The world press on the downing of a U.S. Chinook

Newspapers across the world ask: Who's leading the attacks in Iraq?

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Hong Kong, Syed Saleem Shahzad in Asia Times

With the downing of a U.S. Chinook helicopter in Iraq on Sunday claiming the lives of at least 16 soldiers … there is renewed focus on the nature of the resistance movement in Iraq.

As resistance in Iraq intensifies …there has been much speculation on the role of foreign jihadis. The New York Times reported on October 28, “Bush administration officials have estimated that the number of foreign fighters in Iraq is between 1,000 and 3,000, but civilian and military officials here [in Baghdad] say they doubt there are anywhere near that number.”

European intelligence sources have confirmed to Asia Times Online that well before and during the U.S. invasion on Iraq, Arabs, Afghans, Pakistanis and other nationals had tried to reach Iraq, but that most were netted in Iran and thrown into custody.

Thus, to date, global jihadis have been unable to establish settled and safe travel routes into Iraq, and within the country foreign fighters appear not to have established defined pockets of resistance.

Intelligence sources tell Asia Times Online that Iraq’s northern Kurdish region could see an escalation of guerrilla activity soon, instigated by the Ansar al-Islam. They say that many Ansar al-Islam members are lying low in the Iranian Kurdish region, have set up safe routes for crossing the border, and are waiting for the right moment to move on the towns of Kirkuk and Mosul to join the resistance.

Despite this though, it is clear that the resistance movement draws its strength from the grassroots, especially tribal areas such as Falluja, Ramadi and Khalidiya, from where the main human resources come, funded by the treasury of the former regime, and armed by its extensive arsenal.

United Kingdom, Robert Fisk in the Independent

Understanding the brain. That’s what you have to do in a guerrilla war. Find out how it works, what it’s trying to do. An attack on U.S. headquarters in Baghdad and six suicide bombings, all at the start of Ramadan. Thirty-four dead and 200 wounded. Where have I heard those statistics before? And how could they be so well coordinated — well-timed, down to the last second? …



So here’s the answer to question one. Algeria. After the Algerian government banned elections in 1991 that would have brought the Islamic Salvation Front to power, a Muslim revolt turned into a blood-curdling battle between the so-called Islamic Armed Group — many of its adherents having cut their battle teeth in Afghanistan — and a brutal government army and police force … And the very worst atrocities — the beheading of children, the raping and throat-cutting of women, the slaughter of policemen — were committed at the beginning of Ramadan.

At Ramadan, Muslim emotions are heightened; in these most blessed of days, a Muslim feels that he or she must do something important so that God will listen to him or her. There is nothing in the Koran about violence in Ramadan or, for that matter, suicide bombers, any more than there is anything in the New Testament to urge Christians to carry out genocide or the ethnic cleansing in which they have become experts in the past 200 years, but Sunni Wahabi believers have often combined holy war with the “message”, the dawa during Ramadan…

Some of America’s enemies may come from other Arab countries, but most of the military opposition to America’s presence comes from Iraqi Sunnis; not from Saddam “remnants” or “diehards” or “deadenders” (the Paul Bremer titles for a growing Iraqi resistance), but from men who in many cases hated Saddam.

They don’t work “for” al-Qa’ida. But they have learnt their own unique version of history. Attack your enemies in the holy month of Ramadan. Learn from the war in Algeria. And the war in Afghanistan. Learn the lessons of America’s “war on terror”. Kill the leadership … That was the message.

Japan, Editorial in Asahi Shimbun

The only way to establish an environment resilient to terrorism and to put reconstruction back on track is to return sovereignty to the people of Iraq as soon as possible, and have the Iraqi military and police battle terrorists. Simply reinforcing allied forces will not contain terrorism. That was my impression of Baghdad.

Many people are disgusted by random terrorism. Ending the occupation would undercut terrorists, and at the same time it would be an opportunity to promote unity among the Iraqi people to fight terrorism.

I met Tahsin Khudir of the Iraqi police in the southern city of Samawah where Japanese Self-Defense Forces personnel may be sent. The 45-year-old Khudir showed me an old handgun provided by occupation authorities and said, “They don’t trust us.”

Efforts to rebuild the country hinge on respecting Iraqis’ pride. There are many people like Khudir in Iraq today who are frustrated by the fact the principle of leaving Iraq’s future in the hands of its citizens is being neglected.

Iraqis generally believe that Japan is a good country. We have earned a reputation as a nation that has remained neutral in conflicts in the Middle East, and that has continuously provided financial assistance. The government should carefully examine the viewpoint that sending Self-Defense Forces personnel at this point to provide assistance under the occupation may destroy that reputation.

United Kingdom, Tariq Ali in the Guardian

Some weeks ago, Pentagon inmates were invited to a special in-house showing of an old movie. It was the “Battle of Algiers”, Gillo Pontecorvo’s anti-colonial classic, initially banned in France…

At least the Pentagon understands that the resistance in Iraq is following a familiar anti-colonial pattern. In the movie, they would have seen acts carried out by the Algerian maquis almost half a century ago, which could have been filmed in Fallujah or Baghdad last week. Then, as now, the occupying power described all such activities as “terrorist”. Then, as now, prisoners were taken and tortured, houses that harboured them or their relatives were destroyed, and repression was multiplied. In the end, the French had to withdraw. As American “postwar” casualties now exceed those sustained during the invasion (which cost the Iraqis at least 15,000 lives), a debate of sorts has begun in the U.S. Few can deny that Iraq under U.S. occupation is in a much worse state than it was under Saddam Hussein. There is no reconstruction. There is mass unemployment … The U.S. doesn’t even trust the Iraqis to clean their barracks, and so South Asian and Filipino migrants are being used. This is colonialism in the epoch of neo-liberal capitalism, and so U.S. and “friendly” companies are given precedence…

One of the more comical sights in recent months was Paul Wolfowitz on one of his many visits informing a press conference in Baghdad that the “main problem was that there were too many foreigners in Iraq”. Most Iraqis see the occupation armies as the real “foreign terrorists”. Why? Because once you occupy a country, you have to behave in colonial fashion. This happens even where there is no resistance, as in the protectorates of Bosnia and Kosovo. Where there is resistance, as in Iraq, the only model on offer is a mixture of Gaza and Guantanamo.

Kenya, E.D. Mathew in the Daily Nation

While the exodus of the international organisations from Baghdad reveals the prevailing hellish conditions there, the decision by many countries not to send troops to Iraq belies the prospects of any improvement in the security situation in the near future.

Well-known for its participation in U.N. peace-keeping operations, Kenya’s recent decision not to offer its troops to be stationed in Iraq reflects similar thinking in several other nations earlier thought to be willing to send such forces to the beleaguered country. France, Germany and Russia have long maintained their unwillingness to commit their troops in line with their fierce opposition to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq … South Korea is yet another country equivocating on an earlier offer of 5,000 troops while both India and Pakistan, despite heavy pressure from Washington, have refused to offer their soldiers.

While Iraq sinks deeper into chaos with no prospects of additional international troops, there is not much good news on the reconstruction front either. The $13 billion pledged by some 70 countries during the Madrid conference recently falls tens of billions short of the estimated $55 to $75 billion needed over the next four years to reconstruct the devastated country.

Who will bridge the funding gap? There are two possibilities here. One is that the future taxpayers of the occupying powers — the United States and Britain — will have to foot the bill. Considering the growing domestic public opinion in both the countries against the Iraq misadventure, this option looks untenable. The other possibility is that the gap will not be bridged at all, leaving the hapless Iraqis to fend for themselves…

Of late, media reports from Iraq attribute attacks against the coalition forces to “Iraqi resistance fighters” — not “terrorists” as Washington is fond of describing them. Commentators on Iraq now increasingly acknowledge that the irregular war against the occupying forces seems to have started to gather a momentum of its own.

There is a serious risk that if this is not reversed soon, it may slide into greater permanency, making any international effort to deal with it less likely to succeed … The harsh reality is that America faces a host of unpalatable options in Iraq, in the wake of its glaring failure to fashion peace there.

India, C. Rahul Singh in the Times of India

Point: Public protests, plunging approvals, mounting body bags, all compounded by that awful sense of sinking into a quagmire: Dubya had better pray that God — who willed him to rule America — continues to want him in the White House … Indeed, two years after 9/11 and the exhilarating high of 90 per cent ratings, George Bush has hit a patch so rough that a second term has begun to look a distinctly shaky prospect. And last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll confirmed Mr Bush’s worst fears: Americans were split almost evenly between him and “a” Democratic presidential candidate. Significantly, they couldn’t even name the Democratic candidates they were weighing the president against. Think of how much worse it will be for him once the Democratic nominations are through and he gets pitted against a candidate who mounts an all-out offensive on the presidency.

Counterpoint: With an average of one body bag coming back everyday, many expect a frightened American public to put pressure on the government to look for ways to extricate itself from Iraq. But, this is not how the scenario is unfolding. Far from buckling under, most Americans have reacted with surprising equanimity — few protests on the streets, no calls for George Bush to step down, no cribbing about the high economic cost, little criticism of what promises to be a bloody and protracted war. For the first time, Americans have realised how vulnerable they are in their own homeland.

The Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney troika has successfully exploited the public threat perception to justify its aggression in Iraq. It has convinced people that in the interest of long-term safety great sacrifices must be made by them … The dip in Mr. Bush’s popularity ratings is more to do with his tactics than the overall strategy against terrorism. But one thing is clear — Americans feel that they cannot abandon the field now, even if it means more soldiers dying.

Lebanon, Walid Choucair in Al-Hayat

The American egotism in facing the difficulties in Iraq is not a matter of personal pigheadedness or an intentional disregard of these difficulties. The project itself requires all that. This arrogance, or lack of awareness of the facts, induces Washington to refuse advice and to confirm that it will not retreat or stop due to the attacks carried out against its forces in Iraq.

George W. Bush’s statement “terrorists want us to leave [Iraq], and we’re not leaving,” is a refusal to admit to difficulties or a disdain of the casualties resulting from an unsuccessful policy … In this case, that U.S. intransigence is not simply ‘escaping forwards’ as the Arab speeches used to say. It lies at the core of the Bush ideology and in the statements of the neo-conservatives.

This is what pushes American liberals to say that the Iraqi resistance is not going to defeat Bush in Iraq. Rather, the only one who can defeat Bush is Bush himself, through the accumulation of mistakes in drawing his imperial policy in Iraq and elsewhere.

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