The Missing “Analysis”
While Gordon’s “analysis” tells us that the Basra and Sadr City operations “curtailed the powers of the militia,” for anyone with a little knowledge of guerrilla warfare it appears to be just the opposite. I have no idea if the “chief military correspondent” of the New York Times is familiar with the concept of guerrilla warfare. I’d be shocked if he were not. Yet, in his “analysis” of what is going on in Iraq, he failed to mention the concept, thereby missing a really great opportunity to help United Statesians to understand the nature of the conflict in Iraq.
The Iraqi resistance to the U.S. occupation is complex, and only part of it has taken the form of a guerrilla war. (For a great discussion of this, see Michael Schwartz, “Contradictions of the Iraqi Resistance: Guerilla War vs. Terrorism.”) Still, understanding just a tiny bit about the principles of guerrilla warfare can help us understand what is going on in Iraq. For that purpose, let’s hear from three well-known theorists of guerrilla warfare: Mao Tse Tung, Ché Guevara, and Carlos Marighella.
Mao, in his classic 1937 work “On Guerrilla Warfare,” explains that “When guerrillas engage a stronger enemy, they withdraw when he advances; harass him when he stops; strike him when he is weary; pursue him when he withdraws.”
In 1961, Ernesto “Ché” Guevara wrote “Guerrilla Warfare,” in which he said, “The great desperation of the enemy army . . . will be to find something to receive his blows. Instead he will find a gelatinous mass, in movement, impenetrable, that retreats and never presents a solid front, though it inflicts wounds from every side.”
Both Mao and Ché were operating in a largely rural environment, but in 1969 the Brazilian guerrilla fighter Carlos Marighella wrote his famous “Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla,” which may apply more directly to the situation in Iraq today. Here’s what he said: “With the arrogance typical of the police and the military authorities, the enemy will come to fight us equipped with heavy guns and equipment, and with elaborate maneuvers by men armed to the teeth. The urban guerrilla must respond to this with light weapons that can be easily transported, so he can always escape with maximum speed without ever accepting open fighting. The urban guerrilla has no mission other than to attack and quickly withdraw.”
As we can see, in a guerrilla war the weaker guerrilla force will never stand to face the stronger enemy. So it is entirely predictable that the Iraqi army would meet little or no resistance when they drive into Basra or Sadr City. Gordon even reported in his article that “leaders of Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army . . . told one reporter [before the attack] that the militia was convinced that military operations were imminent.” So, as expected, they “melted away.”