Steve Sachs Duke


Thursday, April 03, 2003


Two good signs. On the same day that Saddam Hussein (or whoever speaks for him) called for a jihad against the U.S., it was nice to see that there were at least two signs in Tuesday afternoon's press that Iraqis aren't listening. The first involved the Marines' defeat of a contingent of Baath paramilitaries near the town of Diwaniyah:

SOUTH-CENTRAL IRAQ - U.S. Marines waged a firefight with Iraqi forces Tuesday in and around the town of Diwaniyah, killing up to 90 Iraqis and taking at least 20 prisoners, according to reports from the field.
Coalition forces entered Diwaniyah, going a couple of blocks inside the town, where local residents told translators where to find the Baath Party headquarters and the military headquarters from which rocket-propelled grenades had been fired, said Capt. Brian Lewis of the 1st Tank Battalion.

The key point here isn't that the Marines won, but that their reconnaissance work was performed voluntarily by Iraqi civilians. These civilians may not be rising up against Saddam, but that hardly means that they support him, or even that they're neutral. With the Iraqi people as our allies, the military's job is made much easier:

Local Iraqis are increasingly informing British sources of the whereabouts of officials from Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party, [British Col. Steve] Cox said.
Thirty-five party officials are in custody, and three to four more remain at large, Cox said.
[Umm Qasr] was plagued by pockets of resistance until several days ago, but is now safe enough for troops and ordinary civilians to walk around at night, Cox said. He added that there has been no recent guerrilla activity.

The second piece of good news, which is the lead item of the story above, is that two Iraqi suicide-bombers-to-be have picked "to be" over "not to be":

UMM QASR, Iraq - Two Iraqi soldiers who said they were sent on a suicide attack mission to the country's largest port have turned themselves in to British troops, the British commander said Tuesday.
"We had two suicide bombers turn themselves in yesterday because they didn't want to be suicide bombers any more," Col. Steve Cox, commander of the Royal Marine Commandos running Umm Qasr, told reporters. "We are accommodating them."

Obviously, there's a significant danger of wishful thinking here. But isn't it likely, given everything we know about Saddam's regime--in particular, that it will sometimes murder its own soldiers to get them to fight--that the noncommissioned officer who committed the May 29 suicide bombing may have done so under duress? Isn't it likely that his family, which was rewarded handsomely for his death by the regime, might have suffered a somewhat different fate had he refused? And isn't it therefore likely that the suicide bombing reflects not popular resentment, but rather an official tactic that is both desperate and ultimately short-lived?

I don't doubt that there are others in the region who would happily blow themselves up for Saddam; the man who drove a truck into U.S. soldiers in Kuwait is believed to be an Egyptian electrician. And these others could make things very messy for the post-war occupation. But these stories give me some degree of confidence that we're not facing the nightmare of a guerilla force that is supplied, hid, and earnestly supported by the Iraqi people. The fedayeen, the Baath paramilitaries, the jihadis-for-hire--these may represent, at least for the moment, an external and unpopular force rather than an authentic popular resistance. Let's do everything we can to keep them that way.




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