WASHINGTON -- It is possible to win a counterguerrilla war. The British did so in Malaya in the 1950s. The United States may succeed in doing so in Iraq today. It is far more difficult, however, to defeat the car bomb. It is on the car bomb, therefore, that the Saddam loyalists' hope for victory rides.
The guerrilla war in Iraq is wearing and painful for Americans. The enemy plants the roadside bomb, and succeeds with the occasional ambush. The losses are mounting. What makes success for the saboteurs still dubious, however, is that they do not represent a true guerrilla force. They are nothing like the successful Vietnamese, Chinese or Cuban guerrillas who were, in Mao's famous phrase, ``fish swimming in the sea of the people.''
The Saddam loyalists swim in a small lake. They represent the deeply loathed Baathist regime with just a small constituency at home -- bolstered by foreign terrorists who may speak for a general kind of Islamism but are no more loved by Iraqis than they were by the Afghans, who despised them.
There is no general uprising among the Iraqi people. On the contrary: 80 percent of the country is either Shiite or Kurd, for almost a century ruled and repressed by the Sunni Arab minority. Which is why most polls show a very substantial majority of Iraqis want the Americans and British to stay and are pleased with the overthrow of Saddam.
The resistance to the U.S. occupation is overwhelmingly Sunni Arab. But it represents only 15 percent to 20 percent of the Iraqi population. For 30 years, through their own Saddam Hussein, they used their power not just to rule but to rob. They gorged themselves on Iraq's oil wealth. Tikrit was a sleepy town before Saddam rose from it to Stalinist god-king and poured not only privilege, power and protection into Tikrit and onto Tikritis, but vast amounts of money as well.
The Iraqi resistance, such as it is, is rooted in the Sunni Baathists who have everything to lose if the Americans succeed. But it is precisely because they represent so small a minority that they are likely to fail, barring a collapse of American will at home.
Which is why the enemy has turned to the car bomb. The car bomb does not require a constituency. It does not require popular support. It requires only one person who knows explosives and another who is willing to drive and perhaps to die.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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