Does the Resistance Target Civilians? According to US Intel, Not Really

by  M. Junaid Alam

The ceaseless demonization of Iraqis committed to ending foreign control of
their country is a key ideological crutch for maintaining the American
occupation. Smearing the armed resistance as a band of murderous thugs is
well understood by American war planners to be a crucial part of effective
counter-insurgency work. (1) Obviously, brutal and horrific attacks on
Iraqi civilians have been carried out by some forces claiming to be a part
of the resistance. But there is strong evidence from US government and
independent intelligence data suggesting that this phenomenon has been
wildly exaggerated and torn out of context, creating a false public
perception that serves to prop up domestic support for the occupation.
Consider the intelligence report produced on December 22, 2004, by the
prestigious Center for Strategic and International Studies, headed by
Anthony Cordesman, titled "The Developing Iraqi Insurgency: Status at
end-2004." (2) Cordesman issues a blunt critique of US government blindness
about the scope and nature of the insurgency: "[The U.S.] was slow to react
to the growth of the Iraqi insurgency in Iraq, to admit it was largely
domestic in character, and to admit it had significant popular support."
The most intriguing portion of the report, though, is a set of statistics
compiled about attacks carried out by the resistance from September 2003 to
October 2004, organized by type of target, number of attacks, and number of
people killed and wounded. The data, described as having been collected by
an "NGO coordinating committee" is organized into a table in the report. I
have culled the data specifically concerning "number of attacks/incidents"
and presented it as a chart graphic contained in the clickable link below:
One can clearly see that the number of attacks on "Coalition Forces" far
exceeds that of any other category on the list. Indeed, attacks on military
occupying forces, and by extension mostly US military forces, accounts for
75% of all attacks. Meanwhile, civilian targets comprise a mere 4.1% of
attacks. This reality is at striking odds with the general picture painted
in the press of a narcissistic, mindless and sinister insurgency simply
bent on chaos and destruction.
It should also be noted here that while the CSIS is widely recognized and
Anthony Cordesman regularly appears in the mainstream press, not a single
one of the usual liberal outlets has picked up on the report, mentioned
this statistic in particular, or discussed its political implications. This
is probably because it poses a threat to their pro-occupation line and
White Man's Burden philosophy which posits Iraqis as too helpless to save
themselves. The only publication to have examined this now more than
three-month-old document is the Marxist monthly International Socialist
Review. (3)
It is not possible to dismiss the statistics as a fluke. An April 11th New
York Times article titled "U.S. Commanders See Possible Troop Cuts in Iraq"
is accompanied by a graph representing resistance attacks by number and by
proportion for the period of March 2003 to March 2005, broken down into the
following categories: attacks on U.S. and allied forces, civilians, Iraqi
forces, and other targets. The source of the data is the Defense
Intelligence Agency. Because there is no direct link for the graph and
because the Times' online graphic is somewhat blurry, I have sharpened the
image and posted it here for reference, again as a clickable link:
Once more it is manifestly clear that attacks on civilians make up only a
small fraction of overall attacks, on a consistent basis and over a
sustained period of time. Notice also that even though the past few months
has seen a massive effort to train new Iraqi security forces to fight the
insurgency, the proportion of attacks aimed at the nascent US-trained Iraqi
forces has hardly increased, if at all. Given that the formation of these
new forces is largely composed along ethnic lines, the graph belies the
notion that there has been some kind of massive outburst of sectarian
attacks by the resistance.
Why have these developments gone largely unnoticed? One reason - or rather,
excuse - is that even though military forces are the focus of an
overwhelming majority of attacks, civilian casualties predominate. Looking
at deaths and injures in the period examined by the CSIS report, we see
that 451 "Coalition Forces" were killed and 1,002 injured, whereas 1,981
civilians were killed and 3,467 injured. The most obvious reason for this
discrepancy is that bombing a group of Iraqi civilians in a marketplace
will yield far more casualties than assaulting professionally trained
soldiers backed by sophisticated military armor.
Cynical observers would insist that the discrepancy between distribution of
attacks and casualties explains that distribution, as if there is some sort
of overarching plot by the resistance to focus attacks on the military
precisely because less resources are needed to kill civilians. Such a view
assumes, first and foremost, a central, unified command structure, and that
does not exist. It also assumes that insurgents who are motivated to carry
out careful, coordinated attacks in ways specifically designed to minimize
their chances of death would gladly blow themselves up in the suicide
attacks which have characterized the most deadly assaults on civilians: a
ridiculous proposition unless we assume the insurgents are also
Far more likely is that nationalist currents within the resistance confront
and attack US forces and other symbols of the occupation whereas fanatical,
opportunistic elements on the margins conduct spectacular, sectarian
attacks which invariably garner sensationalistic media coverage. Indeed,
Patrick Cockburn's recent April 11, 2005 report from Iraq bears out
precisely this assessment. He writes: "The split is between Islamic
fanatics, willing to kill anybody remotely connected with the government,
and Iraqi nationalists who want to concentrate on attacking the 130,000 US
troops in Iraq." Noting that "Posters threatening extreme resistance
fighters have appeared on walls in Ramadi," Cockburn quotes a Ramadi Sunni
imam as saying, "[The fanatics] have tarnished our image and used the jihad
to make personal gains." (4)
And these fanatics are generously aided in their endeavor by an American
government all too eager to characterize the entire resistance as beyond
the pale. US intelligence agents in Iraq have admitted, for instance, to
paying people off to make up stories about the fanatically anti-Shiite
sectarian Zarqawi:
"We were basically paying up to $US10,000 ($A13,700) a time to
opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition
about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just
about every attack in Iraq," one agent said.
"Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of
policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public
to latch on to, and we got one." (5)
The assessment that most resistance forces are not engaging in sectarian
and brutal attacks on civilians is further supported by a major political
event. On April 9th, a group of mostly Shiite demonstrators numbering
perhaps 300,000, according estimates cited by the LA Times, flowed into
Firdos Square where Saddam's statue was removed two years ago and
vociferously demanded an end to the American presence in Iraq. In what Juan
Cole describes as "the largest popular demonstrations in Iraq since 1958"
(6) (assuming only 150,000 demonstrated), protesters burned Bush, Blair,
and Saddam in effigy, chanting, "No, no to America! No, no to occupation!"
One demonstrator captured the popular mood succinctly, declaring: "America
is the mother of terrorism. All the explosions are happening because they
are here." (7)
Would such a massive number of Shiites have shown up to protest the
occupation if they thought that most of the Sunni-based armed resistance,
also opposed to the occupation, was trying to kill them? Indeed, a number
of Sunnis joined the demonstrations, as some Sunni imams exhorted their
followers to do so during Friday prayers. (8)

Ultimately, the combination of intelligence data, political realities onthe ground, and some basic common sense point to the fact that the resistance is not the stereotypical horde of incompetent, crazed brown barbarians so often conjured up in the Western imagination. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can end the barbarism of the war itself.

Download the report in PDF format HERE.