The Times / The Australian
February 19, 2004
Like many university students, Thu al-Fiqar has a variety of extracurricular activities: he is sometimes a DJ at parties, he hangs out with friends at cafes and goes to their houses to watch films.
But once a month or so, the clean-shaven, casually dressed young man drives a truck full of concealed rocket-propelled grenades and mortar bombs from a town near the Iranian border to Baghdad, sometimes even helping to distribute the illicit arms among guerillas fighting US troops in the capital. Sometimes he drives the getaway car.
Thu al-Fiqar (his nom de guerre is taken from the name of the sword used by Imam Ali, the Prophet Mohammed's cousin) works amid elaborate security and without apparent fear of arrest.
"To be honest, the first time I was nervous about being caught by the police or the Americans, but when I saw how professional we were in planning the runs, under no circumstances could I be caught," he told The Times.
At first, the gun runners took few precautions because there were no checkpoints along the road from Iran's border through the town of Baqouba and down to Baghdad.
As checkpoints cropped up, they started disguising the weapons, first in crates of fruit and then in propane gas cylinders, cut open and stuffed with wood shavings and munitions and then soldered shut.
"Sometimes the Americans search among the cylinders, but never inside," he said. Travelling with fake documents, he is guided by a series of spotters, who drive ahead in cars and check with street observers advising them which route is guarded and where diversions are needed.
The elaborate precautions are only designed to avoid the American troops on the main road, however.
Once in Baghdad, the gun runners offload the lorries and distribute the arms in cars or minibuses, relying on the laxness of the Iraqi police to see them through.
"We give the police 500 dinars (about 50c) not to search the car, or we put a woman in the car to make them less likely to search," he said.
They also have sympathetic policemen who give them tip-offs, as do some translators working for the coalition.
The weapons from Iran are bought from commercial dealers, according to Thu al-Fiqar, while many brought in by other teams from Syria are donated by Islamic groups.
The purchase of weapons capable of piercing US armour comes through funding from wealthy Iraqis, both here and abroad, as well as from the sale of small arms, including Kalashnikovs abandoned by the collapsed Iraqi army.
US Brigadier-General Martin Dempsey, commander of the First Armoured Division in Baghdad, said recently his men had disrupted the activity of eight out of 14 suspected cells in Baghdad.
That much may be true: Thu al-Fiqar said his cell commander, known only as Al-Sayyid, was arrested last month. The cell has been ordered to halt all activities and monitor US forces.
But the Americans are wrong, Thu al-Fiqar insists, in their assumption that the cells are former regime loyalists fighting for the return of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
"It's either a misinterpretation or else they are lying," he said. "Al-Sayyid was a former army officer and a teacher, so they would think he was a Baathist. But he was also thrown out of the army for disobedience and was opposed to Saddam."
Thu al-Fiqar himself hated Saddam, whose regime drafted him into the army and made him drive a mobile missile transporter for almost two years of national service. He was recruited at a friend's house, when a resistance member saw him revelling in TV footage of anti-US attacks in the Sunni town of Fallujah.
The initial core of fighters started their attacks immediately after the invasion, hating the idea of being occupied. Others joined later, spurred on by the collapse in Iraq's infrastructure and the inability to make themselves heard by their occupiers.
"The first attacks were just a message to the Americans, but they responded by turning off our water and electricity, so more people joined."
He does sometimes feel remorse for the Americans he helps kill, but not enough to make him stop. "We know the American soldier has a family, a life and has been ordered to do this. But they tell us in their country they have freedom, not like us, and they could have refused to come here."
He believes the fight will go on as long as US forces are occupying his country.
© The Times / The Australian