Smoke of Iraq War 'Drifting Over Lebanon'
Monday, June 12, 2006
TRIPOLI, Lebanon -- Abu Haritha still carries traces of the battles he fought in Iraq, 500 miles away.
On his hand is a black ring, a gift from a fellow insurgent after he was wounded in the torso in Fallujah by shrapnel. "For the memories," Abu Haritha said. Under his black hair, peppered with gray, is a scar where, he recalled, a bullet had grazed his head. Every once in a while, he watches videos lauding attacks carried out on his former battlefield and celebrates the exploits of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed last week in Iraq. At times, he regales colleagues with stories of American fear.
But for Abu Haritha, that battle is over. As he sits in this northern city, Lebanon's second-largest, he waits for what he believes will be a more expansive war beyond Iraq, a struggle he casts in the most cataclysmic of terms. In the morning, he jogs; he lifts weights for hours at night. In between, with his cellphone ringing with the Muslim call to prayer, he proselytizes in streets that are growing ever more militant, sprinkled with the black banners that proclaim jihad and occasional slogans celebrating the resistance in Iraq.
"It's an open battle, in any place, at any time," he said, his voice calm. "History has to record that there was resistance."
The war in Iraq has generated some of the most startling images in the Middle East today: a dictator's fall, elections in defiance of insurgent threats and carnage on a scale rarely witnessed. Less visibly, though, the war is building a profound legacy across the Arab world: fear and suspicion over Iraq's repercussions, a generation that casts the Bush administration's policy as an unquestioned war on Islam, and a subterranean reserve of men who, like Abu Haritha, declare that the fight against the United States in Iraq is a model for the future.
Abu Haritha's home, Tripoli, is one of the most visible manifestations of the war, a rough-and-tumble city being transformed by growing radicalism and religious fervor that may long outlast the death of Zarqawi and the U.S. presence in Iraq, now in its fourth year. Here, and elsewhere, that militancy may prove to be the inheritance of both the war and the Bush administration's professed aim of bringing democratic reform to the region.
As those currents gather force, Abu Haritha waits with a certain ease, confident of what is to come.
"Iraq is a badge of honor for every Arab and Muslim to fight the American vampire," he said.
"The Americans may enter Syria, they may enter another country, and we should prepare ourselves for them," Abu Haritha said at a cafe in a crowded alley. "We have to face them so that history won't record they entered our land without confrontation."
Moved by Anger
No one is quite sure of the number of fighters from Iraq who have returned to Tripoli, its cheap concrete buildings sprawling up hills along the Mediterranean in a region once renowned for its orange trees. Abu Haritha said hundreds went to Iraq during the U.S. invasion in 2003, when the mobilization was so casual that organizers would walk into cafes and openly recruit among jobless Lebanese Sunnis gathered there. He estimates that dozens more have gone since; 50 to 60 of them have died there, he said.
Abu Haritha went by way of Saudi Arabia, after performing the Muslim pilgrimage. He traveled first to neighboring Jordan, then across the Iraqi border with an Islamic relief group that he declined to identify. He said he was in Baghdad, Mosul, then finally Fallujah.
"We couldn't go to Palestine, we couldn't go to Kosovo, we couldn't go to Chechnya," said Abu Haritha, a name he uses as a nom de guerre. "There was no other obstacle before Bush except Iraq." He stopped, narrowing his eyes. "Write 'Bush.' Don't write 'president' before his name," he insisted.