Meanwhile, back in Iraq…
While much deserved attention is paid to battle for the truth against the Bush administration’s many changing rationales for war, the battle for Iraq is still ongoing. _Newsday_ has a chilling interview with a man known as Khaled, who claims to be a commander of the _Saddam Fedayeen_, and says the resistance is organized, growing and ruthless.
“We have many more people and we’re a lot better organized than the Americans realize,” said Khaled, 29, who gave an hour-long interview to _Newsday_ on Wednesday on the condition that only his first name be published. “We have been preparing for this kind of guerrilla war for a long time, and we’re much more patient than the Americans. We have nowhere else to go.”
Khaled described the workings of a loosely organized network of former Baath Party members, Iraqi soldiers, intelligence officers and other die-hard Hussein supporters who have been responsible for an unknown number of the attacks that have killed 29 U.S. soldiers and injured dozens since May 1.
He said the network operates in cells of five or six members that answer to a secret leadership structure. It goes by various names — the Fedayeen, the Iraq Liberation Army, Muhammad’s Army — and Khaled said only a handful of people know its full reach. He said its members draw inspiration from Hussein and from the belief that the ousted Iraqi leader is alive and will regain power once U.S. troops are forced to leave.
What has the United States marched its troops into? A quagmire? An abattoir?
I respectfully disagree with other sites that the U.S. should bring the troops home by Christmas. While I resent that the men and women I met while in the war were lied to and put in harm’s way for a myriad of shifting rationales, the fact of the matter is that Iraq is a mess. Pulling out the troops now would make it even worse, if you can believe that.
Iraq is a dangerous place, full of dangerous men. Saddam’s regime terrorized his people leaving resentments, fury and the urge for revenge. If the U.S. pulled out before the country was stabilized, there would be a civil war that might spill over into Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Kurds would be massacred as Turkey and Iran move in to protect their interests. The Persian Gulf would be impassable. Energy infrastructure from Basra to Baku in Azerbaijan would be destroyed, slower or otherwise impaired. The world’s economy would grind to a halt. And the real danger to the West, al Qa’ida, would be able to operate much more freely.
That’s not to say there aren’t any alternatives, but none of them are very good. Turning Iraq over to a U.N. trust to be administered and policed by the body is a popular one. That’s a tough call, however. Iraq would be the biggest project of this kind ever undertaken by the United Nations, and its track record is mixed. Any realistic U.N.-sanctioned force needed to establish security would have to include a sizable portion of Americans — if only for logistical purposes — who would be even less welcome in Baghdad a second time around. Avoiding additional ill will would probably require placing American troops under an Islamic command, possibly Turkish or Pakistani. Can anyone really imagine any president, Republican or Democrat, doing that?
Many, many opposed this war — I did. I thought it was a mistake of colossal magnitude — still do. U.S. troops face 10 to 25 attacks _a day,_ and, as Khaled implied, it will get likely worse. The choices available are all bad. Simply put, *the Americans can’t stay, but neither can they leave.* What they call “liberation,” _tahrir_ in Arabic, too many Iraqis are calling _ihtilal,_ — “occupation,” with the overtones of the Christian Crusades, the Mongol sacking of Baghdad in the 13th century, the divvying up of the region between Britain and France after World War I and the Israeli presence in Lebanon and the occupied territories. As Salon.com writer Nir Rosen says:
The most common refrain one hears from Iraqis these days is: “They came as liberators and now they are occupiers.” The significance of the liberation vs. occupation debate can get lost in translation here, but its immense political implications were evident in a June 2 meeting, hosted by the Coalition Provisional Authority, for nearly 300 tribal leaders of all religions and ethnic groups. Hume Horan, a political advisor to Bremer, also was present. Horan, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and fluent Arabic speaker, addressed the audience in Arabic about the coalition’s efforts and its need for Iraqi support.
After Horan finished speaking, Sheik Munther Abood from Amarra thanked President Bush for removing the Baath regime of Saddam Hussein and stated that he had seen the mass graves full of dead Shias in the south and was firmly opposed to Saddam. He then asked Horan if the coalition forces in Iraq were liberators or occupiers. Horan responded that they were “somewhere in between occupier and liberator.”
This was not well received by the audience. Sheik Abood stated that if America was a liberator, then the coalition forces were welcome indefinitely as guests, but that if they were occupiers, then he and his descendants would “die resisting” them. This met with energetic applause from the audience. Several other sheiks echoed the same sentiment. Then the meeting deteriorated and a third of the audience stood up and walked out, despite efforts by Horan and other organizers to encourage them to stay. At which point the meeting ended. It was not a public relations success.
Is it any wonder people like Khaled find support? “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea,” Mao once said. (He also said, “Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things, that are decisive.” Khaled and people like him are proving Mao right.)
All Americans should be aware of the agonizing position Team Bush has put them in. There are few good solutions to this that will a) benefit the Iraqi people and respect their dignity and sovereignty, and b) keep the region stable and secure while reducing American casualties. The answers that do look viable — pumping massive quantities of aid and money aimed at rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and dealing with Iraqis on their terms and not on the Americans’ — don’t seem to on the table in Washington and Baghdad. Perhaps it’s just not in this White House’s political DNA to deal with anyone except at gunpoint. (“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” — Mao, again.)
Former CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks says the world is facing a four-year presence in Iraq. So, electing a Democrat into the White House in 2004 won’t be a solution. As I’ve argued above, the chaos and anarchy that would result in a premature pullout will force any president to maintain a sizable presence in Iraq. (Americans should still turn Bush and his cronies out on their collective ass, though. The list of reasons to do so other than Iraq are encyclopedic.)
The comments from Khaled, Franks, Horan and Sheik Abood remind me of the apocryphal story told of the encounter between an American colonel and his North Vietnamese counterpart at the Paris Peace Conference. “You know,” the American said, “you never defeated us on the battlefield.” His counterpart responded: “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”