INN exclusive: Who ist the Iraqi Resistance? - A view on known groups fighting occupation
INN exclusive: Who ist the Iraqi Resistance? - A view on known groups fighting occupation - Part I
Robert Lindsay, 2004-07-15
This Article tells you about all known forces of th iraqi resistance, their ideology, their social base and their realtions to other groups. It is written exclusively for INN by Robert Lindsay.
(c) 2004 Robert Lindsay
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MOTIVATIONS OF FIGHTERS
Presently, almost all insurgents in Iraq (95%+) are motivated by the Islamic religion or Iraqi nationalism, not support for Saddam or his regime. This fusion of nationalism and (usually secular) Islam is best described as fighting for "God and country". Indeed, presently, Saddam loyalists seem to have faded to only a very small section of the resistance, assuming they even exist at all.
The ideology of many of the fighters is described as "post-Saddam" and is a simple combination of nationalism and Islamism (ranging from nominal Muslims to hard line fundamentalists) - they feel that the US Occupation is an assault on both Islam and the entire Arab World, and therefore must be resisted. In January 2004, Baathists still made up 30% of the resistance, but, especially after Saddam's capture, most, if not all, of them had renounced their association with and loyalty to Saddam and his regime and were instead fighting for either Islamism or nationalism.
Prior to Saddam's capture, many former regime loyalists openly spoke of their desire to return Saddam and his regime to power. The capture of Saddam seems to have been a powerful blow to the Saddam loyalist faction, and since his capture, the number of Saddam loyalists still fighting to return Saddam to power rapidly dwindled to the point where now they seem to scarcely exist. Clearly, with Saddam in a US prison and facing an Iraqi trial and possible death sentence, returning Saddam himself to power is quite a dubious proposition.
Although there has been much talk how the Iraqi resistance in 2004 is being taken over increasingly by Islamists and radical Islamists, the majority of Iraqi guerillas still appear to want a secular society instead of an fundamentalist Taliban, Saudi or Iranian-style Islamic state. Even in areas like Ramadi where mosques are used as sanctuaries and funding centers for the insurgency, most fighters do not want an Islamic state.
Generally, most fighters are secular nationalist Iraqis who are angry at the presence of foreign troops in their country. For these secular Iraqis, the role of Islam is similar to the role of Christianity in the US troops, who also become more religious when they fight in wars. The single overriding goal of most fighters is ridding Iraq of foreign troops, not establishing an Islamic state. However, the role of Islamists and radical Islamists has increased with time.
In terms of other motivations besides Islamism or nationalism, many other fighters are motivated by simple revenge for violations, slights, attacks, killings, injuries, insults, property destruction and thefts committed by US troops. In Iraqi tribal culture, such attacks mandate either a payment or an apology by the perpetrator; if neither is forthcoming, relatives of the aggrieved party are mandated to avenge the crime.
STRUCTURE OF THE RESISTANCE
Many fighters at the cadre or cell level have only the most vague notions about the leadership of their group or how their group is funded; in fact, many seem to have no idea who the actual leadership of their group is. As noted, in January 2004, Baath Party members made up 30% of guerilla cadres in January 2004 but since the Mahdi Uprising, the percentage of Baathists has probably declined a lot. Before Saddam's capture, Saddam loyalists were quite prevalent at the higher levels of the resistance, including command and control, recruitment, planning, weapons procurement, funding and logistics, but they were not so prevalent in terms of actual armed combatants.
After Saddam's capture, the top-level leadership of the resistance has become much more murky, and the pro-Saddam element of the resistance rapidly fell into disarray. In June 2004, an interview with top-level resistance leaders presented a picture of the resistance leadership at the time. The leaders of at least that faction of the resistance were former generals in the Iraqi Army. They had stopped fighting for Saddam after the US entered Baghdad in April 2003, and presently they have no allegiance to Saddam or his regime whatsoever. Presently, the top-level leadership of the Iraqi Sunni resistance is simply not known. The Shia resistance is mostly led by followers of Muqtada Sadr.
Iraqi guerillas often fight outside their home area as a precautionary measure. Presently, the structure of the typical Iraqi resistance cell is eclectic indeed. Fighters simply form cells in their home district, made up of all of those fighters who wish to fight in the area. In some places, especially with the Islamic resistance, prospective fighters are recruited in the mosques, and are then vetted and trained before being accepted into fighting units, and a number of prospective fighters are rejected. In a typical area, the fighting unit will often be made up of former regime members, former Iraqi military, nationalists, Sunni and/or Shia Islamists, Baathists, and even Communists and Leftists.
The commander of that particular cell will simply be whoever has the most military experience; this individual could well be a Baathist, former regime member, nationalist, Sunni or Shia Islamist, or even a Leftist. Fighters simply aggregate together on the basis of resistance in the local area and typically do not discuss or deal with ideology or differences. The fact that many cells are made up of fighters of widely disparate ideology does not seem to be causing many problems. A number of the guerilla groups are definitely ideologically inclined; for instance, there are foreign fighters who are fundamentalist Islamist extremists.
The radical jihadis often wish to maintain ideological purity within their unit, however, even these fighters, with their extreme ideology, have been known to collaborate well with Iraqi Islamists, nationalists, Baathists, and former regime members. The fact that such pragmatism and flexibility has developed amongst the guerillas so rapidly is stunning in light of common, apparently false, Orientalist stereotypes about the rigidity and tribalism of Arabs. There has been little or no infighting between guerilla units, another commendable feature from a military standpoint. Many insurgencies have seen their fire sapped by continuous infighting and purges amongst various guerilla factions.
SIZE OF THE RESISTANCE
The overall size of Iraqi resistance is a subject of great controversy. The usual US estimate for months running from US put the figure at 5,000 fighters and declining. This figure never made any sense. A more recent US military estimate put the size at 20,000, including part-timers. A secret CIA report in November 2003 listed the size at either 15,000 or 50,000, apparently, the 15,000 figure referred to actual fighters while the 50,000 figure referred to active supporters. The Iraqi resistance themselves gave a figure of 75,000-100,000 actual fighters in January 2004, but many of these are probably just part-time militia.
By April 2004 with the major Fallujah-Sadr Uprising rocking Iraq, reports indicated major growth in the resistance. The size of the Mahdi Army is now estimated to be as high as 100,000 fighters. However, presently the Mahdi Army claims to have stopped attacks, so we should not use them in calculating the size of the resistance. There may be up to 20,000 fighters each in Mosul and Fallujah alone (possibly even more in Fallujah) or a total of 40,000 in the two cities. Further, in November 2003, US troops arrested 20,000 suspected guerillas in Baqubah alone in a mass sweep.
22,000 suspected guerillas have cycled through US prisons in Iraq. In April 2004, US forces estimated they killed up to 4,000 guerillas (probably an exaggeration). Let us look at US military estimates in late 2003 for guerilla strength in various cities: Yusufiyah: 5,000; Fallujah: up to 20,000; Samarra: 1,500; Ramadi: 1,000 - for a total of 26,500 for those cities alone. Or the US estimates of the size of various guerilla groups: Mahdi Army: 7,000; Mohammed's Army: 5,000; Al-Tawhid: 2,000 - for a total of 14,000 for those groups alone. Taken together, these high figures lend credibility to the January 2004 Iraqi resistance figures for the size of the resistance.
If we accept the January 2004 Iraqi resistance figure of 100,000, note probable significant growth since then and add to that another possible 100,000 fighters in the Mahdi Army, we arrive at the rather stunning figure of 200,000 guerillas in the Iraqi resistance, including full-time and part-time fighters. The number of active supporters is obviously much more than that. Indeed, even 200,000 may be an underestimate. If we subtract the 100,000 Mahdi Army figure due to the fact that they have ceased operations at the moment, we are back to 100,000.
Let us formulate a definition for a resistance member: everyone who has ever participated in an armed action against Coalition forces, either by firing a weapon, torching or vandalizing a Coalition vehicle, commanding forces, funding the resistance, serving as a driver, lookout or spy, feeding fighters, tending wounded fighters, or running weapons or supplies for fighters and who has not renounced the guerilla activity. Using this very broad definition, 100,000 full-time, part-time and occasional fighters and myriad support staff is an excellent guess for the size of the Iraqi resistance and may even be an underestimate.
Syria: Although US propaganda has made much of the Syrian connection to the Iraqi insurgency, there does appear to be some truth there. Various Iraqi guerilla groups have claimed that they get assistance, in one way or another, from Syria. In Summer 2003, Muhammad's Army claimed they got money from Syria. Whether he meant the Syrian state or non-state actors in Syria is not known. In Summer 2003, the Martyr Khattab Brigade of foreign fighters claimed to have a training camp in Syria. In November 2003, a cell in Baghdad claimed that Syrian intelligence operates in Iraq, but was unclear on their exact role.
Another group in Baghdad said they got weapons from Syria. They did not specify whether the weapons came from the state or non-state actors. Apparently, fighters and weapons are still able to cross various borders, including the Syrian border, into Iraq to help the insurgency. For a long time, the Syrians were not only doing little to stop the cross-border traffic in fighters and money into Iraq, most of which was being run by local Bedouin tribesmen, but also they were possibly even helping these Bedouins run the traffic. More recently, the official support from the Syrian regime seems to have been dramatically reduced or even ended, but the Syrian hands-off attitude is little changed.
The official Syrian security presence at the border has been beefed up and makes some cursory efforts at stopping traffic, but reports indicate that they are easily bribed into looking the other way. The Syrian state does not seem to be actively involved in the cross-traffic anymore, but they do not appear to be doing much to stop it either. There seems to be a "look the other way" attitude in place instead. Fighters, weapons and money come from Syria, but it the available evidence suggests non-Syrian state actors (possibly the local Bedouin tribes or the insurgent groups themselves), not Syrian state actors, who are running the weapons and men across.
In January 2004, reports indicated that much of Syria's northeast border area with Iraq had become something of an open-air arms market. The arms traffic was going across the Ninewa Province border with few difficulties. In addition to guerillas, pro-Coalition Kurdish forces in northern Iraq such as the PUK were amongst the customers. As of February 2004, guerillas in Baghdad continued to report significant quantities of weaponry being smuggled over the Syrian border and into Baghdad.
There have been numerous reports of Syrian fighters fighting in Iraq long after the fall of Baghdad. A Syrian Alawite Shia fighter claimed that he infiltrated across the border "through a secret way" in July 2003, after the preacher at his mosque in Syria had preached for young men to go fight in Iraq. He then went straight to Fallujah, which is odd given the Shia-hating reputation of the city. From there he went to the Sunni Adhamiyah District, where he was incorporated into a largely Sunni cell without any problems. He remained a member of this cell in April 2004. They seem to be especially notable around the Fallujah-Amiriyah-Ramadi region and over by the Qaim-Husaybah border region. Guerillas in the Qaim area reported in late 2003 that there were a significant number of Syrians fighting in the insurgency there. In December 2003, a Syrian woman was arrested in Basra with bomb parts as part of a conspiracy to bomb the port there.
Most recently, in May 2004, an AP reporter encountered a force of hardline Syrian jihadis in the Jolan District of Fallujah after the US withdrawal. They were extremely hardline Sunni Islamists reminiscent of the most hardline Syrian Muslim Brotherhood elements. On June 30, 2004, Najaf police seized a vehicle filled with 150 pounds of explosives and arrested a Libyan jihadi who had infiltrated Iraq from the Syrian border. In late 2003, guerillas reported that Syrian students in Baghdad seemed to have suspiciously large amounts of cash on them, and that a number of these students, along with other foreign students similarly awash with suspicious cash, were supporting the insurgency financially. No one seemed to know where the Syrian students' cash came from, or that of the other foreign students, for that matter.
So far, ~200 Syrians have been arrested so far on charges of insurgency in Iraq. Clearly, Syrians and other foreign fighters are fighting in Iraq. A good estimate the size of this group is no more than 3-5% of the total insurgency. Clearly, men and weapons come over the Jordanian, Syrian, Kuwaiti, Saudi and Iranian borders into Iraq. At the moment, there is little to implicate the Syrian state in this traffic other than that they do not seem to be doing a lot to stop the traffic. One may indeed argue, why should they? A strong case could be made that this is a US problem. Policing the Iraq-Syria border for unwanted traffic is the responsibility of the US.
Islamists: One study conducted in Summer 2003 found most fighters (~85%) were Sunni and Shia (probably mostly Sunni) Iraqi Arabs with an Islamist background. A number of these are probably merely pious Iraqi Arabs, who claim to be "fighting for Islam", but are not necessarily fundamentalists at all. Many Iraqi Islamists have taken a hard line against attacks on Iraqi civilians, saying that they feel attacks should be on military targets only. Many of the Iraqi Islamists have also taken a softer line on the local Iraqi police, saying they are needed to keep the order.
The Islamists have harshly condemned most of the attacks on Iraqi infrastructure that other guerillas engaged in. However, the Islamist position on attacking the oil-for-export infrastructure is not known. The Islamists do not feel that attacks that increase the misery of the Iraqi people are helpful or moral. Although the Summer 2003 study above concluded that ~85% of the resistance were Islamists, as of January 2004, a better guess at the percentage of Islamists in the resistance would be ~55-60%. At present the percentage of Islamists in the resistance is just not known.
Criminals: In 2003, some Iraqi resistance fighters were criminals, but not many, and recently they are hardly present at all. Throughout much of 2003, the US military claimed that criminals made up a large percentage of guerilla fighters, but they never offered any for this charge. It would seem that a criminal would not make a very good or reliable soldier. By 2004, criminals were negligible to nonexistent in the resistance. In June 2004, the US military had fallen back on the hoary claim that criminals made up a large percentage of guerilla fighters. This claim was even more dubious in 2004 than it was in 2003.
Communists/Leftists/Marxists: One of the largest groupings, the NFLI, seems to have this sort of orientation. The Communist Party has very deep roots in Iraq, and around 1960, it was the most popular party in Iraq. For instance, the same urban poor Shia grouping that now supports radical Shia preacher Sadr in the Sadr City slum district of Baghdad formerly supported the Communist Party.
A number of Leftist groupings have reportedly taken up arms (see below) but almost nothing is known about their role in the war. The percentage of Leftists in the resistance is not large, probably less than 5%, or less than 5,000 fighters. Many of the Islamist groups say they are willing to fight alongside Communist fighters. In various Iraqi resistance groups, Leftists and Communists fight alongside Baathists, nationalists, and Islamists with no problems at all.
Mercenaries: Throughout 2003, the US military continuously alleged that most of the Iraqi resistance was made up of mere mercenaries who in it for the money and cared nothing about the cause. There was never much evidence for this allegation, which always smacked of US military propaganda. By 2004, the US military had abruptly abandoned the notion that most guerilla fighters were either criminals or mercenaries or both. The rapidity with which this charge was dropped suggests that there was never much to it anyway.
A study by objective Iraqi political scientists in 2003 noted that mercenaries did indeed make up some of the Iraqi resistance, but not many. The Islamists, in particular, are typically not paid money to fight. By 2004, mercenaries were negligible to nonexistent in the resistance. The US military charge that resistance fighters are mere mercenaries is really quite silly and hypocritical in light of the situation with the armed Coalition forces. All Coalition soldiers and all armed Coalition "security contractors" are being paid to fight in Iraq, and in the case of the "contractors", the pay is very high.
All Iraqi police and Iraqi ICDC Army are getting paid very good salaries by Iraqi standards to wage war on the Iraqi resistance. The Coalition is offering Iraqis fat rewards in return for intelligence about the resistance. In light of the fact that so much of the Coalition and pro-Coalition armed forces are being paid, often quite well, and pro-US spies are also being compensated very well, the charge that Iraqi resistance fighters are mercenaries "only in it for the money" seems quite hypocritical, to say the least. In June 2004, the US military was back to claiming that most Iraqi guerillas were just "in it for the money" and were paid by wealthy Iraqis to carry out attacks. Once again, there was little evidence for this claim.
Saddam Loyalists/Former Regime Loyalists/Baathists/Baath Party/Pro-Saddam elements: Baathists made up about 30%, or 22-30,000 fighters, as of January 2004. In the month or so after Saddam's capture, this was quite split between anti-Saddam and pro-Saddam Baathists. However, at the moment, most, if not all, members of this group appear to have abandoned both Saddam and the former regime, are no longer fighting to restore the former regime to power, and many are not even fighting to restore the Baath Party to power.
The theory, still ludicrously parroted by the US and its allies - that the Iraqi resistance in 2004 is made up heavily of Saddam loyalists - would appear to have little support. However, in June 2004, a reporter found a former officer in the Iraqi Army in Fallujah who said he was fighting to restore the Baath Party to power. He also claimed supporters in Baghdad "and other areas". In 2003, Saddam loyalists were highly involved in the top-level (hidden) leadership of some of the groups and also seemed to have a significant role in funding the resistance.
However, in 2004, Saddam loyalists no longer seemed to be leading or funding the resistance to any significant extent. However, by June 2004, a picture of the transformed former Saddam loyalist faction emerged in a media interview with some of the top-level leaders of the Iraqi resistance, all of them former Iraqi Army generals. This faction was composed mostly of former Baathists, both Sunni and Shia. They wanted a "secular democracy, multiconfessional and a unified Iraq", not a Saddam-era dictatorship.
Multiconfessional probably means they would oppose the dominance of one religious sect over another. A unified Iraq means they would oppose the breakup of Iraq - practically speaking, that means they oppose Kurdish secessionism. They seemed to look down on fundamentalist Islam: "We want our country to go forwards, not backwards." They said their faction had nothing to do with Nick Berg's beheading in early May (attributed to Zarqawi's network). They also denied having anything to do with the October 25, 2004 attack on the Red Cross Building in Baghdad and expressed outrage at this attack.
In addition, they denied giving any orders to bomb the UN Building and said they liked Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN Coordinator for Iraq. They also noted that the UN had been behind 12 years of brutal sanctions on Iraq and said another resistance group could have been behind the attack. They said that they supported Sadr's Mahdi Army "both tactically and logistically". The former generals voiced disdain for the new Iraqi government and "sovereignty transfer" to take place on June 30, 2004, saying the new government was appointed by the US and would be nothing but a US puppet.
Their goal at the moment was to unite much of the Iraqi resistance under a single banner. The generals claimed the resistance had enough weapons to fight on for years and that lately, the resistance was manufacturing its own weaponry but they would not elaborate on the self-manufactured weapons. Soon after the fall of Baghdad, a number of the former Saddam Fedayeen were reportedly converted quite quickly to an Islamic orientation by Islamist groups, and became members of those groups.
Many of the more shocking 2003 attacks on largely civilian targets, such as on the UN, the ICRC offices and other humanitarian offices, have been done by Saddam loyalists. In 2003, they were also behind many of the (non-oil) infrastructure attacks such as attacks on water treatment plants, power lines, water mains, electricity workers, etc. The probable aim here is to make life as miserable as possible for the Iraqis, in hopes they will blame the US and join the rebellion. In 2003, Saddam is said to have ordered attacks on anything or anyone "making the Occupation comfortable".
Christians: A few Iraqi Christians are known to have taken up arms, but most have not. Some have been wounded or killed fighting for the resistance. Almost nothing is known of the Christian role in the resistance. Many of the Iraqi Sunni Islamist groups say they are willing to incorporate Christian fighters into their formations. Most Iraqi Christians seem to be supporting the US Occupation of Iraq.
Many Iraqi Christians are reportedly leaving Iraq due to the disastrous increase in influence of Islamist extremists, both Shia and Sunni. Iraqi Christian women have been ordered to wear the veil and stop wearing Western clothing. There have been a number of mysterious killings of Iraqi Christians. A few Iraqi Christians have been ordered by Islamic extremists to convert to Islam or be killed.
Turkmen: A few Turkmen are known to have taken up arms, but most have not. Some have been wounded or killed fighting for the resistance. Almost nothing is known of the Turkmen role in the resistance. Ansar Al Islam has some Turkmen members. There has been some factional fighting in Kirkuk between Turkmen and other ethnic groups, especially Kurds but sometimes Arabs. Some Turkmen in and around Kirkuk have formed militias.
Kurds: Only a very few Kurds have taken up arms against the Coalition, and most of those are very hardline Islamists such as Ansar Al Islam. In December 2003, ~25 Kurdish Islamists were arrested in Kirkuk and charged with having links to Ansar Al Islam. In January 2004, a hardline Islamist movement was said to be growing in the mountains of Kurdistan, which refused any cooperation with the US. Their views are similar to Ansar Al Islam - for instance, TV's have been banned. It was not known if this group was armed.
Iraqi resistance spokesmen say that the hardline Islamic stand of these Kurds will need to be moderated if they are to expand their resistance movement in the mountains of Kurdistan much. A few Kurds have always been present in the mainstream largely Sunni Iraqi resistance groups. These are Kurds who place Iraqi nationalism before their Kurdish ethnicity. During the Mahdi Uprising, Kurds formed a large percentage of the Iraqi Army formations fighting alongside the Marines in Fallujah. Kurds have been involved in a tremendous amount of ethnic warfare in Kirkuk, fighting against Arabs, Turkmen or both.
Women: Guerillas are overwhelmingly men, though Muhammad's Army claims an all-female brigade in Diyala Province (which is further evidence against Muhammad's Army being a hardline Islamist grouping). There have been a few female combatants, but not many. There were some notable cases, such as the following:
a. In June 2003, a young Iraqi Shia woman from a Shia village outside Baqubah tried to throw a grenade at US troops in Baqubah and was killed by the troops.
b. In July 2003, an 11-year-old Iraqi girl attacked US troops with an AK-47 in Ramadi and then ran home - troops were so stunned that they did not even fire back at her. The gun was later found hidden in one of her dresses. See Minors below.
c. In September 2003, a 48-year-old Iraqi woman with a suicide bomb belt strapped to her body was captured trying to enter the Finance Ministry in Baghdad.
d. In November 2003, an Iraqi mother and her three sons were arrested in Fallujah and charged with planning attacks.
e. In December 2003, a Syrian woman was arrested with a sophisticated timing device in Basra and accused of plotting to bomb the harbor.
f. In February 2004, an Iraqi female suicide bomber, the first in Iraq, approached the home of an Iraqi collaborationist tribal leader and detonated a bomb strapped to her body outside the home when guards denied her entry. Three guards were wounded.
Minors: Guerillas are mostly adult males, ranging in age from 18 to ~50. A few minors have waged guerilla-style anti-US attacks, but not many (see the case of the 11-yr-old girl in Ramadi above). There would seem to be ample supply of able-bodied males ready and able to fight. Minors, including young children, have sometimes been used as lookouts. Boys, especially teenage boys, have in some cases engaged in rock-throwing attacks on US troops, but this does not appear to have been common. In December 2003, a number of junior high and high-school age boys in the Adhamiya District of Baghdad were taken to jail for throwing rocks at troops in a demonstration.
Former Iraqi military: As most Iraqi males had at least some military service and training, the group of (mostly Sunni) former Iraqi military makes up a very large number of the guerillas. Although some are fighting for Saddam, many others are not. Those who are not pro-Saddam say they are fighting for nationalism, Islam, tribal honor or getting revenge for various indignities. Many of them either say they have given up on Saddam or describe him as a loser who sold out the country to the invaders.
The fact that most Iraqi males have had military training, plus the fact that most military-age Iraqi males were drafted into the military, at least during the US invasion of 2003, has provided US military propaganda with a veritable propaganda gold mine - now the US can claim that most of the Iraqi resistance is made up of (drum roll): "former members of the Iraqi military"! Well, of course it does, but the Iraqi military, as an institution, dates back decades to the early part of the 20th Century, and has its own ideology, primarily nationalist or Arab nationalist, often independent of whatever regime was in power.
It is this nationalist/Arab nationalist ideology, not loyalty to Saddam's regime, which best describes the ideology of former Iraqi military, from officers down to cadre. Shia made up the majority of the Iraqi military, so by the logic of US military propaganda, apparently this means most Iraqi Shia supported Saddam! The hard fact is that the obvious observation that most Iraqi guerillas are former Iraqi military members is both a circular argument and utterly irrelevant in terms of their ideology; and it certainly does not imply that all or even most of said former military members are pro-Saddam or pro-Baath.
Foreign Fighters: In Summer 2003, there were some reports that Syrians were said to often outnumber Iraqis in those carrying out attacks in various locales, including Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad, Baqubah, Balad, Tikrit and Mosul. However, these reports are contradicted by reports in November 2003 indicating most fighters in Iraq have been Iraqis. Many of the foreign fighters in the post-major combat phase (after May 1, 2003) have been Syrians and Lebanese, and many of the rest are Jordanians, Yemenis, Palestinians, Kuwaitis, Saudis and North Africans - often Egyptians and Algerians. Dozens of Arab fighters have come from France and hundreds from Europe as a whole.
In addition to the nations above, others came from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Bangladesh, Qatar, Sudan, Somalia, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. Many of the foreign fighters present in 2003 could better be described as Arab nationalists than Islamists, and a number of them were not even particularly religious. In 2004, the foreign fighters seem to be more Islamists or hardline Islamists than they were in 2003. In December 2003, Syrians were still fairly common amongst fighters in Husaybah, near the Syrian border. After the major battle in Fallujah from April-May 2004, a group of 50-100 largely Syrian Sunni extreme Islamic fundamentalist fighters seemed to have control over part of Fallujah's Jolan District.
A Palestinian, born in Iraq, a resident of the Al Jihad neighborhood of Baghdad, carried out the suicide car bomb attack on the upscale restaurant in the Karrada District of Baghdad on New Year's Eve, 2003. In November 2003, the Jordanian and US governments said that they had identified at least 120 Jordanians in the Sunni Triangle fighting US forces. There were reports from Israeli intelligence that 100's of Kuwaiti (anti-Kuwaiti regime) Islamists were heading into Iraq in November 2003. In June 2004, Islamist sources in Kuwait confirmed that five young Kuwaiti jihadis had died in recent suicide attacks in Iraq.
Many of this group had headed to Iraq to fight US troops since February 2004, and especially after the Abu Gharaib Prison scandal broke in April 2004. These 2004 reports were verified by a report in December 2003 Iraqi sources with Al Qaeda connections and former Iraqi military officers in Basra, who said Al Qaeda was using the Safwan Crossing because it was the easiest one to get across. Other areas on the Kuwait-Iraq border were also being used. Before the war, the Kuwait-Iraq border was protected by an extensive fence built by the Kuwaitis. During the 2003 US invasion, US forces smashed through the wall in 9 places. In these 9 locations, crossing the border into Iraq is a simple, low-risk stroll.
In September 2003, US intelligence believed there were up to 15,000 Saudi foreign fighters either in Iraq or poised on Iraq's borders ready to enter. In November 2003, Saudi dissident leaders claimed that 5,000 Saudi jihadis were present in Baghdad alone. Saudis reportedly played a role in the suicide bombings of the ICRC, the UN Building and Baghdad Hotel. In a report from January 2004, Saudi sources said that Al Qaeda was also using the wide-open Saudi-Iraqi border, especially in the northwestern Al Jawf Province near Iraq and Jordan. The report estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Saudis had crossed the Al Jawf Province border to fight in Iraq.
Dozens of Saudis were reportedly killed in the Fallujah Uprising in April-May 2004. Many Saudi families traveled to Fallujah for funerals for their "martyred" sons during that period. In June 2004, a Saudi expert noted that there was now a significant two-way traffic at the Saudi-Iraq border, with large numbers of Saudi jihadis still crossing the border into Iraq and large quantities of weapons flowing into Saudi Arabia from Iraq to feed the growing Al Qaeda insurgency in Saudi Arabia. The same Saudi expert also stated that the price of weapons on the black market in Saudi Arabia plummeted due to the huge supply coming in from Iraq.
The porous Saudi-Iraq border has no fences at all and there are many Bedouin guides in that area who will ferry anyone across the border, no questions asked, for only $200. By January 2004, Saudi security personnel claimed to have caught only four jihadis crossing the Al Jawf Province border into Iraq, suggesting very lax security at the border. After crossing into Iraq from Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda jihadis usually headed to Zubayr or Abu Al-Khasib, towns south of Basra with a substantial Sunni population. Zubayr in particular was a popular destination due to a high concentration of Sunni Islamists.
According to US and Israeli intelligence, Iran filtered in about 11,000-12,000 Iranian fighters to the Shia South, mostly Revolutionary Guards, during the Karbala pilgrimage in Spring 2003. However, from Spring 2003-April 2004 (things became somewhat confused during the Mahdi Uprising) these Iranians had been mostly working to gain influence in the region peacefully, and they had been involved in only a very few armed actions. Nevertheless, during this period, these Iranians were also said to be stockpiling arms in the South, along with other Iraqi Shia armed groupings, in case they needed them later. During this period, a small number of Iranian fighters were captured in Iraq. Their ideology and political affiliation remain unknown.
During the Mahdi Uprising, there were a number of Iranian fighters, apparently unaffiliated volunteers, fighting with the Mahdi Army. During this period a significant number of Iranian volunteers were caught trying to cross the border into Iraq. Sources in Pakistan claim that the Taliban, Al Qaeda (International Islamic Front), Hezb-e-Islami, and HUM (Pakistani Kashmiri fighters) all sent fighters to Iraq, with most of them coming after major combat ended. Two Taliban guerillas were apprehended in September 2003 coming over the Iranian border into Iraq northeast of Khanaquin through the Kurdish mountains. Another Afghan was caught trying to plant a roadside bomb near the Dura Power Plant in Baghdad in February 2004.
By January 2004, indigenous Iraqi groups were employing smugglers to ferry foreign fighters across the Jordanian, Syrian and Saudi Arabian borders into Iraq. Once inside Iraq, foreign fighters are often transported to Ramadi or Fallujah, two of the hubs of the foreign fighter network in Iraq. A March 29, 2004 interview with a Blackwater USA (the mercenary firm that lost four employees in the famous mutilation-burning attack in Fallujah two days later) mercenary based near Fallujah said that a number of the guerillas carrying out attacks around Fallujah had turned out to be Jordanians, Syrians, Iranians, and Chechens. On June 21, 2004, Italian intelligence claimed that ~300 Chechen guerillas were fighting in Iraq and some of them had recently been in contact with local Nasariyah guerillas.
Foreign Fighters During And Before Major Combat (March 19-May 1): Many foreign fighters came before and during major combat. An attempt was made to put them under a central command towards the end of major combat. By the fall of Baghdad, the central command of the Arab mujahedin stated there were 8,000 foreign fighters in Baghdad alone. They took heavy casualties in the fighting, and many just went home after Baghdad fell. But in the postwar phase, they started coming in again.
A large number of Palestinians came to fight in Iraq during major combat. Newsweek Magazine claimed over 4,000 Palestinians came during this period, a figure that may not be far off. A large number of these Palestinians, about 1,500-2,000, came from an Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigades splinter faction from the Ein Al Hilweh Refugee Camp in southern Lebanon. This pro-Syrian faction is led by a Palestinian called Colonel Munir Maqdah. About 30-40 more Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigades fighters came from just one town in the West Bank. Hamas and Islamic Jihad each sent ~300 fighters. Hezbollah sent about ~800 fighters, and they continued to trickle in long after major combat ended. Islamic Jihad's fighters came through Lebanon.
Fighters from Romania (Communists) and Vietnam (Communists), Indonesia (Islamists), Russia (mixed ideology - Communists, nationalists, Islamists), Dagestan (8,000 Islamists) and Malaysia (Islamists) reportedly announced plans to go fight in Iraq during the major combat phase, but none of them seem to have made it. One source claimed that Lashkar-E-Toiba (LET), a Pakistani/Kashmiri Sunni Islamist group active in Kashmir, participated in the major combat phase. LET cadres in Saudi Arabia (LET purportedly maintains a Saudi presence) claim the group sent a number of fighters, possibly 100-200, during the major combat phase, and suffered casualties.
....to be continued....
please read part II on INN
Part V (and End)
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