ABU DHABI – Wolfowitz of Arabia, the Pentagon’s number two and the man who sold the war on Iraq to George W. Bush, stepped out of a C-17 cargo plane after a 12-hour flight from Washington to Baghdad to, in his own words, collect “first-hand evidence of what it means for the Iraqi people to be liberated from decades of brutal repression.”
Had he taken a proper tour of Baghdad he would have found evidence of a “classic guerrilla-type campaign” – in the words of new US Central Command chief General John Abizaid, who was forced to face reality and change the official tack on “uncoordinated attacks by remnants of the Ba’ath regime.”
Support for Abizaid’s position came from none other than the specter of Saddam Hussein – still invisible but very vocal despite a “massive manhunt” and a US$25 million bounty on his head. In a new audio tape obtained by al-Arabiya TV in Baghdad and broadcast hours before Paul Wolfowitz landed in Iraq, the speaker purporting to be Saddam marks the 35th anniversary of the Ba’ath Party’s seizure of power by saying that Iraq is under “an administration of occupation and evil.” And yes, there is a guerrilla war going on, which Saddam wants to turn into a jihad.
Wolfowitz met with the American proconsul in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the senior US commander of the roughly 145,000 American troops on the ground. Wolfowitz had nothing new to say because Bremer had already stated on the record the Pentagon’s judgement on Iraq: “The timing of how long the coalition stays here is now in the hands of the Iraqi people.” Well, not really – as the US Army had just announced that the 3rd Infantry Division would stay indefinitely.
Had he been to Fallujah, Wolfowitz would have heard cries of “There’s no God but Allah, and Bush is the enemy of God.” In Fallujah there are now between four and eight attacks every week on US patrols and positions. In the Sunni belt, there have been attacks against Iraqi engineers – deemed to be “collaborators” – and against oil pipelines and liquid natural gas plants. The guerrillas’ master plan is to prevent any possible normalization of the American occupation.
Aggressive American raids to pre-empt guerrilla attacks, arrest suspects and seize arms, ammunition and cash have been met with tremendous hostility by Iraqis. The anger has been compounded with the announcement of the number of civilian victims of the war: between 6,055 and 7,706, according to the pacifist Anglo-American NGO Iraq Body Count , based on reports by a dozen independent research projects spread all over the country.
A group called the Iraqi Liberation Army, in a statement addressed to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said it will “resist any military intervention and under any cover from the UN or the Security Council, NATO, or Islamic and Arab countries.” Moreover, different sources in the Arab world tell of widespread Iraqi discontent with the recently-nominated 25-member “governing council” which will theoretically rule for one year, but under strict surveillance by Bremer.
UN sources confirmed to Asia Times Online that according to a document subject to bitter negotiations with Bremer, and which will not be released in the near future, the governing council has the power to appoint ministers and diplomatic representatives, to vote on the budget and to form a committee of 8 to 10 judges who will be charged of writing the future Iraqi constitution. But Bremer still maintains the right to veto.
Saddam’s regime has not been replaced with a smooth transition to democracy – as Washington promised the world. Chaos is still the norm. Even with Bremer’s council up and running, the whole mindset, from an American perspective, is still high on military alertness and low on reconstruction activity. Pragmatic businessmen in Abu Dhabi agree that the much-vaunted battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people cannot be won.
Subject to daily distress, most Iraqis are not allowed the luxury of even bothering with the political process. Their real, pressing problem is the absence of kharabba – electricity. With temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius and non-stop power cuts, tempers couldn’t be hotter. Bremer said that before the war slightly more than half of Iraq’s electricity needs were assured. It’s not true: there was no substantial lack of power in Saddam’s Iraq. Nowadays production is around 3,100MW, which covers less than half of the country’s needs. It may be argued whether American bombing spared Iraq’s infrastructure this time, but the fact is that high-tension lines south of Baghdad were hit by bombing. At the end of April, the lucrative contract for reconstruction and renovation of Iraq’s electricity grid was awarded to the Bush-connected Bechtel Corporation. But nothing has happened so far.
Baghdad South’s power plant was conceived to generate 350MW. Slightly before Saddam’s fall it hardly generated 200. Today it generates not more than 165MW. Some high-tension lines have been attacked by the so-called Ali Baba – who can be regarded as anything between authentic Iraqi resistance or Kalashnikov-equipped bandits in search of copper to be resold in the black market. The fact remains that the Americans simply cannot patrol all of Iraq’s 17,000 kilometers of high-tension lines. US estimates are that three years are necessary to restore the electricity grid. Kharabba, not jihad, may be the US’s nemesis in Iraq.
Iraqis complain that there’s no distribution of food rations, no creation of jobs, no reconstruction. Practically everybody is convinced that the US cut off the power to “punish Iraq.” Iraqis are living under the impression of being governed by a colonizing power that does not need to consult them and does not need to inform them. For many, the lack of kharabba is much more important than corpses being recovered from Saddam’s mass graves.
As the Americans retreat into siege mode, they are cutting themselves entirely off from a populace that was not hostile when they arrived as glorious invaders. The US arguably lost this war in the first days after the “fall” of Baghdad on April 9. Those days of widespread looting in April are deeply ingrained in Iraqi minds. There would be a lot more respect for a victor able to preserve the riches of a conquered country. And now the talk in the Iraqi street is still of those days in June when there was no electricty but oil exports had resumed.
The US military show in Iraq costs almost $4 billion a month. The US military show in Afghanistan costs almost $1 billion a month. There’s been an anti-American jihad going on in Afghanistan for almost a year now. And there’s been an anti-American jihad going on in Iraq since even before Saddam’s self-proclaimed starting date of July 27. As things stand, there seems to be no kharabba at the end of the tunnel.