March 31, 2003

Taxi Suicide Attacker Hagiography Is

Taxi Suicide Attacker Hagiography

Is it just me or does Robert Fisk employ an almost breathless tone in his story on the suicide attack on U.S. troops?

"Sergeant Ali Jaffar Moussa Hamadi al-Nomani was the first Iraqi combatant known to stage a suicide attack. Not even during the uprising against British rule did an Iraqi kill himself to destroy his enemies. Nomani was also a Shia Muslim – a member of the same sect the Americans faithfully believed to be their secret ally in their invasion of Iraq. Even the Iraqi government initially wondered how to deal with his extraordinary action, caught between its desire to dissociate themselves from an event that might remind the world of Osama bin Laden and its determination to threaten the Americans with more such attacks."

"The details of the 50-year-old sergeant's life are few but intriguing. He was a soldier in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and volunteered to fight in the 1991 Gulf War, called the "Mother of All Battles" by President Saddam Hussein, who believes he was the victor. Then, though he was overage for further fighting, Nomani volunteered to fight the Anglo-American invasion. And so it was, without telling his commander and in his own car, he drove into the US Marine checkpoint outside Najaf."

Fisk's offensive tone aside, I think we should all be careful about labelling this attack as a terrorist operation as it was directed at combatant soldiers. One of the better definitions of terrorism I've seen is from Paul Pillar, a former deputy chief of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, who argues that there are four key constitutive elements of terrorism:

a) It is premeditated—planned in advance, rather than an impulsive act of rage.
b) It is political—not criminal, like the violence that groups such as the mafia use to get money, but designed to change the existing political order.
c) It is aimed at civilians—not at military targets or combat-ready troops.
d) It is carried out by subnational groups—not by the army of a country.

It appears that the attack fails parts "c" and "d" of the definition--so would better fit under the heading of guerilla tactics (if reprehensible ones). All this said, Fisk's article appears just shy of a hagiography of the perpetrator of the attack--and to describe the Iraqi government as, even briefly, desirous of "disassociating" from this act is a laughable contention given that the Iraqis actively publicize that they have thousands of such martyrs ready to attack allied troops.

The problem with all this, as with so many other aspects of this young war, is that now U.S. soldiers look set to encircle cities like Najaf while barely allowing vehicular traffic out. It makes the gaining "hearts and minds" aspect of this conflict much harder when residents of entire cities can't move around much. And, unfortunately, the Iraqis realize this and will continue using tactics that will provoke various responses by coalition forces that will doubless anger and frustrate many locals. I still believe, however, in cautiously optimistic fashion, that as we slowly take apart Saddam's Fedayeen, as the Shi'a in the south see that this is not a replay of '91, ie. that the U.S. is in it for keeps, and as humanitarian aid starts to get distributed in a more widespread and efficient manner-- more goodwill towards coalition forces will be earned from Iraqis. But there appears to be a lot of hard and messy slogging in the days ahead--particularly as U.S. forces aren't yet in predominately Sunni areas.

Posted by Gregory at March 31, 2003 02:59 PM
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