Sunday, August 12, 2007
The Iraqis, of course, endure far worse, fighting a technologically superior force that does not hesitate to use its weapons indiscriminately. They live in conditions of poverty, without reliable water, power and food. And, yet, they are on the verge of defeating what is commonly described as the world's only remaining superpower, despite the lack of open foreign assistance. Unlike the Vietnamese, the last people to inflict a humiliating defeat upon the US, there are no countries with the economic and military resources of countries like China and Russia to assist them.
Lieutenant Clay Hanna looks sick and white. Like his colleagues he does not seem to sleep. Hanna says he catches up by napping on a cot between operations in the command centre, amid the noise of radio. He is up at 6am and tries to go to sleep by 2am or 3am. But there are operations to go on, planning to be done and after-action reports that need to be written. And war interposes its own deadly agenda that requires his attention and wakes him up.
When he emerges from his naps there is something old and paper-thin about his skin, something sketchy about his movements as the days go by.
The Americans he commands, like the other men at Sullivan - a combat outpost in Zafraniya, south east Baghdad - hit their cots when they get in from operations. But even when they wake up there is something tired and groggy about them. They are on duty for five days at a time and off for two days. When they get back to the forward operating base, they do their laundry and sleep and count the days until they will get home. It is an exhaustion that accumulates over the patrols and the rotations, over the multiple deployments, until it all joins up, wiping out any memory of leave or time at home. Until life is nothing but Iraq.
Hanna and his men are not alone in being tired most of the time. A whole army is exhausted and worn out. You see the young soldiers washed up like driftwood at Baghdad's international airport, waiting to go on leave or returning to their units, sleeping on their body armour on floors and in the dust.
The Iraqis are very clear about why they are fighting, they are doing so to expel the Americans. Conversely, US troops aren't so sure. They provide many reasons to gloss over the fact that they have volunteered to kill Iraqis and subjugate them in their own land. Some believe that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs, others that Saddam and al-Qaeda were jointly responsible for 9/11, others that the war is part of a global religious conflict between Christianity and Islam. Cindy Sheehan probably described the most compelling reason, the need for soldiers to stand together, to fight for one another, until the war is over.
None of them are sufficient to overcome the intensity by which Iraqis are fighting to liberate themselves from occupation. While US troops express weariness and demoralization, the resistance exudes assurance. It draws support from across the whole of Iraqi society, with the exception of the Kurds. Tariq Aziz's famous remark, Let our cities be our swamps and our buildings our jungles, ceased to be implausible bravado years ago.
Nor do any of them justify what US and British troops have done to the people of Iraq. Whether this year, next year or sometime thereafter, the US, like the British, will depart. Many around the world will celebrate their victory, in the expectation that it announces a new era, one in which they too will be able to successfully challenge US hegemony. The Venezuelans will do so quite boisterously, in recognition of the debt that they know that they owe the Iraqi resistance for making it impossible for the US to violently intervene in their country. Because, while they may not know it, participants in the Iraqi resistance have been fighting not only to liberate Iraq, but to defend the Bolivarian Revolution as well.