On War #105
February 23, 2005

Opportunity Knocks

By William S. Lind

[The views expressed in this article are those of Mr. Lind, writing in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the opinions or policy positions of the Free Congress Foundation, its officers, board or employees, or those of Kettle Creek Corporation.

The February 15 Washington Post carried as a front-page story that most valuable of war reports, an in-depth look at our enemy in Iraq. It was the story of an insurgent named Abu Shaiba, who was killed on December 17 in Fallujah in a firefight with U.S. forces.

Abu Shaiba was not some kid high on Islamic fervor. He was 39 years old, a father of nine children. Why was he fighting us? Because on October 11, U.S. troops had shot and killed his 13-year old son. He came from a culture that demands revenge. Abu Shaiba sought death in Fallujah, and found it, because when he left the city to take his family to safety, other insurgents thought he had shown cowardice. His culture demanded that he die to prove he was no coward, so he did. To the degree the U.S. military regards opponents like Abu Shaiba with contempt, it makes a grave mistake.

What is most interesting about the Post piece is its suggestion that Abu Shaiba, and others like him, could be our allies instead of our enemies – providing we stop killing their children. Over and over, the Iraqis who are fighting us because we have occupied their country express their anger toward the foreign fighters who represent militant Islamic jihad.

After Abu Shaiba’s death, his brother and friends spoke of divisions within their own ranks … all of them said they had been betrayed by zealous Arab fighters from abroad … They said Abu Shaiba especially disliked them, believing they had hijacked the insurgency, transforming Fallujah into a bastion of beheadings, summary executions, kidnappings and draconian justice …

Walid agreed: “He used to call them locusts, sweeping into an area and eating everything, green or dry …”

Together, they went to get help to bury him (Abu Shaiba). On their way, they saw a dozen foreign fighters, some of whom they blamed for his death. Abu Gailan (Abu Shaiba’s brother) said he raised his gun at the fighters, mostly Syrians and Saudis, and locked a round in the chamber.

“It was revenge for me and my brother,” he said. “I intended to kill them.”

“Your sisters are prostitutes!” Salam recalled Abu Gailan shouting. “Saadi is dead! You betrayed him!” Salam and Walid restrained him…

“Fallujah became a shelter for them,” he said. “We realized this too late …”

“His fight, Abu Gailan said, was with the Americans – “the occupation,” as he put it. But at another point in the conversation, he said that if U.S. forces announced they would withdraw in a year or two, the insurgency would probably diminish.

Any G-2 worth his paycheck would hear opportunity knocking in this first-hand account of tensions between Iraqi nationalists and foreign Islamists. What if, instead of continuing to try to kill or capture anyone resisting us in Iraq, which only generates endlessly more enemies, we tried talking to some of them? What if we said to the Abu Shaibas and Abu Gailans, “We don’t want to fight you. We don’t intend to rule over you. This is your country, not ours. If you want to fight these foreign Islamists, we will stay out of your way. If you want us to, we will help you against them – with you making the decisions and giving the orders, not us. And if we have wronged any of you, by killing or injuring members of your family or destroying your property, we will pay compensation.”

What if Washington were enlightened enough to add, “The last American soldier will leave your country soon, in two years or less. Why fight us when we are leaving anyway?”

Time magazine recently reported that U.S. representatives are now talking with representatives of some of the insurgents. Thank God. Splitting our opposition and working with as much of it as we can is the only possible light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel. That will not accomplish the single remaining strategic goal in Iraq, re-creating an Iraqi state – only Iraqis can do that, if anyone can – but at least it might offer us a way out with a few of our tailfeathers intact.

A number of Marine Corps officers contacted me after my recent column on the progress of the FMFM 1-A, Fourth Generation War, asking if they could get involved in helping write it (the answer is yes, to anyone who wants to help – it is an open process). One of them, an infantry major recently back from Iraq, said, “I’m where Colonel Mike Wyly was after Vietnam. I don’t know what will work, but I know what we are doing now is not working.”

The Post’s story of the life and death of Abu Shaiba offers a way that might work. We should be fighting alongside the Abu Shaibas, not against them. A good first step would be to find Abu Shaiba’s widow and children and offer them some help, as testimony that the U.S. military honors brave opponents it would rather not have to fight.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation

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