Sunni Resistance

Sunni Resistance

By the time of Hussein’s conviction and execution, the Iraqi insurgency was bordering on civil war. It had its origins in the makeup of Iraqi society and its history, which the CPA seemed to be either ignorant of or willfully ignoring. At any rate, the insurgency began almost from the fall of Baghdad. Not only were there the expected Baathist cells, but also non-Baathist and even anti-Baathist Sunnis who, as members of the oligarchy that had ruled Iraq, with intermittent exceptions, since the days of the Abbasids, opposed the CPA and even the Governing Council and who sought to retain their hold on Iraq’s authority.

As Hashim has noted, these Sunnis sought to hold on to their identity as leaders of Iraq, a goal the Bush administration misunderstood. Nevertheless, the majority of Sunnis who ultimately joined the insurgency were not initially opposed to the coalition forces, since they did not know at the time how long the forces would remain in Iraq.

A case in point is the Dulaimi tribe, some of whose members more than 10 years earlier had tried to oust Hussein and who were now involved in the fi ghting against the coalition. Their experience symbolized part of what went awry for the CPA’s reconstruction plans. During the Baathist regime, the Dulaimi and other Sunni Arabs had worked within the government, later opposing it on political grounds. They assumed that when the regime fell, they would fi ll the power vacuum.

However, it was the CPA that fi lled that vacuum, until such time that a new Iraqi government could be put in place. And any new government, if it was to be truly democratic or at least have the appearance of being such, would naturally refl ect the makeup of Iraqi society, the majority being Shii. Thus, a Sunni motive for the insurgency was a barely disguised power play.

Another problem the war planners failed to anticipate and with which the CPA and every subsequent Iraqi government had to deal was the tribal reactions to the sudden loss of government subsidies. Tribal identity, revived and strengthened in the previous decade by such largesse, was also an impediment to a peaceful governmental transition once the bribes stopped coming. Many youthful members of the tribes, whether urban or not, drifted into the insurgency.

With civil authority in the hands of the CPA and to a far lesser extent the Governing Council, religious leaders, both Sunni and Shii, had more infl uence than they had enjoyed under Hussein, as both government authorities recognized that the majority Shiis would not return to their quiescent past in Iraq. Many called for a renewed unity between Sunni and Shia. Some issued warnings that the occupation of Iraq ought to be short otherwise hostilities might erupt; others preached war against the coalition forces from the outset. All of this went unheeded by the CPA and the military.

The fl ashpoint for the insurgency was not the looting and arson in Baghdad but an occurrence in the city of Fallujah in Anbar Province. (The area west of Baghdad that included the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, the provincial capital, came to be known as the “Sunni Triangle.”) The U.S. government and some media outlets painted Fallujah as a hotbed of Hussein loyalists, but as Hashim points out, “in the early days of the occupation many leading residents of Fallujah rejected the clandestine call of the deposed Iraqi leader to ‘escalate jihad against the occupation forces’ ” (Hashim 2006, 24).

However, when U.S. troops arrived and occupied some of the municipal buildings and schools in the city center, the residents began demonstrating. The turning point came when a demonstration on April 28, 2003, in front of one of the schools turned violent, resulting in the deaths of 15 people and the wounding of another 65 (other sources give higher fi gures). Another demonstration soon after that one resulted in the deaths of three more civilians and the wounding of 17 U.S. soldiers.

From May 2003 onward, insurgents in Fallujah stepped up attacks against U.S. forces so that “by the end of summer, the people in Fallujah were openly boasting that they were in outright rebellion against the occupation” (Allawi 2007, 169). The coalition forces, but primarily the United States, now found themselves involved in a situation that they had not prepared for in advance. The insurgency soon spread to cities and towns north of Fallujah on the Euphrates River, including burning down the occupied municipal buildings in Hit and drive-by shootings aimed at U.S. troops in Ramadi.

More and more Sunni imams began to preach jihad against the coalition and not just in the so-called Sunni Triangle. However, during that fi rst summer of the war, central Iraq was the focus of the insurgency, though American and British politicians, the military, and even the CPA were all in denial of the actual situation as it deteriorated in Iraq.

By August 2003, it had become impossible to maintain such a stance, as two bombings in Baghdad not only caught the world’s attention but the second one raised the specter of al-Qaeda inside Iraq where previously there had been none.

The fi rst, on August 7, was a car bomb that killed 18 people at the Jordanian embassy; Jordan had granted asylum to two of Hussein’s daughters. The second attack, on August 19, was by a suicide bomber who drove a truck into the Canal Hotel, site of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. Among the 22 people killed in the attack was the esteemed diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the UN special representative of Secretary General Kofi Annan whose task was to help form the interim Governing Council.

Vieira de Mello had been in Baghdad since June 2. For the time being, the United Nations remained in Iraq despite the tragedy, but a second bombing in the hotel’s parking lot (on September 22) convinced the secretary general to evacuate all but a few staff members from the country.

Ali Allawi’s reasoning for insurgents’ targeting the United Nations was that “attacking it would drive home the insecurity and violence in the country” (Allawi 2007, 171). A main goal was to discredit the U.S. reconstruction efforts, which made workers, especially foreign reconstruction workers, important targets for the insurgents. Other targets included water mains, oil pipelines, NGOs, and Iraqis who were working with the coalition (Hashim 2006, 34).

Since the coalition forces had demobilized the Iraqi army—which had been one of the reasons for discontent in Fallujah where a good proportion of the young men had been in the military—many of those with military experience soon gravitated to the insurgency, bringing their expertise with them. The overall effect was that the insurgency not only expanded but took on a more disciplined aspect, and by the end of the year, even the CIA had come to the realization that the insurgency was daily gaining support among the general population (Hashim 2006, 34).