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Defining the resistance in Iraq - it's not foreign and it's well prepared

UN weapons inspector saw 'blueprints' for Monday's insurgency

By Scott Ritter / November 10, 2003


In the Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib is a compound on an abandoned airstrip that once belonged to a state organization known as M-21, or the Special Operations Directorate of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. As a UN weapons inspector, I inspected this facility in June of 1996. We were looking for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). While I found no evidence of WMD, I did find an organization that specialized in the construction and employment of "improvised explosive devices" - the same IEDs that are now killing Americans daily in Iraq.

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When we entered the compound, three Iraqis tried to escape over a wall with documents, but they were caught and surrendered the papers. Like reams of other documents stacked inside the buildings, these papers dealt with IEDs. I held in my hands a photocopied primer on how to conduct a roadside ambush using IEDs, and others on how to construct IEDs from conventional high explosives and military munitions. The sophisticated plans - albeit with crude drawings - showed how to take out a convoy by disguising an IED and when and where to detonate it for maximum damage.

Because WMD was what we were charged with looking for, we weren't allowed to take notes on this kind of activity. But, when we returned to our cars, we carefully reconstructed everything we saw.

What I saw - and passed on to US intelligence agencies - were what might be called the blueprints of the postwar insurgency that the US now faces in Iraq. And they implied two important facts that US authorities must understand:

• The tools and tactics killing Americans today in Iraq are those of the former regime, not imported from abroad.

• The anti-US resistance in Iraq today is Iraqi in nature, and more broadly based and deeply rooted than acknowledged.

* * *

IEDs are a terrifying phenomenon to the American soldiers patrolling Iraq. The IED has transformed combat into an anonymous ambush, a nerve-racking game of highway roulette that has every American who enters a vehicle in Iraq today (whether it be the venerable, and increasingly vulnerable, Humvee, or an armored behemoth like the M-1 Abrams tank) wondering if this ride will be their last.

Far from representing the tactics of desperate foreign terrorists, IED attacks in Iraq can be traced to the very organizations most loyal to Saddam Hussein. M-21 wasn't the only unit trained in IEDs. During an inspection of the Iraqi Intelligence Service's training academy in Baghdad in April 1997, I saw classrooms for training all Iraqi covert agents in the black art of making and using IEDs. My notes recall tables piled with mockups of mines and grenades disguised in dolls, stuffed animals, and food containers - and classrooms for training in making car bombs and recruiting proxy agents for using explosives.

That same month, I inspected another facility, located near the wealthy Al Mansur district of Baghdad, that housed a combined unit of Hussein's personal security force and the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The mission of this unit was to track the movement and activities of every Iraqi residing in that neighborhood straddling the highway that links the presidential palace with Saddam International Airport.