An _intifada_ is brewing in Iraq, and American troops are about to stop being liberators and will be forced to embrace their inner occupiers. And many Americans don’t give a damn.
Twenty soldiers have died in fighting or accidents since May 1, the day Bush declared the major fighting over. Five have died this week alone.
- One was killed yesterday in an ambush on a military convoy about 25 miles north of Baghdad, according to CENTCOM
- “Two US soldiers died and nine others were wounded Tuesday in a second day of guerrilla attacks in the flashpoint town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, later claimed by a group apparently loyal to Saddam.” [AFP] The two killed were listed as Staff Sgt. Michael B. Quinn, 37, of Tampa, Fla. and Sgt. Thomas F. Broomhead, 34, both of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Nine other troops were injured.
- Maj. Mathew E. Schram, 36, of Brookfield, Wis., was killed Monday after gunmen ambushed his military convoy in Hadithah, about 110 miles northwest of Baghdad. [AP]
- Also on Monday, a soldier was killed on the outskirts of Baghdad when his Humvee came under attack. American troops have since been scouring the neighborhood looking for the assailants.
And yesterday, riots in the town of Hit drove U.S. troops out of town. The reasons for the violence are unclear, but it may be related to the use of Iraqi police units to aid Americans in house-to-house searches for weapons and the appalling living conditions in which many Iraqis now find themselves.
“They forced women and children to leave their houses!” shouted Esmael Rabee, a construction worker who made his voice heard above the shouts of those who had crowded around the lone foreign reporter [from the Times.] on the scene. “They violated the dignity and honor of our women. We won’t accept this violation.”
And, “They said they wanted to liberate Iraq, but this all shows it is just a game,” said Saleh Dayeh, a political science teacher interviewed in the nearby town of Mohammedi. “Petrol is the property of the Iraqi people, but now the Americans are stealing it. They are taking our property, our petrol and doing nothing for us.” (Gasoline now costs about 20 times what it was under Saddam Hussein.)
“The war has not ended,” said Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, chief of U.S. ground forces in Iraq. [Chicago Tribune] In the same article, the Trib said U.S. forces were gearing up for a major operation in central Iraq to clear out Saddamists. “We want to get rid of these scumbags,” Maj. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, said.
These actions are happening in a belt stretching from Fallujah in the east to Hit in the west. Fallujah is well known as a violent, dangerous place among Iraqis and it was a Saddam stronghold, according to an email I received. (The sender requested anonymity.)
On top of all this, the Pentagon is having trouble convincing other countries to join in the fun. Only two dozen countries have pledged 13,000 troops to aid in policing post-war Iraq, far short of the “tens of thousands” the Pentagon was hoping for in order to allow a drawdown of American troops by fall. Poland is the most enthusiastic, sending 1,500 troops and receiving a command in central-south [or northern] Iraq. British troops are down to 15,000 (from a peak of 45,000 during the war.)
The danger is that without enough troops to do the job, overwhelmed Americans will shoot first and ask questions later, just like the British did when they occupied Mesopotamia in the 1920s while creating the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq. From my experience with Americans there, the troops are tired, war-weary, trigger-happy and — frankly — ignorant of the country. Marines didn’t know who the Kurds were. They had no idea of the geography of the country, not to mention its customs and morals. While there are more troops and patrols in Baghdad, there was almost no contact between average Iraqis and Americans. Things may be better now.
What does all this mean? The immediate answer is that U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s plans for a small ground force, popular support and an ruling infrastructure largely untouched were laughably wrong. Iraqis have taken to speaking their minds with a vengeance: The don’t want Iraqi police “protecting” them, they expect basic services to work and they want the feeling that they haven’t traded one evil, brutal ruler for a neglectful, easily distracted one. They also don’t want to feel like they’re simply pawns in a great game as Dayeh implied.
Some might say they must be patient. Some might ask who the hell cares what Iraqis think? (Which is basically what an email I received said. The author added that if a few Iraqis have to die for American security, “So be it.” Nice note, you savage.)
But what I find most disturbing is the lack of concern among many Americans, who are shirking their responsibility to demand answers from the White House as to why this looks like it’s turning into a collassal cock-up. Does it bother the war’s supporters that the whole WMD thing is vanishing in a puff of propaganda? (Dept. Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said in _Vanity Fair_ that “for bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.”) The “biological laboratories” strike me as a flimsy reason for war, considering the CIA itself says it doesn’t expect to find the presence of any bioweapons agents. “We suspect that the Iraqis thoroughly decontaminated the vehicle to remove evidence of BW agent production,” the report says. That’s silly. If the Iraqis thought the trailers were going to be captured, why waste time and energy on decontamination? Blowing them up would have been just as effective. If they didn’t expect them to be captured, there should be some traces of “BW agents” — assuming they were used to actually produce biological agents.
But no matter: According to a poll by the Program on International Policy Attutudes, 41 percent of Americans either think the U.S. has found WMDs (34 percent) or are unsure (7 percent.) Sixty-eight percent of Americans still support the war, although only half were somewhat (29 percent) or very (21 percent) certain that “when the US government presented the evidence to justify going to war with Iraq, it was … not being misleading.” Five percent were unsure.
That means 45 percent of America thinks it was lied to, but President George Bush gets props from 74 percent of the country for his “strong leadership.”
[The poll was conducted with a nationwide sample of 1,265 respondents May 14-18. The margin of error was plus or minus 3-4%, depending on whether the question was administered to the whole sample or half the sample. — from the press release.]
Also, there seems to be a collective amnesia in 20 percent of the population. One in five Americans believe, despite repeated pre-war statements from the White House and 24-7 red-eye coverage of Iraq, that the primary reason for going to war was “the fact that Saddam Hussein was an oppressive dictator.”
I actually met one of the Bush supporters at a party on Friday. He’s a smart guy and he means well. And I stand with him in his gladness that Saddam Hussein is out of power. But when I asked him if he minded being lied to as a rationale to go to war, he said no. What mattered was that Saddam was gone. Echoing Wolfowitz, he said the WMD angle was just what was needed to sell it.
Jesus. How do you argue with that?
Steven Kull, director of PIPA, said that the desire to support the war in the face of White House lies is driving some Americans to avoid news of the aftermath, to avoid “having an experience of cognitive dissonance.”
So here’s what we’re looking at. Iraq is turning into a tarbaby in the middle of a briar patch, a significant minority of Americans don’t know and may not want to know the truth about the war, and the crosshairs of the American war machine are swiveling to the east toward Tehran. (But don’t expect another war before next year’s election. Even Gen. Rove thinks three wars in one term might be a bit much.)
While the Iraqi resistance to American occupiers gets underway, there’s a desperate need for Americans to resist future moves to unjustified war. Lives — American and otherwise — are in the balance. Remember that next November.