Terrorism turns into resistance

Observations on Iraq

I think of Saadq, my friend and driver in Iraq, as a weathervane. He is the sort of person for whom Tony Blair invaded Iraq. After 24 members of his family, all Shias, had been executed by the Ba'ath regime, Saadq and some of his brothers arrived in Britain as refugees. They set up Le Chef, a restaurant off the Edgware Road in London, and it was there I first met Saadq before he returned to his "liberated" country.

A couple of months ago, as we sat eating roasted carp in a breezy restaurant by the Tigris in Baghdad, Saadq and his friends berated me when I referred to the anti-coalition forces as the muqawama, meaning "resistance". I should call them irhab, meaning "terrorists".

Now Saadq, who met me on the Kuwaiti border when I returned to Iraq a few days ago, tells me of how he watched a US tank, caught in a traffic jam, simply drive over and destroy a parked car and a street stall. This was in Sadr City in Baghdad, where US troops have genuine reason to fear being trapped, but Iraqis such as Saadq, who have experienced real danger themselves, are unimpressed by soldiers who get so panicked. Saadq still doesn't support the uprising led by the young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, but many of his friends have joined al-Sadr's Mahdi army. Saadq may eventually be persuaded to do so if the Americans fail to withdraw. "You have to realise," he told me, "that we are as stubborn as the strongest animal."

Iraq is nowhere near a civil war. But the US looks to be involved not in state-building, but in a slow and unwitting process of state destruction. On its own terms, the US strategy of crushing insurgency must be right - occupation cannot proceed by half-measures - but the execution has been poor. US troops are too worried about their own safety to fight effectively in cities, and so they kill civilians with heavy weapons such as artillery and 500lb bombs. More important, the US has not understood the need for political disen-gagement. Most Iraqis probably wanted the US to oust Saddam Hussein. But they certainly didn't want an occupation.

I once asked Brigadier Nick Carter, the just-departed British army commander in Basra, if the UN could have done a better job of Iraq's reconstruction. He looked at me as if I had asked a stupid question. The UN, he said, was "absolutely tried and tested, full of administrators who have significant capacity", while the Coalition Provisional Authority "has had to be stood up from nowhere".

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