Know Thine Enemy

Four years into the Iraq War the American public still remains largely uninformed about who is fighting against the U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. In fact, the received wisdom from the military and political voices via the media is that the United States is caught between two sides in Iraq and trying to avert a civil war.

The implication, sometimes more clearly stated than others, is that if we withdraw there will be a bloodbath in Iraq, and the guilt and consequences will be on American heads. As we continue this fall to witness the political struggle over America's course in Iraq it is time some facts about who it is we are fighting are laid out for the American public in order to inform this ongoing debate.

The first dominant myth in America about the Iraqi conflict is that the people who attack us are somehow fringe elements of Iraqi society or foreigners, elements that can be cleared from neighborhoods. In fact only 21 percent of Iraqis support the presence of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq and 57 percent find it acceptable to attack them, according to a BBC/ABC poll released Sept. 10, 2007.

The reality is that even before President Bush declared the end of major combat operations May 1, 2003, individual Iraqis were pulling together into small-scale groups in order to oppose the presence of foreign troops on their soil. Over the coming months and years this collection of groups would variously be referred to as "dead-enders," "die-hard Ba'athists," "common criminals," "extremist elements" and "al Qaeda." The truth is they are and were just ordinary Iraqis for whom the fight was just beginning.

We spent 10 months on the ground in Baghdad interviewing Iraqis (and one Syrian) who are actively involved in the violence against the U.S. troops there in an effort to journalistically establish the answer to one question: Who is it we are fighting in Iraq?

The short answer to that question is: We are fighting groups of people who view their struggle in terms of resisting the occupation of their country. These individuals believe that if America was invaded and occupied Americans would do the same. They bring a combination of nationalist and religious motivations to the conflict, each experiencing a unique path through the emergence of the insurgency.

Our film "Meeting Resistance" is an exploration -- through those interviews and an understanding of daily life in Iraq -- of who it is that is fighting us. The story the film reveals is told through the voices of the Iraqis we interviewed, allowing the American public to hear directly, for the very first time, from those we are fighting about their motivations and aspirations.

Most U.S. intelligence reports leaked or released in summary since 2003 have reflected what we found during that reporting. But that intelligence fails to get the attention of the American public in the way the declarations about the insurgency from the podiums in the green zone and in Washington have.

The second major myth about Iraq is that our soldiers are stuck in the middle of a civil war. Defense Department quarterly reports released publicly show that since April 2004 until today 74 percent of all attacks target U.S. and coalition forces, 16 percent of attacks target Iraqi security forces (the police and army) and 10 percent target Iraqi civilians.

While clearly more civilians die in these attacks because they are completely unprotected from them, it is also clear that 90 percent of the attacks and violent energy in Iraq over a four-year period has been directed at pushing the occupying forces out and killing those Iraqis who choose to collaborate with them.

The "should we stay or should we go" argument that is raging in Washington this fall should engage all Americans, and we hope that they come to understand that until we withdraw our forces the violence cannot begin to end. The Iraqis from almost all insurgent groups have consistently demanded one thing first and foremost, and that is the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from their soil.

There will be no negotiation and no accommodation between the U.S. soldiers and the American supported government on the one hand and the Iraqi insurgency on the other until at least a date for complete U.S. withdrawal is declared. Once that happens, then Iraq will truly begin finding its own path forward in a post-Saddam Hussein world.

Should the American public support remaining in Iraq we should do so in the full recognition of the level and nature of the violence that has occurred since the 2003 invasion and with the understanding that our determined, innovative and highly motivated adversary will continue to attack American interests and kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Molly Bingham and Steve Connors are co-directors of the film "Meeting Resistance."