the three of us have been saying, in effect, is this is very complex and it’s not very… one cannot be very optimistic about it.

RAY SUAREZ: I need to hear from both of you quickly on the troop levels question.

COL. W. PATRICK LANG: I don’t know what the number is, but it isn’t high enough in my opinion because one of the effects of guerrilla warfare is, it does what he just said. It makes it impossible for you to maintain onesies and twosies and threesies and foursies of your men in the countryside. You can’t put them out there because they’ll kill them. So you start to contract back and surrender large parts of territory and to the resistance. And the smaller your force is, the more pronounced is that effect, and that interferes directly with the political processes you have to have under way in order to stop this.

COL. GARY ANDERSON: I’m going to disagree with my two colleagues slightly. If you don’t like the fact that Americans are dying as targets in Iraq, is the solution truly to put more targets on the ground, or is the solution to create some mechanisms that will allow the Iraqis to start taking over their own country, even though it has to be a long-term process? But I think you can jump start it pretty quickly.

We did that very successfully early in this century in Haiti and in the Philippines by using cadres, small cadres of Americans to train up and to mentor larger cadres of native troops — something more than police, something less than a regular army, to deal with situations very, very similar to this. So, this is an asymmetrical war. We need to take asymmetrical means to do it.

RAY SUAREZ: More troops. We got the right number. Gentlemen, we have to end it there. Thanks.

GWEN IFILL: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee tomorrow to discuss ongoing operations in Iraq. We will provide extended coverage of this testimony.