by Gary North
I want to discuss something that you rarely read about. Given what has happened in Iraq since last April, and what will happen between now and May 30, when the U.S. will turn over power to the new Iraqi government, there should be a lot of discussion about the cell group. There won't be. It is a topic of very limited interest, except for specialists in revolutionary organizations and old-time anti-Communists who devoted time decades ago to a study of Communist subversion.
Western revolutionary groups adopted the cell group no later than the years immediately preceding the French Revolution. It existed in the Middle East centuries earlier. The masters of the cell group have been revolutionary Muslims. Their use of the structure goes back to the 12th century: the Assassins. This group was Shi'ite in its theology. They were a well-organized, secret society that was devoted to killing Sunni leaders. Bernard Lewis, America's most respected historian of Islam, writes in his book, The Assassins (1968): "In one respect the Assassins are without precedent — in the planned, systematic long-term use of terror as a political weapon" (p. 129). Their founder and mythical leader was called the Old Man of the Mountain. I am convinced that Osama bin Laden has self-consciously cultivated this tradition for his purposes, which are not anti-Sunni but anti-Western.
The cell group has secrecy as its supreme priority. The archetypal cell group is a triad: a leader under the authority of a superior cell group member, plus two followers, each of whom seeks to create one or more cells. Sometimes the members do not know each other's names. In the Communist cells in Washington in the 1930s, this was often the case. Whittaker Chambers did not know Alger Hiss as Hiss.
The organizational features of a cell are these: (1) screening of unauthorized outsiders; (2) absolute loyalty to the senior member; (3) secrecy regarding one's subordinates in spin-off cells; (4) secrecy regarding one's partners in a superior cell. Thus, if one cell is infiltrated by the authorities, the information available to the infiltrator is limited mainly to that cell.
Screening usually involves some form of initiation process: oath, deviant act, ritual.
There are two main ways to understand the operations of secret societies, which include cell groups: (1) follow the money and (2) follow the oath.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
The old rule in finding out what some nice-sounding liberal activist group was up to was this: find out who the treasurer was. If he was a known Communist, that's who set policy. "Follow the money" was not a slogan invented by Deep Throat to assist Woodward and Bernstein in investigating Watergate.
When Saddam Hussein was captured, he had $750,000 in cash. There were two men with him, we are told. This was a typical triad. If the American interrogators cannot locate cell hierarchies under those two men, this indicates that Hussein was out of the loop. He maintained secrecy by shrinking the number of men close to him. The age-old problem of the cell group is maintaining secrecy. The larger the cell, the more difficult it is to maintain secrecy. Someone probably tipped off the Americans as to where he was hiding. The best way to break a cell is not to infiltrate it. It's cheaper to pay an existing member to become an informant.
At the end, Hussein was acting almost alone. He produced audiotapes, but there seems to have been no chain of command from him to armed subordinates. This was to be expected. His former rule was based on public control of money and a system of discipline. A man who had ruled with state power for 35 years was unlikely to have created a rival system of hierarchical control designed to operate in resistance mode. That would have created another level of risk for him: a second chain of command that could produce potential rivals. That system would also have been much more ready to use assassination as a method.
There is no doubt that the attacks on our troops are being conducted by people with access to low-technology weapons. There is money coming into these groups. The sources are unknown. The potential supply of weapons is huge. Unguarded weapons dumps are located all over Iraq. A UPI story that ran in The Washington Times (Oct 15) reported:
The U.S. military now says Iraq's army had nearly a million tons of weapons and ammunition, which is half again as much as the 650,000 tons Gen. John P. Abizaid, the senior U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf region, estimated only two weeks ago.
Officials also say Saddam stockpiled at least 5,000 shoulder-fired missiles, and fewer than a third have been recovered. They fear many have been smuggled out of the country and may have fallen into the hands of terrorists.
"There are more sites than we can guard," an allied official said. "We are destroying them as fast as we can, but we are finding more and more every day."
When Hussein was on the run, it would have been possible for the military to blame the attacks on his leadership, but hardly anyone did. There was ready acknowledgment that the acts were being committed by small groups. The field marshal, if any, is supposedly his second in command, who is still at large. But there is no evidence offered to prove this connection. The Administration blames terrorists who have come to Iraq secretly, along with Ba'athist Party die-hards.
What is not discussed publicly is the possibility that these resistance groups are made up of Iraqis who regard our troops as occupation forces. If the attacks are coming mainly from these home-grown cells, then the attacks will continue.
The attacks are coming mainly in Sunni-dominated areas of the country. This doesn't point to the presence of a Shi'ite secret society. It points to more traditional resistance groups: civilians who are using random attacks to wear down the Americans' will to occupy. It is the local will to resist vs. foreign occupation forces.
The Iraqis know that Western democracies, other than the State of Israel, do not have the same degree of staying power that the USSR had, and the USSR was beaten by the Afghans. Then it disintegrated. The attacks are going to continue, just as they continue inside the State of Israel. The guerilla's war of the flea is the most cost-effective way to drive out an invader. It is also a way to get revenge. Do not downplay this motivation.
The Administration has said that it will turn over ruling authority to a new Iraqi government on May 30. How a democratic government will not lead to Shi'ite domination, no one in the Administration has said. How the Kurds will be kept in the system is also a mystery. The transfer process has been speeded up in preparation for the 2004 election next November.
The big questions now are these: (1) whose troops will serve as peacemakers, the U.S. or NATO? (2) Whose money will fund most of the rebuilding, U.S. taxpayers' or Europe's taxpayers? (3) Will NATO take charge if America refuses to allow contractors in Germany, France, and Russia to bid on these projects, estimated at almost $20 billion, as the Administration declared a week ago?
The Pentagon's bidding process has been delayed again — no explanation. There is a lot of ducking and weaving going on in Washington.
This all has to do with the Federal deficit. It looks as though the deficit will remain above $400 billion in fiscal 2004. Money lent to the government is not lent to private businesses. This will unquestionably retard the economic recovery process. It is capital, not Federal Reserve credit, that creates wealth.
FOLLOW THE OATH
The other guideline for tracing the history of secret societies is to follow the oath. Some binding confession operates as a screening device in every revolutionary secret society. The oath may be theological. It may be racial or national. But it exists. Without it, the organization cannot maintain discipline, which begins with the self-discipline of the oath.
Because nothing factual has been published regarding the organization or membership of the groups that are attacking our troops, we don't know if the oath is Islamic, implying al-Qaeda's presence, or Sunni, or Iraqi nationalist. If it is the last, then the attacks may cease when there is a complete transfer of power. But such a transfer is highly unlikely. There is too much oil to be protected in the ground and shipped by pipelines that even today are being blown up, although Western media give little coverage to this fact. Paul Bremer has said that these attacks are costing $7 billion a year in lost revenues. The pipeline bombings are steady.
There is very little possibility that control over oil will be surrendered to any Iraqi government in the next few years. If control is surrendered and foreign troops leave, then the war was not mainly about oil. Watch what the government does, not what it says.
To infiltrate an oath-bound Islamic secret society that is dedicated to the removal of Westerners from Iraq will prove extremely difficult. There will be a few informants, but in the case of a $25 million reward, it took eight months to capture Hussein. There will be no similar incentive for informing on clandestine groups. There are always informants, but the fact that no assassin has been put on trial yet, let alone convicted, for any of the hundreds of deaths of coalition troops, let alone Iraqi police and civilians, indicates that the cell system is alive and well in Iraq.
An Islamic oath makes it difficult for an informer to reveal a cell's secrets without betraying Islam. The only oath with anywhere near the same degree of commitment is an oath to Iraq as a nation. Again, Western intelligence organizations will find it almost impossible to get informants to violate this oath. There is no equal commitment in Iraq to the ideals of democracy or economic growth to justify such a betrayal.
WHEN U.S. TROOPS DEPART
The tradition of the Assassins runs deep in Islamic history. That there will be continual attacks on coalition troops and Iraqis who cooperate with them is obvious. What is equally obvious to Islamic radicals is that Westerners don't stick around very long. They eventually depart. Administrations change. When it costs Americans $100 billion a year to run Iraq, and when it costs the lives of American troops, American voters will eventually send a message to Washington: get out of Iraq.
I think NATO troops will go in, with the United Nations close behind. American troops will participate, but as part of a multinational force. The assassinations will continue.
The capture of Hussein makes it that much more difficult politically to keep our troops there. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no al-Qaeda connection. There was only Hussein. Now he has been captured. There is no way that President Bush can get Americans to foot the bill alone much longer. The symbol of evil is in custody. Americans are practical people. They will not be persuaded to pay the price of occupying Iraq much longer.
When we pull out, this will send a message to Islamic terrorists all over the world: America will not be back. They will see the departure as a retreat. They will see that the cell structure is a low-cost way to drive out the Great Satan. They will also see that to become a client of the U.S., as Saddam Hussein was, is suicidal. So will the client rulers in the region.
If I am correct, then the Middle East will become more of a tinder box than it was before last March. Client regimes will lose confidence in the support they can expect from America. Congress is not going to authorize any more adventures in the Middle East without the presence of a provable direct military threat. Meanwhile, the cells, like cancer, will multiply. Recruiting will become easier.
The guerilla wages the war of the flea. The West has not found a way to defeat this strategy. The suicide bomber, the assassin, and the saboteur work together, yet independently in cells, to wage a war of terror against civilians, opposition parties, and foreign armies.
The President has said that our presence in Iraq has lured the terrorists to attack us there, keeping America's homeland safe. I ask the obvious question: What will happen after our troops pull out?
We are told by television pundits that now that Saddam Hussein is in captivity, Iraqis will not be afraid to become informants on other Iraqis. Iraqi civilians will now cooperate with American intelligence operations. This argument ignores both the history of Islam and the history of the cell group.
Within hours of Hussein's capture, a suicide bomber killed eight Iraqi policemen. Ten others were injured. Seven police officers had been wounded a few hours earlier when a car bomb exploded.
Our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have ignited the fuse. The explosives were already in place. It is a matter of time before Islamic cell groups metastasize in the West. I think it would be na´ve to imagine that the process is not already well underway.
December 17, 2003
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