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Mother of all resistance?
Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Dr Moonis Ahmar

In January 1991 when the US led allied forces were planning to attack Iraq so as to liberate Kuwait from Baghdad's occupation, the regime of Saddam Hussain claimed that such an attack will lead to the beginning of "mother of all battles." From January 17 till February 24, there were only aerial attacks against the Iraqi installations and command and control centres. When the US led ground attack to liberate Kuwait began in the last week of February, the myth about Saddam's strategic defiance and ability to fight back was shattered. The Iraqi forces were thrown out of Kuwait within couple of days and the so-called might of Iraq to engage allied forces in ground war for months proved to be a hoax. There was no "mother of all battles" as predicted by the regime of Saddam Hussain and Kuwait was liberated without any major loss of the allied forces.

Around 12 years down the road, again there is an attack on Iraq but it has different dynamics as compared to the 1991 situation. Without listening to the world's opposition to wage war against Iraq, Washington decided to take a solo flight. Neither the United States sought any mandate from the United Nations nor it was able to get support from some its key allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and France to use force against Iraq. Under the pretext of changing the regime of Saddam Hussain and disarming Iraq from the weapons of mass destruction the forces of the United States and Britain launched a massive attack against Iraq from northern Kuwait on March 20. Equipped with superior technology and months of preparations, the Pentagon expressed its confidence that Iraq will not be able to withstand the massive attack and the war will soon end in favour of the United States led coalition. "Shock and awe" attacks on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities were carried out from March 20 from air and ground but these attacks failed to decapitate the regime of Saddam Hussain.

The Iraqi leadership, facing a mighty enemy, predicted massive resistance on the part of their forces and people against the enemy attacks. After more than a week of the outbreak of the second US led war against Iraq it seems, "mother of all resistance" against foreign invasion has begun. The Iraqi government and also other countries have warned America and Britain of serious consequences if they continue to pound Iraqi cities with bombs and missiles. That America will be taught a lesson by Iraq in such a manner that it will even forget its humiliation in Vietnam. Although, much of the rhetoric against the US on the part of Iraq is nothing new, one thing which has occurred since March 20 is the resilience expressed not only by the Iraqi military but also by its people. What has happened in Umm Qasar, Basra, Nasariya, Najaf and other towns of Iraq has proved that the allied forces will not get a walk over and will have to face stiff resistance.

Historically speaking, enemy forces, despite their numerical and superior strength, faced different forms of resistance ranging from guerrilla warfare to fortification of besieged cities. One can cite the example of Stalingrad which faced the German attack for years and despite the fact that it was besieged by the enemy forces from various sides, Soviet people and the military succeeded in defeating the German armed forces. The Soviet people had experienced the worst type of tyranny from the Communist regime of Joseph Stalin but when it came to the question of defending their motherland, they all expressed solidarity and patriotism. If Saddam Hussain, despite the secular credentials of his regime is using Islam for political purposes, the Communist regime of Joseph Stalin allowed churches and mosques to be reopened so that people can pray for the defeat of the invading forces. On these grounds one can find an analogy between the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussain and Stalin's art of governance. Both were ruthless and were responsible for unleashing the killing process against their political enemies.

If the Saddam regime is guilty of causing enormous miseries to its people then why they are not rising to remove such a tyrant regime when they see an opportunity in the shape of the allied invasion? Despite facing defeat in Kuwait in 1991, the brutalities and cruelties of Saddam regime didn't change. The ordinary people of Iraq continued to face political repression at the hands of notorious and vicious Ba'ath party and the Republican guards. It is not difficult to find out why the allied forces are facing stiff resistance at some points because the Iraqi people, who have suffered the most because of the cruel policies of Saddam Hussain would prefer to die at the hands of their government than to accept an enemy occupation. The United States launched a massive propaganda and psychological warfare in Iraq to advise the Iraqi people and soldiers not to support the regime of Saddam Hussain and rise against their rulers. But, what has happened since the launching of the US led attack against Iraq is contrary to the expectation of the allied powers. Saddam, because of his shrewd techniques has been able to seek support of Iraqi people against the foreign invasion. Sentiments of Iraqi people against the US and Britain are high and they have made it clear that they can give their lives in order to protect their country from the external occupation. That they prefer to die a martyr's death than accept a foreign occupation.

Does it mean that the "mother of all resistance" unlike the "mother of all battles" is not a myth but a reality if viewed in the context of Iraq-US war? Will the allied forces face it extremely difficult to take Baghdad and if they are able to occupy the Iraqi capital they will not be able to have a smooth sailing in maintaining control of not only that city but also other populated areas of Iraq? These are the questions which must be examined in order to find out the dynamics of the Iraqi resistance. Is the resistance in support of the regime of Saddam Hussain or is it to protect the motherland from foreign occupation? Is the resistance a temporary phenomenon or will it continue for long? Will the resistance result into the humiliating retreat and defeat of the US led forces or the people of Iraq will be convinced by the US pledge that they want to save them from oppression and exploitation of the Saddam regime?

Presently, there is a huge asymmetry between the Iraqi and allied military strengths. In 1990 Iraq was ten times stronger what it is now because since its defeat in Kuwait, it is facing continuous sanctions and other punitive measures. Therefore, the resistance against the US led attack and occupation will be more popular in nature than military. In that scenario, it will be very difficult for the allied forces to control things because when people of that country are not supportive to the invasion then how can Iraq be detached from the regime of Saddam Hussain. America has tried its level best to separate Iraqi people from Saddam Hussain but the latter has cleverly exploited the feelings of patriotism and Arab nationalism in order to remain in power. If Saddam succeeds in holding power in Baghdad despite enormous allied attacks, it will be a nightmare for America and its allies. Therefore, it has been the utmost preference of Washington to capture Baghdad as soon as possible and remove the Iraqi government from power. But will the overthrow of Saddam regime secure Iraq for America? Will the US led "occupation" over Iraq be acceptable to the people of that country?

If Saddam has tried to portray the U.S-British invasion as an occupation, America has tried to present its invasion as liberation and not occupation. But, in reality, the leaders of the ruling Ba'ath party of Iraq have managed to convince a large segment of Iraqi people that the purpose of American invasion is to occupy and exploit their resources, kill their men and dishonour their women. As a result of that rhetoric, an ordinary Iraqi is enraged over the US attack and the bombings going on in different cities and towns of his country. Moreover, all over the world, one can see a sharp rise in ant-Americanism and the demand for an immediate end to war.

If America wants to succeed in its war against Iraq then it must seek the active support of other Arab states so that the sentiments of patriotism and nationalism among Iraqi people are not exploited by the Saddam regime. No matter how many tons of humanitarian and relief assistance is provided by the US to the people of Iraq they will continue to have negative feelings about America unless anti-Saddam forces in that country rise openly and without fear topple that cruel regime. America can facilitate the process of democracy in Iraq but if it involves itself for exploiting the resources of that country and prolongs its occupation then it will face more humiliation than Vietnam. Most important "mother of all resistance" will continue in Iraq thus shattering the myth of America's invincibility in the post-cold war era.

Dr Moonis Ahmar is a professor in the department of International Relations, University of Karachi

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