Iraqi Intifada? The wild, weird and ferocious Counter-Surge

Jan 31 19:17 2007 Stephen Morgan Print This Article

Business as Unusual? Iraq has now entered a new phase of weird, wild and ferocious insurgent counter-attack. Events this month suggest a level of tenacity, commitment and profressionalism, combined with fearlesness, recklessness and sometimes absurdity. But who is more recless and absurd, the insurgents or the US. Within weeks their Sisyphean policy has shown itself worthless. It is only a matter of time before a massive explosion takes place. Could we see an Iraqi Intifada? How long till the US is swept out?

Monitoring Iraq is now like watching a weather map of the Mid-West in tornado season. From every,Guest Posting unexpected direction all hell breaks loose with an unpredictability and novelty that we haven’t quite witnessed before. In the madness and complexity that is Iraq, the US surge is provoking a counter-surge of exceptional clashes, which are wilder, weirder and fiercer than in the past. A serious of unrelated, but successive events, including the intense battles for Haifa Street; the “Mission Impossible” attack on the Karbala Security Centre and an attack by an armed cult on the holy city of Al-Najaf, seems to be taking the struggle into an extraordinary and almost eccentric stage. What might before have had some “method in its madness,” appears to be giving way to a sort of “madness in its method.” Until now the “usual suspects, ”i.e., hit-and-run attacks on US forces, tit-for tat sectarian killings and market bombings, while random, had, nevertheless, acquired a certain, strange “predictability”. But now the political “order” seems more like a tank of dancing gas molecules, where spontaneous combustion is the order of the day.

Recent events have been crammed with incongruity and paradoxes, sometimes verging on the absurd. The character of the insurgency has acquired starkly, contradictory features making it seem more like asymmetrical war in a hall of mirrors. On the one hand, there is a level of unity, professionalism, discipline and commitment, not seen before. While, on the other hand, there is a risqué, recklessness and bravado in their actions which sometimes has features of the downright bizarre or absurd. This all reflects a heightened level of social tension and despair, which comes not only from the impasse and suffering, but a sense that this is the “last chance saloon.” There is an odour of mania in the air, and a strong foreboding that something horrendous is about to happen.

This now means that all the old methods of trying to establish and maintain some form of order are redundant, and only the most novel and obscure of solutions can save the day. In such exceptional circumstances conservative thought is not only inadequate, but also categorically counterproductive. Likewise, solutions once considered contenders for national regeneration, now only lead events more quickly in the direction of destruction. Given the contradictions inherent in the situation and the nature of the main players, the outlook is bleak. Only a force exterior to and independent of all the main players (including and especially, the USA) could now offer a way out. Furthermore, such an unlikely trajectory must present itself quickly, because the inflammable material in society is so dense that an event can take now place, at any moment, which will catapult the situation beyond anyone’s control and proceed in ways, and at a speed, not hitherto imagined.

Al-Najaf: Insurgent Insanity

If the siege of Waco proved a handful for US law enforcement, the US now finds itself fighting two insurgent cults; Al Qaeda on the Sunni side and Jund al-Samaa or the “Soldiers of Heaven” on the Shi’ite flank. On January 28th,Iraqi forces, with US air support, faced off a huge group of fanatical, armed cult members trying to storm the holy city of Al-Najaf, their wives and children with them. The attack was suicidal lunacy from a military standpoint, given that Karbala was ringed with multiple, concentric bands of defences for the purpose of protecting the holiest Shi’ite site during its most important religious pilgrimage. Nevertheless, the cult seemed to be whipped up in a manic, delusional belief that they could break through and massacre pilgrims and key Shi’ite clerics. This was part of a plan to provoke the reappearance of the “Hidden Imam,” a Shi’ite saint from 9th century, whom they believe will establish justice and peace throughout the world.

To make things more complex, the group, which has mostly Shi’ite members, also attracts some Sunnis. And just to muddy the picture further, they were reported to have had support from some of the local population, as well as some foreign fighters and Saddam loyalists.

About 800 of them fought a two-day pitched battle with the Iraqi Army, which was forced to retreat and call in US airpower. The group was heavily armed and used anti-aircraft missiles to bring down one American helicopter. The battle finally ceased after around 200 insurgents were killed, including the cults leader, reportedly armed with a hat and coat and two pistols. Perhaps Nietzsche was right when he observed, “in individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”

Mission “Possible”: Audacity and precision bordering on the fictitious.

The weekend before Al-Najaf, around 30, almost certainly Sunni insurgents, disguised themselves and a number of SUVs to look like US military brass, and, then, nonchalantly drove through 3 check points into the secure compound of the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Centre, where the US military had convened a meeting to discuss security for the upcoming, Ashura pilgrimage. Having entered the compound, the insurgents coolly picked out only American troops, killing 5 of them and leaving all Iraqi soldiers unharmed. They then left and passed back through the same checkpoints unheeded.

The operation had all the audacity and planning of a Western special forces undertaking, with almost Hollywood scale drama. But what exactly was the purpose of this expensive, high risk adventure? Propaganda value? Yes, but, perhaps more ominously, by kidnapping and shooting only Americans, it was a form of psychological warfare, almost as if they were making a statement, or delivering a menace telling the enemy that “we’re coming to get you… And you have nowhere to hide!” And, moreover, “from now on you will be treated just like sectarian victims. Expect to be tortured and executed!”

Of course the Americans are incredulous and immediately blamed the Iraqis, pointing to collaboration and raising again the question of being able to trust them in any operations. There certainly is some explaining to do and some almost unbelievable security blunders. Undoubtedly, insider information was involved, but one can’t get away from the sophistication and daring of a methodically and meticulously prepared operation, carried out so easily against such a superior foe. Strategists can only be shocked, because it also says that if the Iraqi Army can’t implement one single high level security operation, and protect top brass and VIPs, what hope has it of battening down Baghdad, a city of 6 million people!

The Battle for Haifa Street – A new tenacity and professionalism

This month’s battle for Haifa Street was the first inkling of a new Sunni strategy in the face of the anticipated US offensive. From the 4th to the 12th of January, for up to 12 hours a day for almost a week around 1,000 US and Iraqi troops were fought to standstill by 100 or so Sunni insurgents in a fire fight of a character and intensity not normally witnessed before.

Unlike most previous insurgent attacks, which are characterized by hit and run tactics, opportunistic sniper fire or roadside bombs, this was a sophisticated, well-commanded and coordinated assault by up to a dozen different Sunni insurgent groups, collaborating together. It was evidently a well-planned and implemented operation with the express intention of engaging large scale US and Iraqi forces in persistent, relentless and tenacious, close-quarter, urban combat.

Militarily, the battle at Haifa Street was important from a number of standpoints. Firstly, the combined efforts of US and Iraqi forces were unable to defeat the insurgents. The 500 US troops engaged there could neither contain nor crush what were probably at most 100 insurgents. Moreover, the weakness of the Iraqi forces and the big doubt over whether they could hold onto areas after the US withdraws was exposed. There were some 400 Iraqi Army involved and, if they had faced the attack on their own would have been routed. The 500 US troops were fought to a standstill, even though they enjoyed the advantage of air support in the form of repeated assaults by apache attack helicopters and even F-15 jet fighters, which proved worthless in dislodging the determined insurgents.

A key factor in the Sunni success was their high mobility and command and coordination. They changed positions swiftly and often in small numbers of only two or three men, melting away and then remerging in different positions. Indeed, during the battle, US troops were not just fighting across one side of the street to the other, but they were taking fire from all different directions at once, and were frequently forced to run for their lives, abandoning building after building.

What made Haifa different was from a military standpoint that was the insurgents were more than able to fight the American over a long period in a more classical-style war conflict situation. The Sunni were commanded and co-ordinated in highly professional way and acted with discipline and a high degree of flexibility. They furthermore applied novel tactics that were used to great effect and which the US troops were unable to respond to. At times the guerrillas ran rings around helpless US units and looked near to inflicting a defeat on them, despite having a manpower deficit of some 4 or 5 to 1 in the US favour and one to ten if one bothers to count the Iraqi Army.

The poor US performance must increase reservations about their ability to clear Baghdad of militias and insurgents. At the same time, in the week long battle, Iraqi forces showed more evidence of their inability and unreadiness to take on insurgents, casting further doubt on their potential for success in both the first wave and then in the critical second phase of coming operations, when they are expected to of hold onto areas liberated by US troops. While the US and Iraqi forces appeared uncoordinated and lacking in trust, the new phenomenon for the insurgents was the collaboration in combat of around 12 different insurgent troops, prepared to subjugate themselves to a common command. Finally, there appeared to be a definite deficit in levels of morale between the two battling sides – the insurgents coming out on top, while the US, and, especially the Iraqis not showing the same level of tenacity and audacity shown by their opponents.

Assault n°2 “Operation Boomerang Twice”

So following a 10 day pause to lick their wounds and reassess their tactics, the US declared they had learned their lessons from the first encounter and were ready to retake the thoroughfare. On the 24th of January they launched a second offensive or rather a third. Because it comes to light now that, in fact, after intense fighting, they had already “cleared” Haifa Street of insurgents in 2004 and handed it over to the Iraqis. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to have worked out. Evidently the insurgents had taken back full control and the Iraqi Army has fled the area. Things, obviously, weren’t going to be the same this time, or were they?

On Wednesday morning the day erupted to the thunder of heavy artillery and a huge display of aerial firepower. In scenes more reminiscent of the Russian obliteration of Grozny, the US mercilessly pounded apartments and other high-rise buildings from air and ground. What was called “Operation Tomahawk Strike 11 was in full swing. Heavy gunfire, sniper bullets and mortars and RPG rockets met them. The fighting lasted from dawn to dusk for some three days. Civilian casualties were much higher than before, some 37 on one day alone, including women and children, prompting a cry of “genocide” from the Muslim Scholars Association. Film crews were embedded from CNN and heavy media coverage was invited in, obviously in anticipation of a victory this time round. However, when two days coverage had evaporated and evidently “Operation Tomahawk 11” had become “Operation Boomerang Twice” the media silently slunk away.

Yet again the Iraqi Army performed miserably. Even on camera it was evident by the half-hearted way they shot from the hip that they had no stomach for the battle or firing on their fellow countrymen. One of them interviewed on camera rather sheepishly pleaded that they lacked the US weapons to take control and hold the area on their own, a clear admission of the futility of the whole US strategy. Whether the fighting in the two other districts and an attack on a Multi-National Divisional Patrol were started intentionally by Sunnis in order to overstretch US forces is not clear. One area was the scene of the downing of the private security helicopter a few days before and could have been part of a US revenge mission or extended operations.

What was clear was that Haifa was indented as a model operation as part of the new offensive – “a series” according to officials, “of target raids to disrupt illegal militia activity and help restore Iraqis security force control in the area.” But despite the massive numbers, 1,000 or more US and Iraqi troops, with massive heavy weapons and aerial back up, they failed again to dislodge or seriously impede the insurgents.

The insurgents are clearly much better prepared and ready to take casualties. However, the damage inflicted was minor even according to the official communiqués that some 30 militants were killed and 35 detained. A small number for such a massive investment. Although they had supposedly “learned the lessons of earlier” in the month the Americans yet again showed the futility of this form of traditional warfare against asymmetrical forms.

The effectiveness of the Sunni defence and the spread of fighting to the two other Sunni districts of Al Fadl and Adhamiya, could now mark a shift away from an insurgency based mostly on psuedo or adapted peasant guerrilla warfare, to a more sophisticated form of urban guerillarism, also incorporating, but not relying on elements of classical warfare. The combination of the flexibility and agility of terrorist and guerrilla tactics with classical methods of warfare could prove a formidable mix, which would leave US forces totally confused and wrong-footed.

Had the US and Iraqi forces wanted a better simulation exercise they could have asked for it. However, if this is a harbinger of things to come, the ability of the insurgents to intensify and diversify tactics means that the outcome doesn’t bode well for the real thing. They could well be facing a much more humiliating and devastating defeat than the first time they tried to secure Baghdad. One has to say that after employing such numbers and force for just one area, what hope do they have of clearing and holding a city of 6 million?

The intensification of sectarian atrocities, combined with a number of unusually belligerent and audacious attacks on US forces, appears to suggest, that these are not just a response to the hanging of Saddam Hussein, but a decision to meet the new US troops head on, fire with fire! But the character of the attacks is new, in that there is not only a highly effective military professionalism involved, but also a new level of ferocious determination, daring and bravado, almost to the point of wild recklessness and suicidal inhibition.

A Dance of Death

This is the “last chance saloon” –mentality. There is not going to be another “Battle for Baghdad,” - this is the one and only final one. The Americans know it, the government knows it, the insurgents and militias know it, and the people know it too. What each of them also knows is that it is not going to succeed in any of its objectives. Beneath the surface everyone already knows what the outcome will be and few wish to face it. Nobody wants the US to win, but everybody knows Armageddon follows, should they likely loose.

The battle is starting to be played out like some macabre tribal “Dance of Death” with the principal actors adopting incongruous poses and exaggerated expressions, and grasping every opportunities to act out in public their most carnal and lurid fantasies. The dance is only the prelude to the bestiality, which is about to follow. Each actor is fighting to secure the best position from which to face the implosion and anarchy, which will make the current chaos look like harmony.

The Dance of Death, which is the “Battle for Baghdad,” finds all the actors in a ring holding hands and circling the verge of the great abyss that is their collective destiny. In true Nietzschean style, all of them are gazing into this abyss and it is gazing back into them. Not one contender has a real future. Whatever the outcome the Americans have lost, and even it turn out to be a tactical success, the insurgents and their communities know that would only delay the rivers of blood. They remained wrapped in a duet of mutual annihilation, which cannot be avoided by any measures on the part of the Americans. This a dance of death, there is no other outcome.

The Papier-mâché Government & Army

The governing exiles like Maliki are total novices when it comes to power politics. They are in way over their heads, they have no feel for the situation, no touch for the masses or finesse in anticipating and handling delicate and explosive issues. They lack any foresight as to the real situation and especially with regards to the consequences of their own actions. They are little more than narcissistic novices led by greed for personal power, prestige and the plundering of the state purses and lucrative kickbacks. They lack any moral ballast or integrity. In many ways they resemble the mafia business bosses of the new Russian capitalism, except they are much less successful. In brief, the majority of Iraqi government ministers are inexperienced, irresponsible, myopic and thoroughly egotistic. Worse still, they show a sectarian mentality verging on humanitarian criminality.

Maliki and others, like the cleric Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, appear to be hoping that the US will still continue to strike mostly at the Sunnis and also weaken Muqtada al-Sadr sufficiently to secure their government’s future. They hope that by the end of the operation in the summer, when US troops will withdraw to barracks, the Iraqi Army can be systematically taken over by their own militias and will provide a force strong enough to concretise a Shia-led state. Al-Hakim is now going one-step further and hedging his bets, in case the US cannot destroy the Sunni insurgency and Al Qaeda in Anbar province, by calling for a thinly veiled three-state-solution in the cloaked form of “federal regions.”

But one shouldn’t underestimate their capacities for optimistic and imagination. While they espouse plans for the future, it is not at all sure they will last out in office till the Spring, let alone summer. Indeed, only days before Maliki was demagogically committing himself to the iron fist of militia disbandment, he was publicly talking of resigning! In reality, it will take only one major mishap for Maliki to jump ship. It will not be long before the Iraqi government collapses in the coming situation. In reality, it has long ago lost any public legitimacy. Even amongst the Shias it support is wafer thin. Their positions and future are no more secure than the general situation and somewhat weaker in fact. In truth, the government is simply a theatrical puppet show, a shadow court commanding a phantom army over the carcass of a country.

The Iraqi Army is an unreliable and contradictory force. From a purely military standpoint they are almost more of a liability than a support to the US. They are also poorly trained and poorly motivated. Desertion, absenteeism, apathy and unreliability is rife. In truth, most units couldn’t repulse an attack by the Swiss army on bicycles. Furthermore, despite a formal mix of Sunnis and Shia in the officers corps, the rank and file are obviously overwhelmingly Shia reservists. This has suited the US until know, because most of their efforts have been against the Sunni insurgents. But if they attempt to use the Iraqi Army against fellow Shias and especially the Mahdi Army, the Americans could quickly find the bulk would go over and turn their weapons against the US. This is even more so for the police, whose jobs are little more than a fresh change of clothes for the militiamen.

Worse still, are the government’s own secret paramilitary death squads. Established in order to speed up the extermination of Sunni insurgents, the Iraqi government has trained up crack murder squads, like the notorious “Wolves Brigade” who act as shady, semi-official paramilitary auxiliaries for creating ethnic cleaning, terror, murder and torture, much like in Central America and Yugoslavia. The Wolves Brigade have already been accused of many atrocities, including killing clerics and assassinating innocent Palestinian refugees in Iraq. Similar groups called the Serpents and Scorpions are being formed to supplement their activities. Don’t expect them to remain loyal when matters get tough. Aligned as they are with the militia death squads, they will fuse with them as soon as the government falls.

Soon, the US could find itself fighting an insurgency on behalf of nobody but themselves, with no elected government and no army or police. In essence, the Iraqi state is already just a rickety “Punch and Judy Show” held up the US Army. Within weeks there could be no state at all. America – the maddest hatter of them all?

“A hundred thousand men were led

By one calf near three centuries dead…

For thus such reverence is lent

To well-established precedent…

For men are prone to go it blind

Among the calf-paths of the mind,

And work away from sun to sun

To do what other men have done.”Sam Walter Foss

Moderate modes of thinking and fixed forms of behaviour in conditions of deep chaos and disorder, might appear sound judgement, but, in truth, it is so incongruous and inadequate that US strategy almost begins to look more insane and irresponsible than that of the terrorists and insurgents. In truth its conservative rigidity is total folly, because of its blatant inappropriateness and inefficacy in the face of reality’s demands. Repeating the same behaviour over and over and keeping getting the same results is often said to be the first sign of madness. And, what’s crazier is that the US policy makers and all of us know that this is exactly what the US is doing – it’s the same old failed policy being repeated over and over again.

Denial always leads to repetitive, self-destructive behaviour. But there comes a point when that denial also becomes delusional. Then we are really on the road to madness. The wooden heads in Washington have devised little more than a Sisyphean strategy for defeat. They push the rock up to the top of the hill and it falls back down. And like Sisyphus they repeat the pointless process over and over again. The problem now is; they rarely reach half-way to the top, before they have to go back down and start again.

Faced with one of most complex counter-insurgency situations in history, all that they can come up with is sending 21,000 extra troops to secure Baghdad. This myopic, straight-jacketed, linear thinking by the rulers of the world’s greatest superpower beggars belief. Moreover, the notion that the Iraqi Army is going to be able take over the security of the country -within a few months - can only be entertained by those suffering from clinical delusion or practising criminal deception. The fact is that there is no strategy and all tactics are accordingly limp. As Sun Tzu put it “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” So marching along to noise of defeat, we have a President in delusion and the Pentagon winging it while “Rome burns.”

As the Battle for Baghdad begins in earnest, the Sunnis appear to have come out fighting daggers between their teeth, while for now main Shia militia, the Mehdi Army has turned out to be "Robbie Burns ' famous “wee cowering, timorous beastie” This, without doubt suits Bush and Maliki down the ground, but just how long it lasts is another thing. The current period is a time of sharp turns and sudden changes. And as the US has knows already “the best laid schemes of mice and men are apt to go astray.”


There has even been speculation, which looks increasingly unlikely, that the insurgents will “fade away”, or rather hide their arms and disengage for some months. The fact that they have time on their side, while the US doesn’t, makes it an attractive option and would be in line with typical guerrilla tactics. However, there are a number of factors working against this.

While for guerrillas retreat under fire is not considered anything shameful, giving up hard-won control of whole swaths of Baghdad and the countryside is probably too hard a pill to swallow. It’s not even really necessary, since the US could never actually re-secure Baghdad, let alone the whole of the country. Furthermore, it is not certain that such a tactic could be sold to the young, combative rank and file. A split or internal revolt might ensue. There are already indications of this among the Shias, one because they are being goaded into actions by terrorist sectarian attacks from the Sunnis, who want to spread US forces more thinly; and two because they feel humiliated standing by while the Sunnis take all the “glory” in attacking the US.

Moreover by arresting a layer of the leadership and second-in command of the insurgents and militias, the US shows it hasn’t learned any of the lesson of the “Palestinian syndrome”, where such actions by the Israelis have only served to enrage and embolden new more radical elements. New generation of leaders spring up in as rapid succession as they can be gaoled or killed. Anyhow arresting a few dozen or a few hundred of their leaders won’t set back their operations for any serious amount of time. The Sunnis are well trained and experienced, and the Shias have been catching up with the aid of Iran.

In fact, the US has learned nothing about the lessons of counter-insurgency in Iraq or been able to learn from Vietnam or the experiences of the Soviets and later themselves in Afghanistan. They are particularly blind to lessons of the Israelis in Palestine. The most experienced force with regard to urban counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism is the USA’s closest ally Israel. Yet, one only has to look at their record and the intensity of their efforts to see how everything has been in vain. The Occupied Territories of West Bank and Gaza, seized in 1967, have a combined population of 4 million. The insurgency began proper with the second intifada beginning in 2000. It has been entirely urban combat. In the course of it, the Israeli forces have killed some 4,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 20,000. Another 28,000 insurgents have been arrested and 8,000 Palestinians remain in prison. The scale of the loss of innocent lives, destruction of homes and infrastructure is well known. But despite the colossal repression, the insurgency shows no sign of stopping 6 years on. Were the Americans to employ the same intensity of counter insurgency in Iraq, it would mean having to arrest about 190,000 insurgents and to kill or wound another 140,000.

Furthermore, the US forces have lost at an incredible rate of some 3,000 dead and 20,000 wounded in 3 years, compared to an average of 500 Israelis in the same period. Even if one takes into account differences in size of population, Americans are still dying at insurgent hands at something like 6 times the rate of Israeli troops under fire.

“Best policy in war – thwart the enemy’s strategy, second best – disrupt his alliances through diplomacy, third best - attack his army in the field, worst strategy – attack walled cities.

“The Art of War,” Sun Tsu

If the example of Palestine were not enough, then the ignominious and humiliating defeat for Israel in Lebanon should serve as a fresh reminder of what can happen when the an inferior military force like Hezbollah has the balance of moral and psychological forces weighted decisively in its favour. Israel went on to choose Sun Tsu’s two worst options and paid a heavy price.

Indeed, today In Iraq, the situation is much worse than Lebanon, Palestine and even anything Sun Tsu could have envisaged. This is because Iraq is largely an urban country and the modern city is a beehive of walled cities within walled cities. Every street, every high rise block or administrative centre becomes a smaller walled city which can be defended and has to be taken. Besieging walled cities is withering. It wears down the nervous system of the attacker five times more than it does the defender. Moreover, it polarizes attitudes into a sense of futility for the aggressor and sense of determination and doggedness for the defender. Amongst the assailed civilian population there is a mental and social closing of ranks as the most basic, the fundamental and last line of defence, the home, the symbol of security and family, is assaulted.

Fighting in such proximity to this especially in modern warfare and the growth of animosity and contempt for the aggressor is draining on the spirit and purposefulness of the troops. In fact, it is this, and not the physical tours of duty, which is bringing the US Army to “breaking point,” as their Generals have warned. The current strategy and tactics of the US is toward a pointless and worthless end goal. There isn’t the chance in hell of a “win-win” or even a “win-lose” outcome. There is nothing but “lose-lose” for the Americans and their soldiers know it. The situation for the Americans is an enigma of war. Formerly, they occupy the city, yet they have not conquered it. They patrol the streets, but cannot the scale the “walls.” The Americans are an elephant with chicken’s legs. They cannot run and they cannot standstill.

Sadr City & the Mehdi Army – the double-walled city.

Despite the effective demobilisation of the Mehdi Army, the Americans may totally misread the dynamics and sensitivities of the situation. Despite frequent bombing by Sunnis, Sadr City is a relative haven for the 2 million Shias living there under the protection of the Mehdi Army. The population will view a US assault as an attempt to strip them of their last defences against the ravages of the anarchy in Baghdad. Should the US invade to mop up rouge elements of the Mehdi, it is possible that the local population might throw their weight behind the “stray” militiamen, in order to defend to the death what has become almost their own “statelet.” If Muqtada al-Sadr still refuses to lead, he would be discredited and his rank and file could split away to form another militia, which could quickly mushroom under such conditions.

A major battle for the Sadr City would become a cause célèbre for the whole “Shia nation.” Shia public opinion around the whole of the country and internationally would rally to support their brethren under American attack. This could see a closing of ranks, wherein the various competing Shia militias would merge or form fighting alliances together to focus on striking US forces throughout Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

Sadr city could be the “surge into the abyss” for the US. Parallels would be drawn with the battle for the Warsaw ghetto or the Russian assault on Grozny. The only way that they could hope to “win” would be pursue a scorched earth policy. It will spell the end for Maliki. The government will fall and Al-Hakim’s support will diminish along with support from his Badr Corps, who will be drawn to side with the Mehdi Army. At the same time the Sunni insurgents would take advantage of the overstretched US forces to face them down in other areas of Baghdad and Al Anbar province.

Despite US and British hopes, the new offensive will not be contained to Baghdad and Al Anbar. As the US tries to take control of areas of the capital city, whole provinces, some previously calm, will be liberated or will descend into both war and civil war. It will spread throughout the country. US forces will be totally overstretched. Mosul and other cities will explode. Kirkuk will become a sectarian killing field. There will be a “Baghdadisation” of the whole of Iraq.

In the south, especially in Basra, the idea that British troops can somehow quietly hand over power to the Iraqi Army and begin packing their bags or retreat to safe barracks, while at the same time Bush pursues his offensive in Baghdad, will be exposed as another example of Alliance myopia. Existing Shia militia in-fighting in the south may initially intensify at first, but groups will be forced to vie with one another in the ferocity of their assaults on the British forces. The intensification of the whole situation will likely result in the local Iraqi Armed Forces and police publicly dissolving into respective militias. Given the wave of hatred towards the United States which will sweep the country, it is fantasy to imagine that the troops of its principal ally will be allowed to simply sit comfortably in their canteens. In the second city of Basra and across the Shia south of the country, they will become the key focus for revenge on the foreign occupiers. Rather than beginning their peaceful withdrawal from Iraq, the small British force of 7,000 troops is more likely to driven out and/or slaughtered.

An Iraqi Intifada on the menu or pie in the sky? The recent assault on Al-Najaf is in a way a distorted expression of a desire among section of the Iraqi people for unity in battle. Reports of support from local people confirm that despite its perversion through the prism of this cult, there are still substantial reservoirs of unity, which are heavily suppressed by the current pervasive sectarianism. These are reservoirs which neither the Maliki government or the US can tap from above. They can only develop from below, but it may well be triggered by some atrocity or massacre on the part of Americans.

An intensified offensive is pregnant with unforeseeable inflammatory “incidents.” Almost certainly, American troops will engage in massacres and atrocities at some point, with far-reaching consequences. When morale begins to break down, so too do morals. The abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, the atrocities carried out in Fallujah, Haditha and Mahmoudiya are only the tip of the iceberg of what is already going on and mere blips on the radar screen of what is to come as the battle gets more brutal. In what will be considered by both sides as a fight to the last, with US troops engaged in the most intense urban warfare ever, it is inevitable that US troops will cause large scale collateral damage at some point.

In these circumstances, outrage among both sides of the community could fuel the fire of the war in Iraq to frenzied levels. A spiral of clashes could occur. Even instances of joint Sunni/Shia actions, rising up from among the masses, could not be ruled out, when anger against the Americans reaches boiling point. In today’s Iraq it would mean the appearance of tens of thousands of armed protesters. It should be not be forgotten that many streets have their own volunteer defence forces and that almost every man in the country is armed with rifles and small arms for his own and his family’s self-defence. These same weapons could be quite easily turned on the Americans by outraged mobs demanding their immediate withdrawal. US troops could be caught in a position of mowing down hundreds of civilians threatening to overwhelm them. If such things come about, then, for the first time, serious demands could be made to indict US generals and officers for war crimes in front of international tribunals.

Should the current Iraqi insurgency become a full-blown uprising or intifada, it would be even more ferocious and deadly than in the Occupied Territories. It would quickly become a mass, armed uprising involving hundreds of thousands, if not millions on the streets. Numbers of US casualties would explode geometrically. Thousands of troops could loose their lives within hours. US TV screens may soon be carrying pictures of helpless units trapped under fire, with soldiers being dragged from burning buildings and smouldering humvies and then being torn apart by crazed mobs. The spectre of beheaded American corpses lining the Baghdad thoroughfares and US troops swinging from the lampposts is not out of the question. As the battle intensifies outside powers will supply the insurgents with anti-aircraft weaponry and other more sophisticated arms. The sight of “Black-Hawk-downs” falling from the sky is already almost becoming commonplace. Sooner rather than latter, the US Army would have no option but to flee the country.

Ironically, just at the time that the Palestinians appear to be descending in factional civil war, an “Iraqi Intifada” is now the country’s only hope of holding the nation together. Despite, the seemed impossibility of it, in paradoxical situations like this the rules of formal logic are often stood on their heads. Against all current expectations, should a popular uprising begin - especially as a result of an American atrocity and regardless of whatever section of the population starts it – a real uprising would have an incredible power of attraction across the sectarian divide. The population would sense an astonishing force of empowerment as it suddenly becomes aware that, united, it represents an irresistible force, which its oppressor simply could have no hope of withstanding.

Moreover, such a movement would tend to also sweep over the heads of the existing sectarian and insurgents and militia leaders. New leaders could be thrown up from among the people and a new popular, non-sectarian government could even be swept into power. This would be a real “surge” and it would traverse the country like a tidal wave. Its ripple effects would be felt across the Middle East, where pan-Arab, nationalist, anti-American feelings could even engulf the present rise of fundamentalism.

However, the trouble with all unusual movements of the sea is that it depends on many factors in the environment converging at once, for it to come about. Unless it firmly changes the shoreline, such a popular surge can be dissipated into many different channels and the old patterns will remerge. Concretising such a movement in the face of so many complex forces and challenges would extremely difficult, but not totally impossible.

Today everything is in flux. The vortex is beginning to spin. The situation is becoming even more wild and unpredictable. All that is certain in the specifics of development are the general facts, which are; the US is doomed to come out of this emasculated as a great power. In other words it too will lose a great part of its former identity. Iraq, for its part, will either be gripped by a unifying, popular, revolutionary uprising, which will build a new identity out of the positive parts of the old; or like the dreadful sight of a psyche broken to pieces by trauma, it will tear its own Self apart from inside out and, finally, cease to be a part of reality.

Stephen J. Morgan

Brussels, January 31st 2007

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About Article Author

Stephen Morgan
Stephen Morgan

Stephen J. Morgan is a former member of the British Labour Party Executive Committee, a political writer and accredited Emotional Intelligence Coach. His first book was the "The Mind of a Terrorist Fundamentalist - the Cult of Al Qaeda." He has lived and worked in more than 27 different countries and is also a professional speaker who has spoken at more than 2000 meetings including the National Convention of the American Psychological Association (Chicago 2002) and The Global Human Resources Conference (Barcelona 2001.) He is currently writing a book on the Bush Administration. He is a political psychologist, researcher into Chaos/Complexity Theory and lives in Brussels (Old Europe) Contact

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