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Who are the insurgents? 

Don't Panic! . . . Your war questions answered

This comment is gonna make me seem old-fashioned and out-of-touch,  but I think that when a country goes to war, it's good form to know before the war starts who it is you're going to be fighting.

Neither the president nor his posse told us that a war in Iraq would consist of a few weeks of fighting the Iraqi army, followed by several years of much deadlier warfare against disparate guerilla groups. Hell, Monty Hall used to give more information about what was behind doors No. 1, 2 and 3 than our government gave us about who we were marching into Iraq to fight.

Now that I think of it, if anything in this column is going to date me, it's the Monty Hall reference.

Just who are the insurgents in Iraq and why are they, um, insurging? Here, are the three main species of insurgents, with their scientific names in parentheses.

Baathists (saddamite familiaris): A Baathist is a member of or sympathizer with Saddam's Baath Party. Nominally, Baathists are socialists who want to take up the common cause with all Arabs, but in reality, the Baathists in Iraq are just greedy thugs who enjoy power.

The Baathists/Saddam ruled Iraq from the 1960s until we toppled them. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously referred to Baathist insurgents as "dead-enders." Does he mean that they all live in cute suburban cul-de-sacs? Wouldn't that be nice?

Nope. By "dead-enders," Rummy meant that they're the sore-loser remnants of the Saddam-era military, police and civil bureaucracy trying to return Iraq to its glory days. An Iraqi Baathist's definition of "glory days" is "when we were the only ones brutalizing our fellow Iraqis." When you think of Baathist insurgents, remember this: These are people who looked at the Abu Ghraib prison photos and felt angry and humiliated -- not because their fellow Iraqis were being abused, but because they were no longer the abusers.

The Baathists in the insurgency often have weapons training, since many were part of Saddam's military. They also have access to guns and military explosives, since they knew where the stockpiles were before we got to them.

Mahdi Army (mahd squad): The Mahdi Army is Shi'ite pseudo-cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's gang. Knock on wood, they're mostly lying low since ending their uprisings in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala last year.

Nevertheless, they're still armed and angry that we're there. They are understandably angry at the huge number of Shi'ites who keep dying in attacks by Sunni insurgents. Al-Sadr's most recent statements to the Western press asked Iraqis to stop fighting for now. In the same interview (with the BBC) he also hedged by stating that resisting foreign occupation is legitimate. His influence over his followers is mediated somewhat by Iraq's top Shi'ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

Jihadis (alqaedus wannakillus): Toppling Saddam's police state without enough soldiers in place to impose order afterward created a power vacuum that James Dyson can only fantasize about. Among the muck getting sucked into Iraq's power vacuum from neighboring countries are the losers known as jihadis (also called "foreign fighters" in the press).

Jihadis are following the call to be All(ah) they can be in Iraq because the chaos there makes it the best place to a) kill infidel Americans and Shi'ites, and b) train themselves in terrorist fighting tactics. Iraq is such a happy, fertile place for jihadis that the CIA predicts that Iraq is Islamic terrorism's trendy finishing school -- like Afghanistan in the '80s and '90s, only worse because it's urban.

Some people say that jihadis want to turn the world into a theocracy based on radical Sunni interpretations of Islamic law. Even that's giving them too much credit though. Nothing that jihadis have ever done or said suggests order or vision. They're thugs, killers and troublemakers who have a vaguely Islamo-fascist ideology. They're just Nazis with less paperwork, less showering, and more facial hair, who drive car bombs into police stations and mosques.

Under normal circumstances, they'd be fighting Baathists. For now, though, they're united against the U.S. and Iraq's new Shi'ite-dominated government.

andisheh@creativeloafing.com

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