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Dec 27, 2004 | 22:50 GMT

5 mins read

The Growing Sophistication of Iraqi Militants

When coalition forces stormed Al Fallujah last month, they uncovered a number of houses and shops that were being used to construct improvised explosive devices (IEDs) for the Iraqi resistance. In one of these bomb factories, coalition forces discovered a cache of Portuguese manufactured PE-4A, an explosive that harkens back to an earlier age of Iraqi militant operations — when Iraqi militants were the gang that could not shoot straight. After Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the United States and its allies began to move forces to Saudi Arabia to protect that country and eventually to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait. That build-up was called Operation Desert Shield. While Washington was sending conventional forces to the Gulf, Saddam Hussein's government began moving its unconventional forces into position. Muscular Iraqi "businessmen" began leaving that nation in teams of two. They fanned out all over the world from Africa to Beijing and worked in countries where they could both obtain visas and receive instructions and support from the intelligence officers at the Iraqi embassies. Once in their assigned countries, the operatives — who were actually members of Hussein's military — began planning how they were going to attack their assigned targets. As the operatives were dispatched, the Iraqi government took advantage of the inviolability of the diplomatic pouch to send what one U.S. government official later called "ACME do-it-yourself terrorist kits" out to the teams. These terrorist kits contained Portuguese-manufactured PE-4A, along with blasting caps and timers. Shortly after the Allied forces started the air war to begin Operation Desert Storm on Jan. 16, 1991, the Iraqi terror cells received the green light to begin operations. Their first target was Jakarta, Indonesia. An Iraqi militant cell successfully scaled the wall of the U.S. ambassador's residence and placed an IED in a flower box next to the house. Unfortunately for the operatives, the timer malfunctioned and the device did not explode. It was found by a gardener Jan. 18 and recovered by Indonesian explosive ordnance disposal technicians. The device was composed of a PE-4A main charge, an electric detonator, a timer and a battery. On the evening of January 19, 1991, another Iraqi team, this one in Manila, approached the U.S.-run Thomas Jefferson Cultural Center. The two men stopped across the street from the center to arm their device by connecting the battery to the timer. As the first man touched the battery to the timer, the device detonated and blew him to pieces. His partner also was seriously injured. With the help of the Philippine authorities, U.S. investigators were able to identify the two Iraqis in the Manila case and determined that they were traveling on barely used, sequentially-numbered Iraqi passports. A query to Jakarta found that two other Iraqis had entered that country with passport numbers very close to the two Manila suspects. Within days, Iraqi militant cell members had been identified by their passport numbers, and a large number of them were arrested or deported from the countries where they had been sent to conduct operations. PE-4A also reportedly was the main charge in a car bomb recovered in Kuwait in April 1993. The device was discovered prior to a visit by former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, and is believed to have been a failed assassination attempt by Hussein's intelligence service. So, from the 1991 Iraqi militants, we now move forward to the Iraqi resistance of today. There are several different factions participating in the resistance ranging from jihadist forces aligned with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to more secular Iraqi nationalists aligned with the Baathist party that formerly held power in Iraq. The presence of Portuguese-manufactured PE-4A in an IED factory in Al Fallujah, with lot numbers corresponding to explosives previously used in terror attacks by Iraqi intelligence operatives, suggests that the Baathist elements in the resistance are connected to the same apparatus that conducted the 1991 attacks. It would appear that this time, as coalition forces began to build up in preparation for the invasion of Iraq, instead of moving militant operatives to other areas of the world, the Iraqi government sent its militant cells to various parts of Iraq to help lead the Iraqi government's guerilla war strategy. This generation of Iraqi militant operatives has the advantage of working on their home turf instead of operating in Bangkok or Bamako. It also appears that they have not repeated the mistakes they made in the first Gulf War. Their operations certainly have had a much higher success rate, and they have caused far more coalition casualties than the first generation of Iraqi Baathist terrorists. The U.S. presence has provided a great laboratory for the Baathist militant forces to improve their skills. "Tactical Darwinism" has weeded out many of the inept operatives, leaving a core of hardened, competent militants. They are creating new tactics and have manufactured highly effective devices. If these men are allowed to impart the knowledge they have gained to another generation of young aspiring militants, the worst may be yet to come.
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