Iraq: June 27, 2003


Saddam Hussein, and the Baath Party he led, were quite good at playing the local and Western media. They still do. Now out of power, captured documents and prisoner interrogations make it clear that Baath had a "worst case" plan. If Baath lost power, the Sunni Arabs who comprise most of the Baath Party planned to engage in economic sabotage to increase popular unrest. Attacks on coalition troops, encouraged by cash bounties, would encourage the coalition to engage in reprisal measures that would further increase hatred for the foreigners. Baath always projected itself as the champion of Arab nationalism (despite the fact that Baath was actually a criminal conspiracy to loot Iraq's oil wealth and tyrannize most of its population.) But Baaths past propaganda efforts have worked and non-Iraqi Arab nationalists are coming to Iraq to fight. Baath is also taking advantage of the fact that Iraqis don't know how to deal with anything but a police state and tightly controlled media (which is all they've had for the past four decades.) So rumors, the more bizarre the better, spread quickly and are believed by many. The Baath party activists leading the fight use terror against Iraqis working for the coalition, and spread rumors that Baath is a lot more powerful than it actually is. So far, this is working.

How do you fight back to something like this? It's nothing new, and the approach that works is to compete with the resistance for the allegiance of the people. Remember that Baath has lots of disadvantages. For one thing, Baath is intensely unpopular in north and south Iraq, and only about 20 percent of the Iraqi population (the Sunni Arabs) are inclined to work with Baath at all. But many Sunnis don't care for Baath, as Saddam's approach was to terrorize anyone who appeared to oppose him and this included many Sunnis, as well as most of the Kurds and Shia Arabs.  But in central Iraq, especially in Baghdad, Baath is strong. Baath believes that if they can create an atmosphere of general unrest, more Iraqis will join them and they will be able to take over Iraq again. This is absurd. The Kurds and Shia comprise 80 percent of the population and have suffered much at the hands of Baath and the Sunni Arabs since the 1960s. The idea of these Iraqis flocking to Baath's banner is a non-starter. But in central Iraq, Baath has followers. These are the people who ran Saddam's police state and face grim economic prospects in a post-Saddam Iraq. They are fighting for their future, and to avoid having to pay for their past.

So the coalition is using the unpopularity of Baath to develop a network of informers. This has led to a series of raids, the arrest of hundreds of Baath activists and foreign volunteers, the seizure of weapons and explosives, millions of dollars in cash and all those Baath party documents detailing how to recover from a coalition conquest. The big battle is over the power supply. Without electricity, the coalition cannot get the mass media working and counteract the Baath rumor campaign. Without electricity, Baghdad becomes very uncomfortable in the Summer heat. 

The battle against Baath will go on until Baath runs out of activists and money. This could take a while, for Baath had over a hundreds thousand core members. Most of these were opportunists, willing to serve Baath for a price. But at its core, Baath was run by some ruthless men who killed on a large scale to sustain their power. They are still willing to kill, and terrorize Iraqis into supporting them, and are expert at playing the media. The opposition is staffed by former members of Saddam's secret police, Republican Guard and Baath party leadership. These are the men who committed uncounted atrocities against the Iraqi people for two generations. Iraq won't be at peace until these butchers are out of business.




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