“Of course they don’t like being occupied. I wouldn’t like being occupied either.”
President George W. Bush, April 13 White House press conference
Forget about George W. Bush’s scripted press conference, where, according to CNN, the president was “quite forceful in rebutting the attacks on his Iraq policy.” Forget that Bush admitted to no mistakes in his “war on terror” and complained to a reporter: “You should have submitted that question in writing so I could have prepared.” Let’s go back to the real world, in Iraq.
“Occupying power needs full-spectrum-dominance Middle East dictator. Must have excellent connections with neo-conservatives in Washington and experience in quelling any kind of dissent by whatever means necessary. Ability to work under pressure essential. Democratic credentials will be provided by the employer. Send detailed CVs to L Paul Bremer, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Green Zone, Baghdad. All correspondence will be kept strictly confidential.”
This ad has not been posted – not yet. But it just about sums it all up in terms of American isolation in Iraq, after the Pentagon and the CPA’s neo-con policies have managed to lead to the unthinkable: Sunni and Shi’ite united against the occupation in a war of national resistance.
All current mediation efforts in Sunni or Shi’ite areas are being conducted by influential clerics or tribal chiefs – and not the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). Carrying no authority or legitimacy, the IGC has been totally eclipsed: when any of its frightened members says a word, it is to criticize the occupation. Furthermore, even the Americans were forced to admit that the CPA-equipped Iraqi security forces have either disappeared, declined to fight or migrated to the resistance. By the implacable logic of nationalist resistance, any Iraqi now working with any foreigner of any kind runs the risk of being targeted as a collaborator – and subsequently kidnapped or killed. The great majority of foreign civilian aid workers in Iraq are about to leave.
All over the Arab and Muslim world, Sunni Fallujah (“The city of the mosques”) and holy Shi’ite Najaf have become the symbols of an increasingly well-organized, broad-based resistance. Paradox is king: the Marines can only “pacify” Fallujah by leveling it; and tough-talking American generals may want to capture “outlaw” Muqtada al-Sadr “dead or alive,” while in fact they have been forced to the negotiating table with him.
What’s happening in Fallujah and Najaf?
Asia Times Online has learned that Fallujah residents are describing what happened last week as “the new Jenin” – a direct reference to the lethal April 2002 Israeli offensive unleashed against a Palestinian camp. Osama Saleh al-Tikrit, a dentist at Baghdad Hospital, said that at least 600 civilians were killed in Fallujah, and up to 1,500 injured. Dr Abed al-Illah, also a representative of the Iraqi Islamic Party – which is part of the IGC – and a sworn enemy of Saddam, said that “about 350 out of the 600 dead were women and children. One was only eight months old. Many died from simple wounds and could have been saved if they had medical attention.” Illah adds that “the Americans claim that all the wounded are fighters and will not let us take them away. Families cannot escape because of their snipers.”
Arab populations – but not their cowed governments – have been busy comparing proconsul L Paul Bremer with Saddam, and talking of a genocide in Fallujah: they all saw the non-stop flow of horrible images on alJazeera (and that’s why the Americans want alJazeera out of Fallujah). Alarmingly, neo-cons in Washington are issuing calls to level Fallujah. The neo-con rage centers on the fact that the occupation was caught sleeping as the rebellion in Fallujah quickly moved east from the Euphrates towards Baghdad itself: everybody living in the villages in between who was a former member of the Iraqi army was armed and ready to deliver a blow to the Americans.
The Marines are reopening the siege of Fallujah – with the US running the risk of creating a war crime and provoking a humanitarian disaster. Of the 300,000 people who live in Fallujah, up to 60,000 may have become refugees. Another bloodbath will inevitably breed thousands more Osama bin Ladens or whoever the terrorist-scarecrow-of-the-day is.
Meanwhile in Najaf, feverish mediation between Bremer’s CPA and Muqtada’s forces continued even after the holy day of Arba’in. Everyone from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq party to the al-Dawa Party to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s son, Ridha, is involved. According to Adnan al-Asadi, the second-in-command of the Shi’ite al-Dawa Party, the mediators are concentrating on a serious possibility: Muqtada’s Mahdi Army is not dissolved, but it returns its weapons to the Americans. They have no problems melting back into the local population – guerrilla-style: they may resurface later.
In exchange for the Mahdi Army disarming, the prosecution of Muqtada in connection with the murder of pro-Western Shi’ite cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei a year ago is turned over to the Iraqi judiciary, but only after the June 30 handover of sovereignty from the US to Iraq. Iraqi police retake control of security in Najaf (Muqtada loyalists control the police in Najaf, anyway). And the Americans remain out of the holy city.
This solution clashes head-on with the rumble emanating from the Green Zone. Bremer rejects everything. He says that Muqtada has three options: he can surrender, he can be arrested, or he can be killed while resisting arrest. There are already 2,500-plus American soldiers around Najaf, backed by tanks and artillery, ready to capture Muqtada “dead or alive.”
But according to the Iranian newspaper Baztab, Sistani has already warned the Americans in a letter that if they attack the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, the Hawza – the Shi’ite equivalent of the Vatican – will fight: this essentially means that Sistani will say the word and issue a fatwa for a jihad against the occupiers, which will be followed to the letter by more than 60 percent of the Iraqi population.
The mediators know better than anyone there’s no possible cowboy “dear or alive” military solution to deal with Muqtada and his followers. Theirs is also a social movement, with deep roots in the early 1990s. It would take a short trip from the Green Zone to Sadr City in Baghdad – former Saddam City – for the tough-talking generals to see for themselves how these people are desperately poor, very angry and won’t think twice about becoming martyrs by the millions. Kill Muqtada and a thousand new Muqtadas will spring up. Muqtada is ready to die as a martyr. And there’s no easy solution either, because Muqtada will never accept exile in Iran.
Muqtada and the Pentagon’s preemptive war
The official Pentagon-CPA version is that Muqtada’s militias are a bunch of terrorists and a threat to “Iraqi democracy”. But the move against Muqtada may be just part of a Pentagon strategy to position overwhelmingly unpopular, Pentagon-backed Ahmad Chalabi as the new Saddam – performing the role of the new Iraqi prime minister after June 30.
A sign of things to come is what happened to Iyad Allawi from the Iraqi National Accord, Chalabi’s key rival for more than a decade. Allawi resigned from the security commission of the IGC because his man at the Ministry of Interior was dismissed by Bremer. Allawi was the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department man in the last years of the Saddam era – always trying to organize military coups. Chalabi, in exile, was the Pentagon’s golden boy.
The CPA, as is widely known, is a neo-con nest. Allawi may have been neutralized because the Pentagon wants Chalabi as the new Saddam at all costs. Allawi is as much a rival to Chalabi as Muqtada. Chalabi – like Muqtada – also directs a militia, but this one happens not to be a “threat to democracy”. No wonder: it was flown to Iraq by the Pentagon itself.
What do the neo-cons want?
It is now established that the Muqtada-led uprising has been a decisive answer to a series of alarming Bremer moves – already detailed by Asia Times Online at the conclusion of Iraq one year on: from liberation to jihad. The CPA moved first. Muqtada counter-attacked successfully. Michael Schwartz, professor of sociology at the State University of New York and an expert in popular protest and insurgency, wrote one of the most succinct analyses of why that happened:
“The fact that the militias accomplished the capture of all or part of as many as five cities (mostly with populations of less than 200,000, but cities nevertheless) with almost no casualties is testimony to four underlying facts about the current situation in Iraq: that the coalition forces had very little presence or legitimacy within the cities – despite a year of unhindered opportunity; that the newly formed police have neither the interest, nor the ability to resist the militias – and that they therefore have little hope of becoming an adequate force for law and order; that the people of these cities (tacitly or overtly) supported the uprisings – however uncomfortable they may be with the Islamist ideas and policies of [Muqtada] Sadr himself; and that the militants are very well organized indeed – and will remain so even after this episode is over.”
To fight against a broad-based war of national resistance, the Americans can now count on only one ally: the Kurds. But the problem is the Kurds are far away in their autonomous northern mountains, oblivious to a fight carried by Arabs, and with only one thing in their minds: how to get ready for a future, inevitable war against the Turks.
Washington now faces the essence of total asymmetric war. The more repressive, the more unpopular – and the more the Shi’ite majority bolsters the ranks of the active, armed Iraqi resistance. If Muqtada becomes a martyr, Iraq becomes a real Vietnam.
This may be what the neo-cons want. In a logic of total war, this is the next step leading to the inevitable attacks on Syria and Iran in the event that Bush is reelected. The neo-cons may be creating the conditions to smash their own calendar on purpose, making impossible the so-called “handover of sovereignty” on June 30. More troops will be called to Iraq to fight “terrorists” – be they in Fallujah, east Baghdad or in the Shi’ite south. Total war is never-ending war.
Iraqis may have a few cards up their sleeves. The IGC may totally collapse, leaving the king – the occupation – naked. And an Iraqi million-man-march may be assembled in Baghdad around the Green Zone, demanding the occupiers to leave the country for good.
On the other hand, there are alarming, persistent noises of the American military perceiving Iraqis – not to mention Arabs as a whole – as untermenschen, sub-humans. With the neo-con-controlled CPA in total isolation after a total political defeat, and a campaigning Bush posing as the super-vigilante foe of terrorist evildoers, the only card left to play is “overwhelming” military might. Iraq may be on the verge of becoming Stalingrad, Vietnam, Jenin and Chechnya all rolled into one. And nobody may be able to prevent it, least of all a new Saddam.