Saddamists at Core of Iraqi Insurgency
The Baathist “dead enders” that Don Rumsfeld often talked about in the early days of the Iraq counterinsurgency effort comprise half the leadership and 40-50 percent of the membership of the insurgency even today.
The Iraqi government’s list of the 41 most wanted fugitives suggests that former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime form the backbone of the insurgency despite attention paid to the role of religious extremists such as al-Qaida in Iraq. The list, released last weekend, includes at least 21 former regime figures, among them Saddam’s chief lieutenant, his wife, eldest daughter, two nephews and a cousin — allegedly financiers of the insurgency. Only five of the 41 names are clearly identified as members of al-Qaida’s local branch.
That reinforces the impression shared by a number of analysts that ex-Baath party members and former regime figures still play a key role in the insurgency. “I believe that former regime members form 40 to 50 percent of the insurgency,” said Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on militant groups. “Operations by al-Qaida and the Mujahedeen Shura Council make between five to 10 percent only, a maximum of 10 percent.” Rashwan said there was “no doubt” that veterans of Saddam’s intelligence and security network form “an important part of the Iraqi resistance at the command level.”
U.S. officials have also said that the percentage of insurgents belonging to al-Qaida in Iraq was relatively small, although the organization has drawn more attention because of its worldwide image and its tactic of spectacular suicide attacks against civilians.
Brig. Gen. Jalil Khalaf, who leads Iraqi forces in western Iraq, said the large number of ex-regime figures on the list may be due in part to the fact that U.S. and Iraqi officials have more intelligence on them than on shadowy religious extremists.
Some insurgents could be part of both camps — ex-Republican Guard fighters and Saddam militiamen who gravitated to al-Qaida under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed June 7 in a U.S. airstrike.
Many former intelligence and security officials are believed to have joined the insurgency after former U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer disbanded Iraq’s 350,000-member military on May 23, 2003, a month after the regime collapsed. “Saddamists are the largest group of insurgents and they give protection and shelter to other terrorists,” deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Attiyah said. “They finance them and supply them with weapons. They are the most dangerous.”
It remains clear that disbanding the Iraqi army–or, at least, failing to ensure that the soldiers had incomes while we sorted the wheat from the chaff–was the biggest mistake made since invading Iraq.
We’ve long known that the foreign terrorists comprise a tiny fraction of the “insurgency.” It doesn’t follow, however, that they’re irrelevant. From a morale and public relations standpoint–which is to say, the key elements in counterinsurgency–they are the most important faction. I’m quite sure that Saddam’s former soldiers aren’t a significant part of the cadre of suicide bombers.