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IRAQ: From Bad to Worse

 

Paper No. 923                                16.02.2004

by B.Raman, CAMP HERZLLIYA, ISRAEL

The daring day-time raid by a group of as yet unidentified 70 terrorists into Falluja in the Sunni triangle of Iraq on February 14 during which they reportedly killed 22 persons, most of them newly-recruited policemen, trained by the Americans, and released from the lock-up of the police station a number of detenus, most of them reportedly ordinary criminals, is yet another indicator of the worsening security situation in Iraq, particularly in the areas where the US troops are responsible for internal security.

2. Taking advantage of the absence of the American troops who had withdrawn from the town after entrusting the responsibility for the protection of the town to the newly-recruited and trained Iraqis, the raiders, using hand-held weapons, including mortars and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), went on a rampage for nearly 90 minutes before withdrawing from the town leaving behind the dead bodies of two of their associates.

3. The Iraqi Police, who had to deal with the situation by themselves without any back-up support from the Americans who did not appear on the scene during the entire incident, gave evidence of poor morale and motivation and were found to be helpless.  Surprisingly, after the raiders left the town, no attempt to chase and arrest them was made either by the Iraqi Security Forces or by the Americans.

4. The incident does not augur well for the future stability of Iraq after the Americans transfer power to an Iraqi Government chosen indirectly by regional caucuses by June 30 next. A Government, supposedly of Iraqis, which cannot be confident of the professional capability and motivation of its security forces, would not be able to enforce its authority unless the American troops intervene every  time an incident takes place.

5. Reports from reliable sources in Falluja describe the raiding party as having consisted largely of foreigners, some of them Arabic speaking and some speaking among themselves in a language other than Arabic. It has not been possible to identify their language. It could be either Chechen or Urdu, spoken by terrorists from Pakistan.

6. The Chechens operating in Iraq as members of the foreign jihadi terrorist force are largely of Arab origin from the Chechen diaspora in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and hence speak Arabic fluently. Some of the Pakistanis trained in the madrasas can get along in Arabic, which is taught in many madrasas of Pakistan. It is possible that despite their knowledge of Arabic, the raiders chose to speak in some other language so that the locals were not able to understand what they were talking about.

7. The Falluja raid has come at a time when there are reports of the infiltration of about 60 Yemeni, Yemeni-Balochi and Pakistani terrorists, belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (al-Almi meaning international) and the sunni extremist Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) into Iraq from Saudi Arabia.  They had gone to Saudi Arabia under the guise of Haj pilgrims. After the Haj was over, they crossed over into Iraq instead of returning to their country.  Similar instances had taken place last year too. With their entry, the total number of foreign jihadi terrorists in Iraq is estimated at about 360 to 380.

8. Two significant aspects of the raid stand out. Firstly, it is the first conventional type of action by the foreign jihadi terrorists using hand-held weapons. They did not resort to the use of improvised explosive devices activated remotely or through timers or suicide bombers, as they had been doing in the past. Secondly, unlike in the past, there was no attempt to conceal the identity of the organisation (Ansar-ul-Sunnah) to which they belonged.  A compact disc containing propaganda clips was reported to have been found at the scene after they left.

9. To be able to deal with the foreign jihadi terrorists, the indirectly-chosen Iraqi Government, which comes to power from July 1 next, would need to have a strong counter-terrorism machinery. In the absence of such a machinery, it is only a question of time before Iraq degenerates into another pre-9/11 Afghanistan--an epicentre of international jihadi terrorism.

(The writer Is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Convenor and Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai chapter. E-mail: corde@vsnl.com )

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