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The War Nerd February 19, 2004
A Special War Nerd
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 2 of 4
Arabs are people persons, nosey as Hell. The only thing they like better than cheap cologne is spying on everybody in the neighborhood. So you have to face the fact that everybody in these towns where roadside bombs are hitting our patrols not only knows who planted the bomb but helped them do it.

For one thing, the bombs are killing our guys without a lot of civilians, no "collateral damage" so to speak. People don't realize how hard it is to do that -- to hit the right target without blowing away a lot of civilians. What it proves is that they know enough to stay out of the way when the bomb's going to go off. They've got advance notice. Everyone in town, from grandmas to babies, is sitting inside their houses holding their breath waiting for the big BOOM!

Americans just don't understand how hard it is to carry out this kind of stuff.

Try thinking about it for a second, actually thinking like an Iraqi guerrilla. You have nothing. You start from scratch. So step one is getting a bomb. That means dealing with a lot of people -- somebody's cousin who stole a couple of mortar shells, or a cop sent out the word he's actually on your side.

Before you even contact this guy you need to know, can you trust him? You don't get a second chance. If you contact him and he's actually working for the occupiers, they'll have you down in the basement with a guy smashing your fingertips with a hammer. Then they'll bring in your wife and start on her.

If you make contact and it goes well -- you get the explosives from him -- you're still a long way from being able to set up the bomb. You still need detonator wire and something like a blasting cap to set it off, so you have to contact another dude, maybe some guy who used to work in the Fallujah Radio Shack. Before you talk to him you need to know.for certain, no second chance, if you can trust him. If you're wrong: basement. Hammer. Fingernails.

So just getting your material is a big, scary step. It involves dozens of people, and if just one of them turns out to be working for the other side, your whole insurgent network will be wiped out before it carries out a single attack. The guy who told you who to contact -- what if they capture him and take him down to the basement? It won't be a nice polite interrogation. It'll be torture.

I'll tell you a secret about torture: it works. On everybody. The movies lie, the way they have the hero holding out while they work him over. Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, George Patton -- everybody talks under torture. Some in a second, some not till you've smashed all ten fingers and started on their balls. But sooner or later, everybody talks.

I've read accounts of guerrillas who started carrying pistols all the time (a real bad idea for an urban guerrilla, who needs to be able to pass through maybe a dozen police checkpoints every day) because they were so scared of torture that they wanted to be able to kill themselves if they were captured. Same idea behind the cyanide pills the Tamil Tigers carry: at least you can tell yourself you won't be tortured.

You can bet we're ready to use torture in Iraq, no matter what the papers say. It's basic practice in counter-insurgency warfare. We probably farm it out to Iraqis so we can deny taking part, but we're doing it.

Once you've got your materiel, you have to make the bomb. Not in a high-tech weapons factory but in somebody's basement. At every stage, you could be snitched on: moving the bomb to the basement, working on it, carrying it to the ambush site. The fact that we're not catching guys at these stages means we've got no decent snitches in Iraq. And that means we're losing the war. Snitches are the most important weapon in urban guerrilla warfare. You can put a squad on every corner, but if you don't have informers in the resistance, your soldiers are just targets, sitting ducks.

Not only do we not have informers, but it's clear the insurgents do. And good ones. They score a direct hit almost every time with these roadside bombs. That means granny's sitting at her window with a notebook, timing each American patrol so she can pass the info on to the resistance. It means every kid on the block is .playing. in the street just so they can get a good look at who's manning the machine gun at the corner, when the GIs lose concentration, where their blind spots are.

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Gary Brecher
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