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2003-10-29

"This is a Resistance Movement, Whether We Like It or Not" – Robert Fisk on Iraq

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Britain Independent’s Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk discusses the increasing resistance against the U.S. occupation in Iraq and counters the Bush administration’s claims that attacks on U.S. troops are coming from foreign fighters. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript Robert Fisk of the London Independent writes on Tuesday about the series of bombings:

"In Baghdad, the message of the past two days was simple: it told Iraqis that the Americans cannot control Iraq; more important, perhaps, it told Americans that the Americans could not control Iraq. Even more important, it told Iraqis they shouldn’t work for the Americans. It also acknowledged America’s new rules of combat: kill the enemy leaders."

Fisk continues to say:

“Some of America’s enemies may come from other Arab countries, but most of the military opposition to America’s presence comes from Iraqi Sunnis; not from Saddam "remnants" or "diehards" or "deadenders" (the Paul Bremer titles for a growing Iraqi resistance), but from men who in many cases hated Saddam. They don’t work "for" al-Qa’ida. But they have learnt their own unique version of history. Attack your enemies in the holy month of Ramadan. Learn from the war in Algeria. And the war in Afghanistan. Learn the lessons of America’s "war on terror". Kill the leadership. You’re with us or against us, collaborator or patriot. That was the message of yesterday’s bloodbath in Baghdad."

  • Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the London Independent. Speaking from Beirut.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk joins us on the phone right now. Middle East correspondent for the London independent. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Robert.

ROBERT FISK: Hello, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, the killings in Iraq continue. We hear about one side. We hear about the continual killings of U.S. service men and women. We hear about the bombings of the Red Cross, the bombings of the police stations in Baghdad and Fallujah. You’ve spent a lot of time in Iraq. Can you explain?

ROBERT FISK: Well, I think, you know, part of the explanation needs to include a kind of a cultural comment. We were just listening to your reading of the news where we were hearing you quoting American statesmen as saying that— talking about the number of foreign fighters in Iraq. Well, I can tell you there are at least 200,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and 146,000 of them are wearing American uniform. You know, Americans in Iraq did not grow up in Tikrit eating dates for breakfast. The largest number of foreign fighters in Iraq, a thousand times over anything Al Qaeda can do, are western soldiers. And we need to realize that we’re maintaining an occupation there.

Are there foreign Arab fighters, which is really what your question is about. I think there are probably a few, though we don’t know how many and we don’t know how many of them actually entered Iraq. Not as friends of Al Qaeda, but in heeding the call of Saddam Hussein to defend Iraq before the American invasion. But, you know, at the end of the day, this is what we call a canard. It’s a game. It’s a lie. The resistance to the American presence, and these ferocious, brutal, cruel attacks on Iraqis themselves are being carried out largely by Iraqis. The Americans claimed, after the bombings, oh, they managed to get one of the suicide bombers who didn’t kill himself and he had a Syrian passport. I noticed we’ve not been given his passport number or his nationality, date of birth or, indeed, his name. Well, he may be real. He may be real.

But the vast majority of the, quote, resistance, unquote, are Iraqis and my own investigations, particularly around the city of Fallujah, which is where so many Americans have been killed, American servicemen, is that these people were originally Iraqis with a growing interest in the politics of Islam, who, under Saddam Hussein, were permitted, because Saddam knew when to let the top off the kettle and let it not boil over. Were permitted to form an organization called the committee, or the organization, of the faithful. They weren’t pro-Saddam; in many cases they, like the people of Fallujah, were arrested and very cruelly treated by Saddam’s henchmen. But they were allowed to form individual groups who could discuss religion, providing they didn’t talk about politics.

When the regime fell, when the Americans entered Baghdad on the ninth of April this year, these groups became the only focused resistance against American rule. And they did decide, individually and then in coordination, that they would become the Iraqi resistance. I wrote about this actually on April 9. But, these people did begin to believe that they could be the new nationalists, aided, of course, with the weapons of Saddam, the former henchmen of Saddam, and, to some considerable extent, by a population which felt that the American occupiers were behaving brutally.

One man, a tribal leader around Fallujah, whose village I went to and, indeed, I had lunch with him a few weeks ago said to me, you know, originally when the Americans came here, we shouted our greetings to them. But when we staged a protest against their presence, they shot 14 of us dead. There were indeed 14 Iraqis shot dead in Fallujah. After that, he said, it became a question of tribal honor. We had to take our revenge against the Americans, and as they shot back, it became a question of resistance. So, what you found is that the way in which the Americans behave, the way in which the Iraqis behaved, plus this cellular system of groups of the faithful, which were permitted to exist under Saddam, though not with much enthusiasm from the previous regime, turned a war of resistance— or, rather, turned a war of revenge into a war of resistance. And the people who are killing Americans, at the moment, and killing fellow Iraqis, are largely Iraqis. Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Bush can go on talking till cows come home about foreign fighters. These are not, for the most part, people who were born outside Iraq, which most Americans were. They are people who are called Iraqis. This is a resistance movement, whether we like it or not.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Fisk, you described your experience simply at Baghdad Airport, who was there, the rocket attacks that were coming in as you were trying to leave, what the soldiers there were saying, what the perimeter is there.

ROBERT FISK: Yeah. Well, it was —- As I said in the piece which you quote, a crazy mixture of Walt Disney and Vietnam—- you know? They didn’t even have any— the only international flyer or airline operating out of Baghdad Airport, we can’t call it Saddam Airport anymore, and who would want to, is Royal Jordanian, which is a comparatively small Middle Eastern airline company. Heaven knows who insures them for this trip.

But they —- When I was flying out, they had a flight on the ground. There were supposed to be two planes of Royal Jordanian, one of which was a small executive jet, the other which was to be an Airbus and they kept changing the times, there were no seat numbers, etc. But as I was waiting hour after hour for the planes to take off, mortars started landing at the airport. Five in all. And I was actually chatting to a group of special forces, Americans, with their black webbing with lots and lots of radios and telephones and weapons. And they were actually—- as special forces tend to-being quite appreciative of their enemy. They were saying: Not bad. They’re getting better. They’re getting better. In other words, they were aiming their mortars to land closer to the actual runway of the airport. Each mortar landing would be succeeded by a large kind of smoke ring that would go up in the sky about 20, 30 feet wide. And then an Apache helicopter took off to try and rocket the attackers.

One of the special forces men said to me that they previously had a five-mile-wide radius around the airport, a security screen, in which they had— the Americans had successfully occupied, totally, a five-mile radius. But because of attacks, this had been reduced to a two-mile radius. The Americans in Baghdad, and all along the main highways to the south and north are cutting back the vegetation. Palm trees, olive trees, orange trees, the farmers and sometimes on government land. This is what the Israelis did to prevent attacks in southern Lebanon in the early 1980’s, here where I’m speaking to you from now, and the purpose, of course, is to make sure that attackers have no cover of vegetation. But, of course, this in itself has caused much anger among Iraqis who live off the olive trees and orange trees and so on.

In any event, the five-mile radius around the airport has now been reduced to two miles and with the maximum range of a ground-to-air handheld missile now being estimated at 8,000 feet. That, in the words of one of the special forces men, put any flier out of the airport on the edge— in other words, any plane going out is now have at risk of being hit by a ground-to-air shoulder-fired missile because of too-little radius of security around the airport to prevent anyone firing at an aircraft and hitting it.

We did eventually take off, and instead of making a gradual ascent to cruising altitude, the Airbus did this howling, air-biting G-forces turn up and up, a spiral like going up the side of a corkscrew, which you might open a wine bottle with, where the airport kept appearing through the right porthole, and the left porthole, and then upside down and so on. And as I said at the end, you know, when we leveled off at 35,000 feet and the stewardess came around and said, would you like a juice or a red wine, I said, Rita— guess which one I chose.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Robert Fisk. He is the correspondent for The Independent newspaper, has spend much time during the occupation and the invasion in Iraq. He is speaking to us from Beirut and we want to ask, Robert, if you can stay with us.


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