Who is the enemy?

Who exactly the United States is fighting in Iraq and why it matters.

Jason Stahl

Several interesting reports came out this week regarding the nature of exactly who the United States is currently fighting in Iraq. We learned first that CIA director Michael Hayden classified the “main sources of violence in this order: the insurgency, sectarian strife, criminality, general anarchy and, lastly, al-Qaida.” In the first of these two groups, the Mahdi Army (a homegrown Shiite Muslim group, which is seeking to end the U.S. occupation and cleanse Iraq of rival Sunni Muslims) is, according to another report, “Enemy No. 1” and the primary source of “brazen attacks” against U.S. troops.

As for foreign fighters, they are active in Iraq, but make up a small portion of what is largely a homegrown insurgency. According to a recent Los Angeles Times report, only “an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters cross into Iraq each month.” Not an insignificant number, but still small compared to the overall size of those committing violence. The same report also details that “about 45 percent of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; 15 percent are from Syria and Lebanon; and 10 percent are from North Africa” and that “nearly half of the 135 foreigners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis.” Fully 50 percent of these Saudis come to Iraq to commit suicide bombings.

Why do I present such a lengthy recitation of these facts? Many would argue that the makeup of the violence in Iraq does not matter – all that matters is that violence is occurring. I would argue, however, that the makeup of the violence does matter in the context of two debates now occurring: whether the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq and whether the “War on Terror” should be widened to a third front in Iran.

Those who want the United States to stay in Iraq indefinitely and those who want to widen the war into Iran (usually the same people) clearly understand this, which is why they constantly are trying to obscure the nature of the violence in Iraq. Foremost among this crew of charlatans is President George W. Bush who (along with members of his administration) runs around telling the American public that the United States is primarily fighting al-Qaida, or, as Bush put it in a recent press conference, “the same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th.” This is an absurd statement for multiple reasons: It ignores the true nature of the violence (as I just described), it implies that Iraq attacked the U.S. on 9-11 (it didn’t) and it implies that al-Qaida was in Iraq before the U.S. invasion (it wasn’t). Nevertheless, it is used by war supporters to try and trump up support for staying in Iraq permanently.

But even more disturbing is those who are misleading about the nature of the foreign fighters in Iraq in order to widen the war into Iran (apparently one quagmire isn’t enough). Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) is the leader of this group who is doing all they can to squeeze one final war out of the Bush crew by implying massive Iranian involvement in Iraq – evidence be damned. Recently Lieberman said, “I think we have to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq.”

Simply put, in order to stop a widening of the war and in order to extract ourselves from Iraq, we must insist that Lieberman, Bush and all their allies stop misleading about the nature of the violence in Iraq. Such misleading got us into this mess and we can’t let it dig us deeper into it.

Jason Stahl welcomes comments at [email protected]