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Iraq: With Hussein In Custody, Questions Persist About Who's Behind Insurgency

  • Valentinas Mite

The 13 December capture of deposed President Saddam Hussein does not seem to have resulted in any meaningful cessation of attacks against U.S. troops. The U.S. military says some prominent members of the former government still at large might be organizing the attacks. Forty-two suspects on the U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis have been captured or killed, but 13 remain at large. However, analysts doubt that former officials have enough authority or influence to lead a guerrilla war.

Prague, 18 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The 13 December capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appears to have done little to stop attacks against coalition troops in the country.

Last night, one U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded in an attack by insurgents in Baghdad. Muhammad al-Hakim, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, also was killed yesterday while leaving his home in Baghdad. He was a cousin of Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

On 15 December, two suicide car bombs killed at least nine people at police stations, while U.S. troops killed 11 Iraqi guerrillas who tried to ambush their forces in a town north of the capital, Baghdad.

Neither coalition forces nor analysts know for certain who is organizing these attacks. Former Iraqi officials, who were thrown out of power together with Hussein last April, would seem to be among the most probable suspects.

However, only 13 of the original U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis remain at large. U.S. troops are conducting ongoing raids in an effort to capture them all.

The U.S. military often says that Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, his son, Ahmad, and Hani Abd al-Latif Tilfah might be the main organizers behind the resistance. Al-Douri and Tilfah had senior roles in Hussein's security apparatus. Al-Douri was vice chairman of Hussein's Revolutionary Command Council. Tilfah was director of Hussein's main internal security agency.

David Newton, director of RFE/RL's Iraq Service, says it is difficult for him to imagine that al-Douri, who is reportedly an ill man, is able to play a major role in the resistance. Newton says al-Douri was never that influential in the first place.

"It's hard to believe. I mean, he was always known in Iraq as the nonentity, the weak number two [in the Iraqi leadership] that a dictator like Hussein would like. He certainly did carry out some tasks, but when the tasks got too hard, Hussein usually turned to someone else who was more brutal, more ruthless, and tougher," Newton said.

Newton says it is more likely that Tilfah might be organizing the attacks. He was much closer to Hussein, and Newton says his family held an influential position in Hussein's Iraq.

"He's close to Saddam. Saddam's uncle was his stepfather. Khairullah Tilfah was, you know, a significant figure. He was mayor of Baghdad. He eventually faded away because he was exceptionally corrupt. But, of course, he was Saddam's uncle and the man who brought him up. So anyone related to Khairullah Tilfah would be close to Saddam," Newton said.

Some analysts suggest the guerrilla war in Iraq is becoming a much broader movement and cannot be limited to Hussein's inner circle.

Yahia Said from the London School of Economics and Political Science says the eventual capture of the remaining 13 former officials might reduce the violence -- but it will not stop it.

He says he thinks there are many different "strands" involved in the guerilla war. "Admittedly, the most significant one are the remnants of the Ba'ath Party," he says. "But it could quite as well be managed by much less-ranking, lower-ranking officials in the party and in the military. And so catching the high-ranking people will not be sufficient to quell the violence."

Said says those behind the insurgency likely include not only former Ba'athists but also those who believe they are fighting for Islam, tribesmen offended by the occupation, as well as ordinary criminals.

Larbi Sadiki from the University of Exeter in Britain argues that the Iraqi resistance does not need Hussein or any other figures from the former regime.

"The resistance really does not need Saddam Hussein for its basic continuity. The mobilization and organization of the resistance is probably, in so many ways, a spontaneous, amorphous, shapeless movement in response, you know, to the Anglo-American invasion. I don't think we should ever be surprised at that. People anywhere in the world, if they're invaded, will react in some form or another," Sadiki said.

Sadiki says the 13 former officials still at large are not significant figures because they represent the "dead ideology of Ba'athism." Sadiki says former Iraqi officials "have no ideology to lead the resistance."

Said agrees that Hussein turned the Ba'athist ideology into a servant of his repressive regime. However, he says original Ba'athist ideas of pan-Arabism could be reconstituted to appeal to the many people disgruntled with the U.S.-led occupation.

"I think you could find some people mobilizing around some of these ideas," he says. "I think there will always be in Iraq or in any other Arab country a nationalist party, a pan-Arab nationalist party. How large or how small or how influential is a different matter."