9/11, its aftermath and the invasion of Iraq gave a
new dimension to guerrilla warfare and international terrorism. The two coalesced into a
common Ideology in the Arab and, to some extent, the Muslin world. The demarcation
line between the two is getting more blurred every day, we might infer international
So far, three major battles have been won against international guerrilla in
spite of insurgents exactions intensification in Iraq and Al Qaeda savage terrorist
acts in some parts of the world,
The Iraqi insurgency failed in the most
critical phase of guerrilla evolution: national insurrection and wider popular support.
The various armed groups were not able to regroup all fighters under a single umbrella and
agree on a common cause. At this stage, they are highly vulnerable and open to further
fragmentation and to counter-guerrilla activities: pitch one faction against the other,
infiltration of guerrilla organizations, etc.
Al Qaeda has been beheaded. Its leadership
has been dealt deadly blows and large number of its foot soldiers have been captured. It
is now without central command and the remnants of the embattled organization are on their
own, ready for the picking.
Most importantly, all nations are united in the fight against terrorism. The
free world has been efficient in the structural, financial and physical dismemberment of
Al Qaeda and is committed to relentlessly pursue international terrorists, wherever they
are, and finish the job for good but without creating more terrorists.
These successes should not conceal the real battle needing to be waged
against international guerrilla: its Ideology. The roots of this ideology that
gives an aura of legitimacy to terrorism need to be accurately delineated and eliminated.
Winning the ideological war is critical in order to dry up the reservoirs of would-be
terrorists and their supporters. The battle has barely started.
The strategy to defeat terrorists ideology should be built on a better
understanding of guerrilla warfare, its origin, its methods and its failings.
Iraqi insurgency and international terrorism brought guerrilla warfare up to
the forefront in the international arena. It is perceived as a new phenomenon that we
might have to contend with for probably years to come.
Guerrilla warfare also known as asymmetric warfare - is not peculiar
to the present day or to any part of the world; it is as old as humanity. It has always
been a feature of wars fought by every class of men and women against invaders, oppressors
and superior military forces. The earliest recorded example of guerrilla warfare is
probably in the Bible: David and Goliath or the triumph of the weak over the strong, the
oppressed over the powerful. Large-scale guerrilla fighting took place during the American
Revolution and Civil War. During World War II, Europeans forces conducted guerrilla
operations and played a major role in the defeat of Germany. Since World War II guerrilla
warfare has been employed by nationalist groups to overthrow colonialism and by dissidents
to launch civil wars. There have been dozens of such conflicts. The United States has
sponsored guerrillas, most notably anti-Castro Cuban forces, Nicaraguan contras and Afghan
The many guerrilla wars in history have their points of difference, their
peculiar characteristics, their varying processes and conclusions but they all have one
thing in common: Guerrilla warfare is essentially a political war, a people war, a war of
ideas. It is derived from the people and is supported by them; it can neither exist nor
succeed if it separates itself from their sympathies and cooperation. The goal should
therefore be simple, understandable by even the most backward and illiterate segment of
the population. The political objective must be concrete and clear and should coincide
with the aspirations of the people. Nationalism, social injustice and oppression have
always been prime motives for any insurgency movement. These causes appeal to the people
as well to the guerrilla, and bring the two closer together, insuring the insurgents the
support of the local population.
In most cases, unrelenting repression does not defeat committed insurgents.
Conventional military forces alone cannot successfully combat guerrilla operations.
Insurgents are armed civilians committed fanatically to a simple cause with minimum
logistical need. It does not take more than a handful of armed insurgents to keep the
guerrilla operational, as long as the population is supporting it.
Once the insurgency starts, in most cases by vicious and inhumane terrorist
acts (urban guerrilla), the security forces resort to strong measures to counter it,
directed against suspected terrorists... the people. The insurgents respond by further
provoking security forces into taking measures which are repressive or unpopular to the
people (curfews, roadblocks, house to house searches, identification checks, detention of
suspects, etc.). These actions swing the sympathies of the public against the security
The guerrilla then intensifies by provoking and forcing the enemy to adopt
harsher methods of retaliation such as torture, killing and destruction. No life is spared to reach that crucial phase of
the guerrilla. It is the deadliest and most despicable period of an insurgency. The
violent guerrilla aggressions and brutal security forces reactions maintain the pressure
in a spiraling vicious cycle of violence that cements the relationship between the people
and the insurgents. The guerrillas body count during this stage of an insurgency is
enormous. It reinforces the security forces belief that a military victory is the
solution because there are noticeable results. It also diverts the attention from the real
guerrilla flaws. There are many. A guerrilla movement is a very vulnerable enterprise, at
every stage of its evolution.
Recent similar examples include the dilemma the French confronted in the
Algerian war, which began in 1954 with a nationalist uprising against colonialism. The
French were confident that they could overpower the insurgents with modern weaponry and
overwhelming force. However, over the course of almost eight years and a French contingent
of a half-million troops, the French had to give up to 10,000 guerrillas in spite of a
conventional military victory.
It does not appear that the U.S. is repeating the Frenchs
miscalculation in Algeria. The U.S. has learned from its recent successes and failures and
from its past experience of guerrilla fighting.
The U.S. transferred sovereignty to Iraqi leaders. The army of occupation is
now a multinational force in Iraq, at the request of the interim government.
The Security Councils resolution of June 8, 2004 gives international endorsement to
the handover plan. This process should lead to full elections that will take place at the
end of 2005 in order that a directly elected Iraqi government takes power at the beginning
One might surmise that guerrilla would fade away and democracy should be at
the end of the process. But can a democratic regime be installed from the outside within a
short time period? Can countries under autocratic systems for so long be transformed into
democracies with such alacrity? The flaws of such
assumption are many and in a way might be a sheer illusion.
Democracy is not simply about elections. It is a political culture, one that
is diverse, multicultural, and tolerant of peoples and their ideas. It is a culture that
is not limited to tribal membership or political parties but to all elements of a
society. Democracy needs, more than anything else, a stable environment in which to
evolve. Iraqi society has been reduced to a state of chaos
and insecurity, subject to a multitude of exactions. There is no basic order in sight, a
precondition for a democratic process. Most Iraqis are absent from the process; players
out of their reach decide their faith and the country is ruled by militias, religious
chiefs, and warlords. The ballot will be democratic, the world wants it: one man, one
vote. One man, one vote means the Shiites in power (60% of the population), and Shiisme
today is an antonym to democracy. The end result might be a struggle for power; this has
been the case over and over in similar circumstances. In addition, democracy does not
defeat guerrilla, since guerrilla takes place in society lacking a civil culture.
Democratic process might follow conflict resolution it does not precede it. All-out civil war may be just around the corner.
Algeria, again, is a case in point, similar to
Iraq in many aspects: Arab and Muslim country with ethnically diverse society. After 30 years under an autocratic system and due to riots and
demonstrations for democracy and intense pressures from the international community for
reforms, the government embarked on an experiment in democratization. The process was over abruptly when the opposition party, Islamic Salvation Front (known by its
initials in French as the FIS), won by an overwhelming landslide election. The military, backed by the West, stepped in, abrogated the
Islamists victory and cracked down on the FIS in January 1992. The FIS was driven
underground, its leadership arrested, and some groups within it turned to guerrilla
tactics. The country plunged into an unparalleled political violence. More than 150,000
deaths and an economical disaster later, Algeria is still attempting to bring the crisis
to an end.
The days, weeks and months ahead are fateful, dangerous and decisive. Civil
war should be averted by all means. The failure of the democratic process would be
perceived as the defeat of the United States in Iraq. It would have immeasurable
consequences across the world. It would be the defeat of the free world and of the Arabs
and Muslims who long for peace and political pluralism and would inspire new guerrillas on
A successful outcome of the process for a stable and unified Iraq is an
essential step in order to fight the roots of international guerilla. They are many but
the mother of them all is the guerrilla Ideology. An ideology built
falsely on religion and on frustration felt by more than one billion Muslims around the
world due to lack of freedom experienced in their respective countries.
Al Qaidas gave an ideology to terrorism and took guerrilla warfare
international. Politicians, experts statements and 24/7 media coverage spread
terrorists rhetoric, semantic and propaganda Islamists, fundamentalists,
jihadists, etc. around the globe.
Traditionally, guerrillas are internal
conflicts. They are aimed at affecting changes within the boarders of a country. Guerrilla
is thought of in terms of a struggle against a national government or a colonial power. Al
Qaeda gave a new dimension to national liberation, the nation of
Islam, broader boundaries, the world. Territorial abstraction that is understood by
Muslims, concept which corresponds to the mythical Umma (Muslim Community)
where a Muslim is first a member of a larger Islamic family before being a
citizen of a specific nation. Islamic fundamentalism helped in shaping that ideology. The
discourse of Islamic fundamentalist organizations is not new and everywhere similar:
national liberation by jihad against internal corruption and oppression and occidental
imperialism (oppressors supporter), especially American but Islamic fundamentalism
is not intrinsically prone to terrorism.
its Christian and Jewish counterpart, Islamic fundamentalism seeks to restore an imagined,
ideal past. Jewish and Christian fundamentalisms have grown in democratic systems that
allow them to express their faith and exercise their rights. Islamic fundamentalism
proliferated in autocratic regimes where its rights are denied and its members are
persecuted if they do not serve the system. In most cases, Islamic fundamentalist parties
are the only organized and effective opposition to secular despotism. Their opposition is
an active resistance that often escalate into violence and terror for change directed at
regimes in their own country. Within this context, Al Qaeda and similar terrorist
organizations are neither Islamic fundamentalists nor Islamists. Their ideology is an
ideology of fanatical and ruthless terror, of sickening murders of the helpless and the
innocents, unrelated to Islam. It is international terrorism.
International terrorism is more dangerous as an Ideology wrapped in religion than as a
terrorist organization. It is more than ever able to spread its ideas and world vision to
frustrated and hopeless Muslims around the world. In addition to a long nurtured hatred
against autocratic regimes in their own land, they believe that the West launched a
crusade against Islam and, consequently, some of them adopted Al Qaedas rhetoric:
anti-Western, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic.
against international guerrilla should equally be a war of ideas, of people. A guerrilla
cannot be defeated without the support of the population thus, the real war is actually a war for liberation: to bring populations now
living under despotism and failed states into the democratic family. It is to provide
people in the Arab and Muslim world with an alternative that gives them hope, that
liberate them from despair. Oligarchies - from where
terrorists originated - have no interest in freedom for their people, no interest in
fighting terrorism as long as it does not imperil directly their interests. They have
demonstrated, again and again, throughout their history that when they are threatened,
they fought insurgencies with savagery. Like Al Qaeda, absolute monarchies and autocratic
governments use Islam to legitimize their rule.
The cesspit from which terrorists emerge resides in the failure of Arab
countries to join the free world and modernity. September 11 did not come from a
single evil criminal. If it were not Bin Laden it would have been someone else. They are
now a very small minority out of 1.3 billion Muslims. Most Muslims everywhere long for
freedom of expressions, free elections, pluralism, education and an opportunity for a
better life. They are tired of the repression, stagnation and tyranny in their own country
and now of terrorism committed in their name and the name of their religion.
The free world should truly make freedom its first priority,
bring an end to despotism in the Arab world and promote the values of
democracy as the key to life, liberty and stability. It could have the Arabs, the
Muslims and all the oppressed masses behind it.
The counter-international guerrilla strategy should be conscious that
democracy cannot be imposed or implanted from the outside but must be the choice of
emergent political leaders and average citizens; that countries and people do not often
divide neatly into good versus evil and; that the Western World is
not considered anymore as a moral model, if it ever was. The free world needs to put
unrelenting political pressure on despots it supported for so long to reform their
politics and constrain their power; and be responsive to reformers and civil society
activists and help them do what they already want to do: implement freedom of expression,
freedom of the press, freedom of associations, legalization of political parties and civic
The real struggle against international
terrorism will then begin.
August 4, 2004
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