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.
No better was the Iraqi military. A new army battalion refused to go into combat in Fallujah. Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton explained that they said they had not signed up to fight other Iraqis. Gen. Eaton preferred to refer to this mutiny by the Orwellian moniker “a command failure.”
A handful of intellectuals courageously endorsed allied action. But where were the mass of Iraqis? Fortunately, most did not join the uprising. Many probably disdained the resistance. Some undoubtedly are genuinely committed to a liberal, democratic future.
BUT THOSE WHO ACTED almost all joined in the attack on American and coalition forces. Sunnis and Shiites, who normally hate each other, came together to combat the foreign infidels. The diverse mix of terrorists, insurgents, militiamen, and rioters may remain small in number, but it is no longer as small as it was. Even a relatively modest number of violent resisters is likely to dominate an inert silent majority, if one even exists.
Despite some 100 American military dead, numerous civilian contractors killed and their corpses mutilated, a number of U.S. personnel captured, and tanks, helicopters, and supply convoys destroyed, the occupation authority will regain control of the rebellious cities. But the Iraq of today is not the same as the Iraq of last month.
Hundreds of Iraqis are dead and neighborhoods across the country are smoldering. As one unnamed State Department official told the New York Times, “Six months of work is completely gone. There is nothing to show for it.”
THE FUTURE DOESN’T look better. House-to-house resistance and mob control of cities are different in kind from sporadic attacks on U.S. forces through improvised explosive devices and sniping.
Moreover, the events in April are likely the beginning, not the end. Insurgents now will roam in Shiite as well as Sunni areas. No foreigner, and especially no American, can feel safe anywhere in Iraq. Nor can genuinely liberal Iraqis, those few dedicated to the kind of society which the U.S. wants to build.
Few nations are likely to aid Washington in an increasingly difficult fight. The Washington Post, normally a sober voice, editorialized: “Remarkably, major U.S. allies with capable military forces, ranging from Germany and France to Turkey, India and Pakistan, continue to watch from the sidelines as Iraq flirts with a catastrophe that would be deeply damaging to their own interests.”
But what sane foreign leader would choose to enter into a conflict that his people opposed and which has been so badly bungled by America? Some coalition members already are looking for the exit and even those that stay aren’t necessarily much help. The Ukrainian force fled Kut after one death and five injuries.
SOME OCCUPATION ENTHUSIASTS want to respond with greater repression. Stop “conducting a campaign that is hopelessly apologetic and appeasing,” argues Peter Schwartz, chairman of the board of the Ayn Rand institute, in a column for CNSNEWS.com. Just impose the constitution and leaders we favor and kill anyone who objects.
That’s one strategy but we don’t have the stomach for such a brutal approach. And even if we did, it likely would not bring nationalistic Iraqis to heel. It would merely ensure a longer and more intense guerrilla campaign.
We should all hope that Iraq eventually makes its way towards liberal democracy. But we should have no illusions about being able to impose that model upon a people who are growing increasingly restive under the U.S. occupation.
“I still believe that most Iraqis are with us,” says Secretary of State Colin Powell and he may be correct. Certainly the Kurds back us but they would prefer to be out of, not in, a united Iraq. As for the rest of the population, if the majority won’t fight for us they might as well be against us.
Instead of attempting to live out its unrealistic democratic dream, the administration must face reality. As it turns over sovereignty to Iraqis, it should begin planning for the full withdrawal of U.S. forces in months, not years.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
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