Inside the Iraqi resistance -- 2

By P. MITCHELL PROTHERO, United Press International  |  Dec. 4, 2003 at 12:49 PM
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BAGHDAD, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- (Editor's Note: This is the second and final part of a series on meetings United Press International's Baghdad correspondent, P. Mitchell Prothero, had with a member of an anti-U.S. Iraqi guerrilla group. Part one was published Wednesday.)

The anti-U.S. Iraqi guerrillas have a loosely organized command structure that prevents any one man from knowing too many specifics about the rest of the operations, says Abu Mujahid, a cell leader for a Baghdad neighborhood. But while some coordination and support exists among the different cells, most are left to operate independently and are required to obtain many of their own weapons.

"We have to find ways to get our own money to buy weapons," he says. "The Baath Party members at the top were rich, but I don't think many of them help us fight. They don't send us money or weapons."

"I have friends and colleagues who fight with the Army of Mohammed (a cell based in the Western Iraqi city of Fallujah) and they have more money for anti-aircraft weapons and explosives. Sometimes they help us, but mostly we are left to our own," he says.

But one source of support has been foreigners from other Arab countries.

In earlier interviews, Abu Mujahid acknowledged that both Syrian intelligence and al-Qaida members were operating in Iraq against the U.S.-led coalition forces but denied he received direct assistance from them. But in later interviews, he said he received support from some people he suspects have ties with terrorist organizations.

"In my neighborhood, we have many students from Yemen, Syria and Jordan," he says. "Several of them give us money to buy weapons and conduct operations."

When asked if he thought these students were members or supporters of al-Qaida, he smiles and shrugs.

"How does a student living in Iraq get money to give to me to buy RPG-7s (an anti-tank rocket common in the region)?" he asks. "They have to get their money somewhere. The Syrian ones I think they get money from their government, but we get some money from Yemenis and Saudis. I think they must belong to al-Qaida to have such money. But I don't ask such things. I don't like Osama bin Laden and don't want to fight jihad against America. The Iraqi people just want the Americans to leave our country."

He has, however, used the money to send men to Saudi Arabia to buy equipment.

"In Iraq, we all have the AK-47 assault rifle," he says. "But we need a high-powered rifle -- like a sniper gun with a scope. We don't have hunting stores here in Iraq. Saddam never allowed the Iraqis to have hunting rifles like these because, I think, he feared being shot. So we have sent men to Saudi -- where they have hunting rifles -- to buy such weapons with scopes. These guns, we hope can break the American (body armor)."

Abu Mujahid also says Iraqi police opposes the suicide attacks on international groups and the Iraqi police should not support the Americans, but says they are needed to help protect the Iraqi people from criminals.

"I know that it is haraam (forbidden under Islam) to support the invader," he says after a moments pause. "And anyone who does support him should be killed under Islamic law. But the police protect Iraqis from Ali Baba (Baghdad slang for criminals), so they should be left alone."

In another interview, he details how he became the leader of his neighborhood cell.

"When we decided to fight the occupation, my colleagues and I elected our first leader," he explains. "And on one of our first operations we allowed al-Jazeera (the Qatari-based news network) reporters to come with us. The Americans were waiting for our attack. Six of our men and our leader were arrested because of this reporter, we think he was an informer for the Americans.

"Because I was an organizer for the operation and did not meet with the reporter, the Americans did not arrest me. So the remaining men selected me to lead the group. I know our men, of which there are about 10. And I know one leader of another cell nearby. We both report to a leader who commands five of our groups. He has a commander, who I know about but do not know his name, who commands five of those groups -- about 250 men, or 25 cells. And that commander reports to a man who commands about 10 of these groups. I think my organization has about 2,500 men. But I know there is someone above him. But I only know the names of my men and two men: the one above me and (another cell commander based nearby)."

"So if the Americans arrest me they can only get me. If they torture me, I can only tell them two names of commanders. Each of those commanders only knows a few names and none of my men or the other men in the cells."

When asked if this organization was put into place before the invasion, Abu Mujahid agrees, though he does not know for sure.

"We are told that Saddam might be at the top of the organization," he says. "I don't know if I believe that but my colleague has seen Saddam," he said. "He comes to tell my colleagues to continue to fight. But we look at him as a strong leader. But we don't want him back."

But when asked if he thinks Saddam leads the resistance, he laughs.

"I think Saddam is too busy hiding," he says. "I think that the leaders above me are former generals who want to replace Saddam when the Americans leave."

In the last interview with UPI, conducted at the height of the American campaign against the resistance, codenamed "Iron Hammer," Abu Mujahid says his men had taken serious losses at the hands of the U.S. troops in recent days, but they had also infiltrated the U.S. military translator core and hoped to free some of their arrested colleagues.

"It has been very bad," he says sighing one evening even as American airstrikes could be heard pounding targets in southwest Baghdad, the night sky illuminated by bombs and flares of the ongoing operation.

"We have lost more men to these strikes and in arrests," he says. "One of our men was waiting to ambush a U.S. Humvee, when he was arrested. He was carrying a heavy machine gun, which is forbidden."

But the man -- a guerrilla -- has a permit from the coalition to carry an AK-47 but was caught with a heavy machine gun. Abu Mujahid says his men paid an Iraqi translator $600 to replace the heavy gun with an AK-47 so their colleague can go free. Abu Mujahid expected the man to be released the next day.

But after promising another meeting and even a dinner with UPI to celebrate the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Abu Mujahid has disappeared. Neither he nor his men contacted UPI after that final meeting and their status -- whether killed or captured by the Americans, or just no longer willing to talk to reporters -- cannot be established.

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