By now it is night, and the electricity is out. After a circuitous drive through the dark city we arrive in the cramped and muddy Adhamiya souk; its old streets, crowded with stalls, shops and garbage, are too narrow for US Humvees to enter. There we pick up a man whose face is wrapped in a kaffiyeh and keep driving.
The man, in his late 40s, says he was a professional soldier and that he now runs a team of resistance fighters that has launched many operations. He says he is fighting because the war shamed and destroyed a once proud army and because the occupation is abusing and humiliating Iraqis and Islam. The goal of his team, which is made up of "less than twenty" local men, is to "repel the invaders and restore sovereignty."
Does his cell have a name, or is it part of any larger group? He pauses as the car lurches around a corner and then snaps, "We are al mujahedeen," using the general term for holy warriors. "Elsewhere the fighters are called Mohamed's Army. But the names do not matter. We are all fighting for our country." He adds that "our leaders have contact with Saddam's Fedayeen," referring to the old regime's paramilitary terror squads and suicide fighters.
He claims that his team, along with one from al Quds and one from Ramadi, were responsible for recent attacks in Karbala, and that contrary to press reports, no car bombs were used. "Some of our RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and small Katyusha rockets hit cars with gas in them and they exploded."
He also claims that the Iraqi resistance had nothing to do with the Nabil restaurant bombing. "We do not kill Iraqis, unless they are military interpreters or spies." And for these "traitors," his team maintains a "blacklist" of names, several of which have already been "crossed off"--that is, assassinated. To bolster his claim about not hurting Iraqis, he points out sites around Adhamiya where there have clearly been IED explosions. "See, there are no shops here, the roads are wide."
It would be very difficult to prove or disprove this masked man's assertions, short of watching him in action. But the man's apparent skittishness, the ubiquitous but discreetly stashed pistols and the grave risk to any Iraqi who would pretend to be a resistance leader together make his story credible.
As for the underground's structure and methods, the man confirms what is already known: The resistance is highly decentralized and kept that way by fear of spies and lack of secure communications. He adds that his group "believes in the ideology of the Baath Party and of Islam" and that it is loyal to Saddam, though it did not take orders from him. When asked how Saddam's capture will affect their war, he says: "We will keep fighting. Our goals are clear."
He adds that his group "has many eyes working inside the police and in the new Iraqi Army." When I ask about new American methods for jamming the frequencies used to trigger IEDs, he says, "We have our engineers; they use the remote-controls of car-door locks and garage door openers and other devices." He says they are constantly finding ways to foil the American military's technology. In light of the recent decline in IEDs, this last bit sounds like bluster.