'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Fisk on Iraq's Descent into Anarchy

From the hardest-working-journalist-in-Iraq's latest column:

Gun battles in Sadr City overnight had cost the lives of up to 40 Iraqis and at least eight Americans, but in the sewage-damp streets yesterday, they were handing out letters, allegedly written by the Sunni townspeople of Fallujah, newly-surrounded by 1,200 marines. "We support you, our brothers, in your struggle," the letters said. If they are authentic, it should be enough to make US proconsul Paul Bremer wonder if he can ever extricate Washington from Iraq. The British took three years to turn both the Sunnis and the Shias into their enemies in 1920. The Americans are achieving this in just under a year.

[ ... ]

Officially, Mr Bremer and his president are standing tall, claiming they will not "tolerate" violence and those who oppose democracy, but occupation officials - in anticipation of a far more violent insurrection - have been privately discussing the legalities of martial law. And although Mr Bremer and President George Bush are publicly insisting that the notional "handover" of Iraq's "sovereignty" will still take place on 30 June, legal experts attached to the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council have also been considering a delay of further months. Many Iraqis are now asking if the Americans want disaster in Iraq. Surely not, but Surely not, but yesterday's violence told its own story of blundering military operations and political provocations that will undoubtedly add to the support for the charmless and provocative Shia cleric whom Mr Bremer now wants to lock up - allegedly for plotting the vicious murder of a pro-western Shia cleric, Abdul-Majid el-Khoi. Sadr was surrounded by his militiamen yesterday, in a mosque in Kufa from where he issues regular denunciations of the occupation.

However, Dan Senor, the occupying power's spokesman, wouldn't tell anyone exactly what the evidence against Sadr was - even though it has supposedly existed since an Iraqi judge issued the warrant some months ago.

He goes on to bring up the analogy that I've always thought was much more relevant than the spectre of Vietnam, the equation between America/Iraq and Israel/Palestine

The helicopter attacks in Shoula - by ghastly coincidence the very same Shoula suburb in which civilians were slaughtered by an American aircraft during last year's invasion - looked like a copy-cat of every Israeli raid on the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, Iraqis are well aware that the US military asked for - and received - Israel's "rules of engagement" from the Sharon government. America's losses these past 24 hours - at least 12 dead and many soldiers wounded - have come nowhere near Iraq's but their enemies may soon outnumber them.

US forces in Sadr City believe they were fighting up to 500 of Sadr's black-uniformed Army of the Mahdi militiamen early yesterday morning. Even so, using Apaches in a heavily-populated district to hunt for gunmen raises new questions about the rules under which occupation troops are supposed to be guided.

and concludes by questioning, on purely pragmatic grounds, the soundness of the decision that began this open revolt:

For the past nine nights, for example, the main US base close to Baghdad airport - and the area around the terminals - has come under mortar fire. Yet the occupying powers have kept this secret. "Things are getting very bad and they're going to get worse," a special forces officer said close to the airport yesterday. "But no one is saying that - either because they don't know or because they don't want you to know."

As for Sadr, he will, no doubt, try to surround himself with squads of gunmen and supporters in the hope that the Americans will not dare to shoot their way in to him. Or he will go underground and we'll have another "enemy of democracy" to bestialise in the run-up to the American elections. Or - much more serious perhaps - his capture may unleash far more violence from his supporters.

And all this, remember, began because Mr Bremer decided to ban Sadr's trashy 10,000-circulation weekly newspaper for "inciting violence."

Indeed, even ignoring all other issues -- such as that part of the democratic ideal Americans are supposed to value is freedom of speech and freedom of the press -- if the shutting down of al-Hawza was meant to lead to less attacks on US troops then the action was a colossal failure. This blunder is mirrored in the Israel/Palestine conflict by the assassination of Yassin, which has led to a less favorable situation for Israel. In each of these cases the consequences of the actions in question were fairly easily predictable -- one wonders why they were carried out.

Anyway the Fisk piece is very good. As the kids say, go read the whole thing.

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