There are Moroccan “foreign fighters” rotting in Iraqi jails today.
Let me take you back to late 2002 and early 2003 when the war rhetoric between a hawkish bush administration and the Saddam regime reached the tipping point. In major cities around the world, crowds of millions gathered to protest the war. Thousands of Moroccans waving Iraqi and Moroccan flags and carrying anti-war banners neatly filled the main arteries of Casablanca. People from the Arab World, but also from Europe, the U.S., and Asia traveled to Baghdad to be part of the symbolic “human shield” some hoped would dissuade the U.S. from its “shock and awe” bombardment of Iraq. Such spontaneous popular movements played right into Saddam’s propaganda; his government provided busses to transport these foreign demonstrators from entry points in the Jordanian border to Baghdad. The Arab demonstrators chanted anti-American and pro-Saddam slogans along with the Iraqis – “with our blood, with our soul, we redeem you Saddam.” I met Moroccan demonstrators in Baghdad streets then. They were enthusiastic young members of Moroccan political parties and associations showing their endorsement for the Iraqi people. They were not carrying AK-47 assault rifles and the idea of engaging in war was a world away; Let alone killing Iraqis. The Iraqi people were appreciative while secretly every fiber of their being desiderated the demise of the Saddam regime.
In 2005, the Shiite militias and the alienated Sunni insurgency infused by al Qaeda increased their operations tempo and started a systematic sectarian cleansing literally hacking each other. The violence was further exacerbated by the bombing of the Golden Dome. The Iraq government, beset by partisanship and tribalism, was complicit to the violence, but the U.S. government was still operating under the delusion that it was impartial and in control. It took two years for the U.S. intelligence to correctly assess the situation. Volumes of reports from Iraqis fed up with the violence indicated that while Iran supported the Mehdi Army with money, weapons, and training, a steady flow of foreign fighters augmented the ranks of al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency. Subsequent arrests of militants by coalition forces confirmed that, indeed, hundreds of fighters hailed from outside Iraq; some of them were Moroccans. They were deemed drivers of instability in the region. It was quickly determined by the J-2 at Multi-National Forces – Iraq (MNF-I) that the Syrian/Iraqi border was a vulnerability and General Petraeus made securing it a top priority.
The Moroccans that are in Iraq today are described as terrorists responsible for dozens of vehicle borne explosions and random killings across Iraq. Those who aren’t in Jail were suicide bombers who had detonated their deadly explosives among groups of youths applying for a job or in crowded markets and busy restaurants. They have ruthlessly taken the lives of thousands of Iraqi children, men, and women, Moslems and Christians.
But the majority of them are absolutely not so.
They are not even militant jihadists running away from the perceived anomie of the Moroccan society; they are not blood thirsty murderers, or criminals. The majority of Moroccans flowing into Iraq never even handled a weapon, let alone explosives. They would cringe at a cat being run over by a car, let alone taking a human life. Sure! They’ve made some bad decisions before. They are high school drop-outs. They are regular impecunious folks like we see every day in cafés lingering over a small steamy mint barad for hours; those we see waiting for a crowded bus to take them to Carian Central or some other straitened neighborhood dotting our cities. They dream of owning a home and car, marrying a beautiful woman and founding a decent family with respect and dignity. But their inexorable reality gnaws at their dreams and the insensitive society nags at them as being a burden. Morning after morning they wake up bleary-eyed in the slums to be clobbered by a perennial penury. They lack basic necessities and they trudge through the muddy alleys of their run down neighborhoods to face a laborious job or a blank day. They are not driven by vindictiveness against Americans and the war in Iraq; al Qaeda and the insurgency for them are abstractions disconnected from the perennial imminence of starvation and eviction in their daily reality.
They spend their indolent hours in cyber shops surfing the internet and chatting. It is in one of those chat rooms that they are preyed upon by Islamic extremist recruiters. Videos of how Americans are killing Iraqi children and how the valiant insurgents are defeating them are sent. They are told that the insurgency has “liberated” cities and villages; masons, plumbers, electricians, truck drivers are needed. They could help with the reconstruction. The pay is excellent; a house will be granted to participants, even a wife or two, for it is a badge of honor for Iraqi pulchritudinous virgins to be married to a foreign Moslem Arab. They will live in Iraq wealthy and with dignity happily ever after.
To show good faith, these prospective “foreign fighters” are asked to buy their own ticket to Turkey; they are promised that such expense is reimbursable. They borrow money from relatives and friends and sell whatever they own of value and fly to Istanbul. Once there, they buy a bus ticket to a city along the Turkish Syrian border and wait for their handlers. The latter are not Islamic extremists, but time-served smugglers whose only mission is to whisk them across the border and hand them over to other human traffickers. Once in Syria, they are moved from one safe house to another; their movement is restricted; the future is unknown and time is warped. After a while, most of them are unsure if the flag they see atop building is Syrian or Iraqi. Iraqi civilians despise them and without hesitation denounce them to the Iraqi security forces. The “foreign fighters” are shocked to, all of a sudden realize, that the insurgents not only did not liberate any cities or villages, but they are tracked primarily by the Iraqis like criminals. Instead of reconstruction, they are told they will be dispatched to fighting teams; ultimately, they want out. There is no out. Some end up being “suicided.” Others are used are decoy and left to be captured in safe houses the terrorists know are compromised.
They are interrogated and beaten then sent before an Iraqi judge who informs them that (drum roll) the Iraqis don’t need their help. The lucky ones get a seven to fourteen years sentence for entering Iraq illegally and association with criminal entities. The new reality sinks in and they break down and cry.
A. T. B. © 2011