Journalist spends time with Iraqi insurgents

(Lateline ABC TV 1 July 2004)


TONY JONES: And returning to our top story - Saddam Hussein's court appearance and the impact that might have on Iraqis.

The new Government clearly hopes the images of a shackled and broken dictator will inspire trust in their ability to rule the country.

But what effect will this have on a resistance movement that's increasingly aligned.

Not to Saddam Hussein, but to the ideology of Osama bin Laden?

Joining us now is a man who's had, you could say, the unique opportunity to get inside the insurgency and find out what makes its fighters tick.

He's Time magazine's Michael Ware.

As you'll quickly find out, he's a former Brisbane boy who's recently spent a lot more time in Fallujah.

TONY JONES: Thanks for joining us.


TONY JONES: Let's begin, if we can, by asking whether you think the highly symbolic images of Saddam Hussein facing a court will have any impact on those who are fighting the insurgency?

MICHAEL WARE: Look, to the insurgency, the supposed June 30 transition to Iraqi sovereignty, and this trial of Saddam Hussein, mean absolutely nothing.

I mean, this whole Saddam circus the theatre of Saddam is irrelevant to the real dynamic at play now in the war here in Iraq.

Even to the Iraqi people.

As you well point out, it's only a symbolic value.

Saddam no longer impacts on their lives nor the political or military dynamic that's taking place here.
The Iraqis themselves, I don't think they care a great deal, certainly not those in the street and those in positions of power who are talking to me.

The trial is more for us, or more pointedly for the Bush administration.

As far as they're concerned, it's a done deal, as a senior, very senior member of the Iraqi intelligence service said to me yesterday, "His fate is sealed, let's just put him against a wall and put a bullet in his head. Then we televise it".

That's the attitude of most Iraqis too, let's just get on with it and go.

But to the insurgency, equally, it means nothing.

I was with a group of Iraqi Nationalist guerrillas, former military officers fighting the coalition last year when Saddam was captured.

I was with them, I saw the impact of the capture as it washed over them, there was a mixed bag of reactions, but to every man they said, "This is a body blow, this hurts but it's emotional. This is not what we're fighting for, we're fighting for Iraq, not for this man."

Now these same men are fighting for global jihad, Saddam has nothing to do with that.

TONY JONES: How did that transformation in these people take place.

Because you tell an extraordinary story of old Baathists who have completely changed their entire outlook and their ways of life?

MICHAEL WARE: Absolutely.

I've been tracking the insurgency for over a year now.

I've been joining their groups, visiting then in their safe houses, their villages, I've been travelling with them, I've seen their weapons caches, I've been trying to keep as close tabs as possible over the last 12 months.

I've seen the shift.

Men I know, professional military officers from the Republican Guards, the secret police, these men are in the military for a career.

They fought for their nation.

Two years ago they were out drinking and whoring under the regime, a year ago they're out defending their homes.

Now, they're talking about how they want an Islamic state for Iraq.

They didn't dream of that six months ago.
Sharia law, they want a pan-Islamic Khilafati, they now adhere to the extremist teachings in Saudi Arabia, they didn't care about anything beyond their borders before now.

TONY JONES: What has happened is this change has occurred, particularly in the last six months.

MICHAEL WARE: We used to have a two track war, a terrorist war with terrorists such as Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the suicide bombings, the assassinations the symbolic political strikes, but the daily drip feed of attacks were the guerrillas fighting for Iraq, when Saddam was captured in the time that evolved, the coffers of the Baath started to dry up the squeeze was on.

So they turned elsewhere, what did they find?

Terrorist money - with that comes ideological baggage, new membership, a change in tactics and ideology.

TONY JONES: How did that transformation take place - were they literally converted by Imams, or foreign fighters who came with that ideology deeply embedded in themselves?

MICHAEL WARE: The veins through which the rhythm of the insurgency now courses here in Iraq, certainly in the Sunni heartland, the true dark centre of the resistance, that courses through the mosques, the Imams are the key to this, the ones who are making and breaking it.

In the west, where this insurgency is based in the Sunni heartland where Saddam's military institutional knowledge resides, these are skilled men - in these place they've always been conservative in their religion, Saddam knew this - kept a lid on it.

When Saddam left the lid came off and with the introduction of the zealousness of the Jihadis, these men's minds were fertile to it.

Some of them I now know, former Saddam Fedayeen - just bloodthirsty psychotic killers.

These men danced a tune of jihad only to court the money and they admit that to me and they suspect the terrorists know this, so they're not well favoured.

The independent groups are being forced to shake downs and crime to fund their ongoing fight.

But those who have adopted the mentality and even more, those who have soaked it up, I've been with these guys, I've been in a safe house outside Fallujah.

I'm now growing a beard like I had in Afghanistan, I didn't need this before.

In their house there was no pictures on the windows, no TV, no air conditioning, this is all Haram.

I had to pinch myself to remind me I wasn't back with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

For these men, they have taken it on wholesale.

TONY JONES: How does the man the Americans now describe as their number one enemy in Iraq, the Jordanian terrorist, al Zarqawi, how does he fit into this picture?

And is he a direct conduit to the ideology and indeed the orders of Osama bin Laden?

MICHAEL WARE: The roles Zarqawi is playing is still difficult to fathom.

But I've been in contact with part of the Iraqi faith of his network, and through them, I've gleaned what I can about how he works.

In Iraq, there's no one commander in chief.

It's not Zarqawi, there's no Iraqi who fits into that.

Essentially at the moment, they have what they call the Mujaheddin Shura.

This is the top emirs or princes, who come together to swap ideas, intelligence, men, munitions.

The Arabs, as they call them, the foreign Jihadis, including Zarqawi, are a part of that.

They are able to influence and prod and suggest and finance and help coordinate.

It's like Zarqawi is some svengali, whispering in their ear, shifting and changing and guiding them, all the time this being grafted to the new financing that's coming in.

He's not the only one but he's certainly the most significant.

And he's become an inspirational figure.

His role there as the pin-up boy of global jihad, as he is now, transcends what immediate power he has, much like Osama bin Laden beforehand.

Osama, after September 11, he must have known he would not be able to exercise command and control any more.

He is in hiding, he doesn't direct Al Qaeda any more, if it indeed exists as we once knew it.

Now, we see franchised Al Qaeda, the McDonald's brand of Al Qaeda, lots of different groups popping up, inspired by Osama's example.

Osama opened the Pandora's box of jihad.

Zarqawi, thanks to the Americans giving him the platform, has peeled that box open.

Now we have the jihad that we say we came here to prevent.

TONY JONES: What's the point behind the kidnappings, the ransom demands which are never obviously held.

Or in some cases they may be but mostly they're not.

And the decapitations of people - is that simply a propaganda tool to terrify Westerners?

MICHAEL WARE: There's actually more to it than that.

And this has become somewhat of a personal issue for me of late.

On Saturday night, I was actually given a hostage tape by part of Zarqawi's network.

In this, there was a Pakistani driver and he was to be beheaded three days from the receipt of this tape.

It dragged me in and made me a participant, so I have a deep interest in this.

I've spoke to some of the men who've been involved in these hostage takings.

I've spoken to someone who was present when the Italian male was executed.

I've spoken to someone who was involved with the execution of Nicholas Berg.

I've been with the people who held a Turk and Egyptian of late and now I've been in contact with the men who are holding the Pakistani driver.

It's twofold.

One, sure, it terrifies us.

No one wants to move.

The Westerners, the foreigners, in Baghdad are in lockdown.

No one dares venture out.

It's very, very difficult.

It also terrifies contract workers, like the Pakistanis, however, there's a broader purpose here.

It's purpose.

The jihad money market, the global jihad milieu now - it's like a free market.

The money ebbs and flows, it follows trends, it follows personalities.

Some time ago, Chechnya was hot, then Afghanistan was hot.

That's where you put your money to bless it.

That's where you send your fighters.

Now, Iraq is the hottest of hot, and Zarqawi is here.

He's making his mark.

The guts of the message was to that market.

Not only did he behead people, he had the audacity to tape it and then air it branding it as his own.

That's saying, "I am here, I am the true performer," as Al Qaeda recently recognised in the latest issue of one of their training manuals.

For the first time in a long time, they applauded him.

He's saying, "I'm the one."

It's forced Al Qaeda to re-embrace him.

It's extraordinary successful.

TONY JONES: Michael, why are they letting you get behind this curtain?

Is there a message they are wanting you to get out through Time magazine to the rest of the world?

MICHAEL WARE: Clearly, these men, just like the American military I deal with and the public affairs officers who stick to me like glue and only let me see what they want me to see when I'm with them, so it is with the Jihadis.

They're showing me what they want me to see, which is, to be truthful, quite a lot, but they know anything I see or hear is public record.

It's their responsibility to confine their information.

This is what I do.

Yeah, they do want to get a message out.

They're so media savvy.

If they weren't before, they've learnt it, they've polished it.

Even a year ago when I was meeting these nationalist guerrillas who then were ill formed, not yet in clear command and control organisations, even then they were saying to me, "This war is not going to be won on the battlefield. We can't hope to defeat the Americans. It's going to be won in the living rooms of Iraq and Middle America, it's going to be won on television."

They were saying, "We can maintain this, we can, we have, we can sustain this longer than your political will will last. Before your people call you home."

Again, that's a part of it now, they're saying, "We're here and we're not going away," and they want to say that to the West.

They can tell Arabic channels this until the cows come home, but to have it coming through an American iconic publication like Time magazine, people will listen.

And look, the fact is it's true.

They have camps, they have what they had in Afghanistan.

This is another north-west frontier province like Pakistan, where they can roam free within this territorial confine.

I've seen these places and no one can go in there.

The Americans can't, not unless they want to lay waste to the place, and they will miss them anyway.

The Iraqis have nothing to throw at this, Allawi is powerless, just like Musharraf in Pakistan, a threat in his own country from a safe haven that he can't touch.

TONY JONES: Michael, we're almost out of time.

We have about a minute of satellite left.

Let me just ask you quickly - what's your conclusion from all of this?

How can it end?

Can they be defeated?

MICHAEL WARE: This is a big one.

They call this a world war until judgment day, maintaining a state of perpetual jihad.

We're not going to defeat this here in Iraq.

This needs to be defeated elsewhere, on a much larger scale, using methods we're not even contemplating right now.

This is a much bigger problem than Iraq.

The insurgency here is globalised.

We have got to deal with that global threat.

TONY JONES: OK, Michael Ware.

It's been extraordinary talking to you.

You've obviously had an extraordinary time and the message you're getting out is one, I think, a lot of people will hear over a period of time.

Thank you for delivering part of it here.

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