When the U.S. needed support from the very Iraqis on whose behalf American soldiers were dying, there was none.
The siege of Sunni-dominated Fallujah and popular uprisings in several Shiite cities may have finally destroyed the administration’s Iraqi fantasy. The dream world of a Western-oriented, liberal democratic order friendly to America dissipated in a hail of gun fire and explosions.
The problem is not military: The U.S. can win any set-piece battle against any opposing force. Instead, the crisis is political. Washington found out that it had no friends. When the U.S. needed support from the very Iraqis on whose behalf American soldiers were dying, there was none.
The first line of support should have come from the Iraqi Governing Council, the 25-member body appointed by the U.S. A joint press conference, showcasing occupation head Paul Bremer alongside IGC members ranging from Shia to Kurd to Shiite, would have demonstrated a joint commitment to both the American crackdown and Washington’s path towards democracy. But there was no such press conference.
The IGC issued a formal statement denouncing al-Sadr, but it also called for “an immediate ceasefire and the reliance on political solutions in all areas of the country, especially Fallujah.” Most members, including Ahmad Chalabi, head of the exile group Iraqi National Congress, which provided much of the false intelligence that lured the U.S. into war, said nothing. These “leaders” were invisible as scores of American servicemen and women were being killed.
THOSE COUNCILMEN WHO did not remain silent instead criticized the United States. Muhsen Abdel Hamid, for instance, proclaimed that he was “with the Sadr people, and the people of Fallujah.”
Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and Washington favorite, was equally harsh, calling America’s response “disproportionate” as well as “unacceptable and illegal.” He added: “A lot of us here in Baghdad and elsewhere were appalled by the loss of life and destruction because there was too much force used.”
After a week, Chalabi — long funded and backed by Washington — finally spoke out. He, along with the occupation authority’s radical Shiite opponents, demanded that “Najaf must not be touched.”
Several IGC members resigned or suspended their participation. The panel’s only active intervention in the crisis came when members suggested a deal, through which militant cleric Moktada al-Sadr, accused of murder, would not be arrested and subjected to the normal judicial process. That contradicted Washington’s tough stance, though occupation officials themselves seemed to edge toward a compromise.
The next line of support for Washington might have come from moderate Shiite leaders. Al-Sadr is a minor figure with a limited following, reportedly disliked by more significant clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
However, al-Sistani and Grand Ayatollah Kazem al-Husseini al-Hairi treated al-Sadr and the occupation authority as moral equivalents, counseling moderation on both sides. While al-Sistani denounced “assaults on public and private property, and any other action that disturbs order,” he also condemned “the methods used by occupation forces.” Indeed, al-Sistani earlier suggested that peaceful opposition to the U.S. was justified.
As fighting died down, sons of three grand ayatollahs met with al-Sadr and expressed their opposition to any U.S. military strike against him. They also attempted to broker a compromise, presumably one that would leave him free.
TRIBAL LEADERS WERE little more supportive of the occupation. While a few worked with allied troops to peacefully end the takeover of the city of Kut by al-Sadr’s forces, others brought letters of support to al-Sadr’s Mahdi army.
Some publicly praised the cleric and denounced American military action. At a meeting in Baghdad with Col. Peter Mansoor of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, broke up as leading Iraqis chanted “Yes! Yes! Moktada!” and “Yes! Yes! Iraq!”
Also noteworthy for abandoning America were the Iraqi security forces, trained and paid by the U.S. Up to one-fourth of the police, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps members, and military personnel quit, refused to fight, or changed sides.
In fact, local ICDC guards may have led the four Blackwater USA contractors into a trap in Fallujah; the cops and ICDC forces sat behind barracks walls as the Americans were slaughtered and their bodies burned. In some of the al-Sadr uprisings police joined in. In Sadr City in Baghdad, the U.S. army, not the Iraqi police, defended the police headquarters.