Distinguishing Between the Resistance and Terrorism

Yesterday, I wrote about meeting with Sheik Hareth al-Dhari and began explaining how Iraqis see a distinct difference between the Resistance and terrorists. Today's blog looks at that difference in more detail.

Military Allies Itself with Insurgents

The American military is beginning to understand -- and capitalize on -- the distinction between members of the Resistance and terrorists.

The Washington Post reported on June 8, that some units of American military are now working with Iraqi militiamen, also considered to be insurgents. Author Joshua Partlow wrote:

"The American soldiers in Amiriyah have allied themselves with dozens of Sunni militiamen who call themselves the Baghdad Patriots -- a group that American soldiers believe includes insurgents who have attacked them in the past -- in an attempt to drive out al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Americans have granted these gunmen the power of arrest, allowed the Iraqi army to supply them with ammunition, and fought alongside them in chaotic street battles."

Good for the American soldiers! When faced with desperate times and battle plans that seem to fail consistently, they began to understand that many insurgent groups were not terrorists, but simply resistors revolting against occupiers of their country in the same way some French citizens actively resisted the Nazi occupation of their country during WW II.

The Resistance

We often celebrate the French Resistance, praising those who had the courage to stand up against those who occupied them, even when that resistance resulted in the death of German soldiers.

It is no different for Iraqi resistors. They are against the occupation of their country by outsiders and want to reclaim the country as their own.

Sheik Jawad Al-Khalisi

I spoke about this distinction between the resistance and the insurgency with Sheik Jawad Al-Khalisi, an Iraqi whose family are overseers of the Great Khadimain Golden Mosque in Baghdad. Al-Khalisi is also secretary general of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress, a national project aimed at uniting all the forces opposed to the occupation.

Al-Khalisi said:

"What takes place against the occupation is a creation of the resistance. But what takes place against the Iraqi people is not caused by the resistance."

Jawad's point, which I have heard echoed innumerable times during this and earlier trips to the region, is that many Iraqi citizens, proud of their country and their nationality, are opposed to having their country run by non-Iraqis. They are opposed to being governed by an army of occupiers. They are not opposed to Iraqis and do not aim to harm their countrymen.

Differing Goals

But Jawad notes that with resistance may come additional elements that may not have the same goals as the resistors. He said to me:

"When there is resistance, it is very possible that other elements come in for other ends and not the end for freeing the country."

He was referring, of course, to the groups that instill terror, the groups that blow up Iraqis in a marketplace, the same groups that Americans and others fear will someday come to their homelands.

Those groups are terrorists. They are not resistors.

Resistance vs. Terrorism

Brian Michael Jenkins, a decorated Vietnam vet and author of "International Terrorism: A New Mode of Conflict," explains that terrorism is a particular sort of violence. In an article for the Christian Science Monitor, Jenkins, wrote:

"What sets terrorism apart from other violence is this: terrorism consists of acts carried out in a dramatic way to attract publicity and create an atmosphere of alarm that goes far beyond the actual victims. Indeed, the identity of the victims is often secondary or irrelevant to the terrorists who aim their violence at the people watching. This distinction between actual victims and a target audience is the hallmark of terrorism and separates it from other modes of armed conflict. Terrorism is theater." [emphasis added]

Resistance is not theater. It may perpetrate violence in the same way that our own military does, or by whatever irregular/asymmetric/guerilla means are available to it. It fights for what it believes is the good of its country.

An almost two-year-old Newsweek article further distinguishes this point - and reiterates that understanding the difference is crucial. In July 2005, Joe Cochran wrote:

"The vast majority of attacks against U.S. and Iraqi security forces are perpetrated by former members of Saddam Hussein's regime and Sunnis fearful of being politically marginalized by the Kurds and majority Shiites. Then there are the foreign Muslims coming into Iraq to wage jihad against the United States and its allies, primarily through suicide bombings."

Cochrane sees the former group as insurgents, as resistors to the occupation. The latter, he sees as terrorists.

He is also quite clear that the military did distinguish between the two groups during military press briefings inside Baghdad at that time.

One then wonders why the public often does not make the distinction. Is it because we are so focused on our own, that we only hear "terrorist"? Is it because the media seems to use all three terms interchangeably prevents us from understanding the difference among the terms?

What the Iraqis Say They Want

Asma al-Haidari

Asma al-Haidari is an Iraqi woman who now lives in Jordan. She also acts as my interpreter when I am here.

She said: "We use the word "resistance" for all resistance that is against the American Occupation. It is different than an insurgency, which is the rising of a group of people against a legal government.

She explained further that since the Iraqi people do not look at the Iraq government as a legal one since "it was brought in by the occupation and appointed by the occupation," that the resistance against the government and the occupiers cannot be called an insurgency.

She sees a vast difference between the Resistance and terrorism, saying:

"The violence that is being committed by Al Qaeda is terrorism; the violence that is being committed by all the militia is terrorism; the violence being committed by the mafias and the criminal gangs is both criminal and terrorism. All this violence is being committed against innocent civilians."

Essential Reconciliation

She is not alone in her sentiments.

As a citizen diplomat seeking to learn how America can withdraw with honor, I have listened to many Iraqi suggestions. Each of them wants to regain rule of their own country. Invariably, they say they have lived for centuries, intermingling, intermarrying, living side by side, Kurd, Sunni, Shia.

They would like to continue doing so.

But, if the borders remain open, if foreign elements who want to create jihad against the United States consistently stream in, the terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians will continue - as will our fear that these groups will eventually knock on our own doorsteps.

The Iraqi Resistance is working to get rid of the terrorists, just as it is working to regain control of its own country.

Having listened to many Iraqis about this point it seems that as Munther Haddadin (the former Minister of Water for Jordan who has hosted two meetings between members of the U.S. Congress and members of Iraq's Parliament) said, "The best ally for the U.S. for a face-saving measure is the Iraqi current resistance."

The reduction in the overall violence in Iraq against the American forces and the Iraqi people would be dramatic if we could broker an agreement between the U.S forces and the Resistance where both would target al-Qaeda and not each other.

Were the American Administration to take the simple but dramatic step of announcing there will be a scheduled withdrawal of U.S. troops -- from what I hear continuously -- such an alignment could take place.