[Marxism] Walden Bello: Fallujah and the New Iraq

Lueko Willms l.willms at jpberlin.de
Sun Apr 25 23:16:01 MDT 2004

Forwarded for your information....

--------- schnipp -----------------------------------------

   Falluja and the Forging of the New Iraq

   April 18 2004

   By Walden Bello *)

 A defiant slogan repeated by residents of Falluja over the last year
 was that their city would be "the graveyard of the Americans." The
 last two weeks has seen that chant become a reality, with most of the
 88 US combat deaths falling in the intense fighting around Falluja.
 But there is a bigger sense in which the slogan is true: Falluja has
 become the graveyard of US policy in Iraq.

 Falluja: a Strategic Dilemma

 The battle for the city is not yet over, but the Iraqi resistance has
 already won it. Irregular fighters fueled mainly by spirit and
 courage were able to fight the elite of America's colonial legions --
 the US Marines -- to a standstill on the outer neighborhoods of
 Falluja. Moreover, so frustrated were the Americans that, in their
 trademark fashion of technology-intensive warfare, they unleashed
 firepower indiscriminately, leading to the deaths of some 600 people,
 mainly women and children, according to eyewitness accounts. Captured
 graphically by Arab television, these two developments have created
 both inspiration and deep anger that is likely to be translated into
 thousands of new recruits for the already burgeoning resistance.

 The Americans are now confronted with an unenviable dilemma: they
 stick to the ceasefire and admit they can't handle Falluja, or they
 go in and take it at a terrible cost both to the civilian population
 and to themselves. There is no doubt the heavily armed Marines can
 pacify Falluja, but the costs are likely to make that victory a
 Pyrrhic one.

 As if one battlefield blunder did not suffice, the US sent a 2500-man
 force to Najaf to arrest the radical cleric Muqtad al-Sadr. Again,
 even before the battle has begun, they have created a fine mess for
 themselves. The threat of an American assault has merely brought over
 more Shiites, including the widely respected Ayatollah Sistani to the
 defense of al-Sadr. If the Americans do not attack, they will be seen
 by the Iraqis as being scared of taking on al-Sadr. If they attack,
 then they will have to engage in the same sort of high-casualty,
 close-quarters combat cum indiscriminate firepower that can only
 deliver the same outcome as an assault on Falluja: tactical victory,
 strategic defeat.

 The Making of a Quagmire

 The last few days have left us with indelible images that will
 forever underline the quicksand that is US policy in Iraq. There are
 the marines blaring speakers at Falluja insurgents taunting them for
 hiding behind women and children, when the reality is that women and
 children are part of the Iraqi resistance. There is Defense Secretary
 Donald Rumsfeld cursing telecasts by Al Arabiya and Al Jezeerah
 claiming there are 600 women and children dead when even CNN has
 admitted that a high proportion of the dead and wounded in Falluja
 were indeed women and children. Then there is George W. Bush vowing
 not to "cut and run" but not offering any way out of the impasse
 except the application of more of the military force with which the
 Americans have ruled Iraq in the last year.

 To some analysts, the problem lies in the miscalculations of
 Rumsfeld. The man, in this view, simply underestimated what it would
 take to have a successful military occupation of Iraq. Rumsfeld
 thought 160,000 troops would suffice to invade and occupy Iraq. The
 result, according to James Fallows in the latest issue of the
 Atlantic, is that "it is only a slight exaggeration to say that today
 the entire US military is either in Iraq, returning from Iraq, or
 getting ready to go." 40 per cent of the troops deployed to Iraq this
 year will not be professional soldiers but members of the National
 Guard or Reserves, who signed up on the understanding that they were
 only going to be weekend warriors. To many it now seems that the
 estimates of military professionals like Gen. Anthony Zinni, who said
 that it would take 500,000 troops to secure Iraq, were more on the
 mark. But even Zinni's figure-the high-water mark of the US troop
 presence in Vietnam-may now been outstripped by the wildfire speed of
 the insurgency racing through rural and urban Iraq.

 To other observers, it has been the ineptitude of Paul Bremer, the
 American proconsul, that has created the crisis. In this view, Bremer
 made three big mistakes of a political nature, all during his first
 month in office: removing top-ranking Ba'ath Party figures, some
 30,000 of them, from office; dissolving the Iraqi Army, thus throwing
 a quarter of a million Iraqis out of work; and making a handover of
 power indefinite and dependent on the writing of a constitution under
 military occupation. Add to these his recent closing of a Shiite
 newspaper critical of the occupation and his ordering the arrest of
 an aide of Muqtad al-Sadr-moves that, Canadian journalist Naomi Klein
 contends, were calculated to draw al-Sadr into open confrontation in
 order to crush him.

 Inept, Rumsfeld and Bremer have certainly been, but their military
 and political blunders were inevitable consequences of the collective
 delusion of George Bush and the reigning neoconservatives at the
 White House. One element of this delusion was the belief that the
 Iraqis hated Saddam so much that they would tolerate an indefinite
 political and military occupation that had the license to blunder at
 will. A second element was persisting in the illusion that that it
 was mainly "remnants" of the Saddam Hussein regime that were behind
 the spreading insurgency when everybody else in Baghdad realized the
 resistance had grassroots backing. A third was that the Shiite-Sunni
 divide was so deep that their coming together for a common enterprise
 against the US on a nationalist and religious platform was
 impossible. In other words, it was the Americans themselves who spun
 their own web of false fundamental assumptions that entrapped them.

 The Bushites are hopelessly out of touch with reality. But so are
 others in Washington's hegemonic conservative circles. An influential
 conservative critic of the administration's policy, Fareed Zakaria,
 editor of Newsweek's international editions, for instance, has this
 to offer as the way out: "The US must bribe, cajole, and coopt
 various Sunni leaders to separate the insurgents from the local
 population... [T]he tribal sheiks, former low-level Baathists, and
 regional leaders must be courted assiduously. In addition, money must
 start flowing into Iraqi hands."

 Nationalism and Islam: Fuel of the Resistance

 The truth is, the neoconservative scenario of quick invasion,
 pacification of the population with chocolates and cash, installation
 of a puppet "democracy" dominated by Washington's proteges, then
 withdrawal to distant military bastions while an American-trained
 army and police force took over security in the cities was dead on
 arrival. For all its many fractures, the cross-ethnic appeal of
 nationalism and Islam is strong in Iraq. This was brought home to me
 by two incidents when I visited Iraq along with a parliamentary
 delegation shortly before the American bombing. When we asked a class
 at Baghdad University what they thought of the coming invasion, a
 young woman answered firmly that had George Bush studied his history,
 he would have known that the Americans would face the same fate as
 the countless armies that had invaded and pillaged Mesopotamia for
 the last 4,000 years. Leaving Baghdad, we were convinced that the
 young men and women we talked to were not the kind that would submit
 easily to foreign occupation.

 Two days later, at the Syrian border, hours before the American
 bombing, we encountered a group of Mujaheddin heading in the opposite
 direction, full of energy and enthusiasm to take on the Americans.
 They were from Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Palestine, and Syria, and
 they were the cutting edge of droves of Islamic volunteers that would
 stream into Iraq over the next few months to participate in what they
 welcomed as the decisive battle with the Americans.

 As the invasion began, many of us predicted that the American
 invasion would face an urban resistance that would be difficult to
 pacify in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country. Famously, Scott
 Ritter, the former UN arms inspector, said that the Americans would
 be forced to exit Iraq like Napoleon from Russia, their ranks harried
 by partisans. We were wrong, of course, since there was little
 popular resistance to the entry of the Americans to Baghdad. But we
 were eventually proved right. Our mistake lay in underestimating the
 time it would take to transform the population from an unorganized,
 submissive mass under Saddam to a force empowered by nationalism and
 Islam. Bush and Bremer constantly talk about their dream of a "new
 Iraq." Ironically, the new post-Saddam Iraq is being forged in a
 common struggle against a hated occupation.

 Steep Learning Curve

 The Americans thought they could coerce and buy the Iraqis into
 submission. They failed to reckon with one thing: spirit. Of course,
 spirit is not enough, and what we have seen over the last year is a
 movement traveling on a steep learning curve from clumsy and
 amateurish acts of resistance to a sophisticated repertoire combining
 the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), hit-and-run tactics,
 stand-your-ground firefights, and ground missile attacks.

 Unfortunately, these tactics have also included strategically planned
 car bombings and kidnappings that have harmed civilians along with
 Coalition combatants and mercenaries. Unfortunately, too, in the
 resistance's daring effort to sap the will of the enemy by carrying
 the battle to the latter's territory, it has included missions that
 deliberately target civilians, like the Madrid subway bombing that
 killed hundreds of innocents. Such acts are unjustified and deeply
 deplorable, but to those quick to condemn, one must point out that
 the indiscriminate killing of some 10,000 Iraqi civilians by US
 troops in the first year of the occupation and the current targeting
 of civilians in the siege of Falluja are on the same moral plane as
 these methods of the Iraqi and Islamic resistance. Indeed, the
 "American way of war" has always involved the killing and punishing
 of the civilian population. The bombing of Dresden, the firebombing
 of Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Operation Phoenix in Vietnam-all
 had the strategic objective of winning wars via the deliberate
 targeting of civilians. So, please, no moralizing about the West's
 "civilized warfare" and Islamic "barbarism."

 The Loyal Opposition Problem

 The resistance is on the ascendant in Iraq, but the balance of forces
 continues to be on the American side. The Iraq war has developed into
 a multi-front war, with the struggle for public opinion in the United
 States being one of the key battles. Here, there has been no decisive
 break so far. The liberals are hopeless. At a time that they should
 be calling for a fundamental reexamination of US policy and pushing
 withdrawal as an option, their line, as the liberal Financial Times
 columnist Gerard Baker, expresses it, is, "Whether or not you believe
 Iraq was a real threat under Saddam Hussein, you cannot deny that a
 US defeat there will make it one now." It does not help to point out
 to Baker and others that this is a non-sequitur. For the liberals are
 not responding to logic but to baiting from the same frothing right
 wing that, three decades ago, predicted chaos, massacre, and civil
 war should the US withdraw from Vietnam.

 For presidential contender John Kerry and the Democrats, the
 alternative is stabilization via greater participation by the United
 Nations and the US' European allies, which, of course, hardly
 distinguishes them from George Bush, who is desperate to bring in the
 UN and more troops from the Coalition of the Willing to relieve US
 troops in frontline positions.

 One of the reasons Democratic leaders do not call for withdrawal is
 their fear that this could harm them in the November elections --
 despite the fact that, according to the Pew Research Center, 44 per
 cent of Americans now say that troops should be brought home as soon
 as possible, up from 32 per cent last September. But an even more
 fundamental reason is that they agree with Baker's position that
 while the invasion of Iraq may not have been justified, a unilateral
 withdrawal cannot be allowed since this would strike an incalculable
 blow to American prestige and leadership.

 Where is the Peace Movement?

 The paralysis that has gripped the Democrats on Iraq can only be
 broken by one thing: a strong anti-war movement such as that which
 took to the streets daily and in the thousands before and after the
 Tet Offensive in 1968. So far that has not materialized, though
 disillusion with US policy in Iraq has spread to more than half of
 the US population.

 Indeed, at the very time that it is needed by developments in Iraq,
 the international peace movement has had trouble getting in gear. The
 demonstrations on March 20 of this year were significantly smaller
 than the Feb.10 marches last year, when tens of millions marched
 throughout the world against the projected invasion of Iraq. The kind
 of international mass pressure that makes an impact on policymakers-
 the daily staging of demonstration after demonstration in the
 hundreds of thousands in city after city-is simply not in evidence,
 at least not yet. Which raises the question: Was the New York Times
 premature in calling international civil society the world's "second
 greatest superpower" in the wake of the Feb. 10 demonstrations?

 All this indicates that the dramatic April events in Iraq do not yet
 add up to an Iraqi equivalent of the Tet events in Vietnam in 1968.
 At most, they are a dress rehearsal. Domestic opposition to the war
 in the US has yet to escalate to a critical mass. Without this
 domestic challenge from below, the Bush administration will most
 likely continue to send in more troops to the Iraq meat-grinder in
 pursuit of an elusive military solution that would turn the conflict
 into a long-drawn war of attrition until the level of casualties
 finally ends public tolerance in the US for a policy headed nowhere
 but more body bags.

 Iraq and the Global Equation

 Paradoxically enough, while the rise of the Iraqi resistance has not
 yet altered the correlation of forces within Iraq, it has contributed
 mightily to transforming the global equation in the last 12 months.
 It has discouraged a militarily overextended Washington from carrying
 out efforts at regime change in other countries, like Syria, North
 Korea, and Iran. It has deflected the attention and resources needed
 by the Washington for a successful occupation of Afghanistan. It has
 prevented the US from focusing on its backyard, thus allowing the
 consolidation of anti-free-market and anti-US governments in Latin
 America, such as those of Norberto Kirchner in Argentina, Luis Inacio
 da Silva or Lula in Brazil, and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. It has
 deepened the rift in the political, military, and cultural alliance
 known as the Atlantic Alliance, which served as a potent instrument
 of Washington's global hegemony during and immediately after the Cold
 War. Without the example of the defiant challenge posed by the Iraqi
 resistance, the developing countries might not have gotten their act
 together to sink the World Trade Organization ministerial in Cancun
 last September and the US plan for a Free Trade Area of the Americas
 in Miami in November.

 Anti-hegemonic movements the world over, in short, owe the Iraqi
 resistance a great deal for exacerbating the American empire's crisis
 of overextension. Yet its face is not pretty, and many on the
 progressive movement in the United States and the West hesitate to
 embrace it as an ally. This is probably one of the key obstacles to
 the emergence of a sustained peace movement in the US and
 internationally-that the organizing efforts of progressives have been
 incapacitated by their own qualms about the Iraqi resistance.

 But there has never been any pretty movement for national liberation
 or independence. Many Western progressives were also repelled by some
 of the methods of the Mau Mau in Kenya, the FLN in Algeria, the NLF
 in Vietnam, and the Irish Republican Movement. National liberation
 movements, however, are not asking for ideological or political
 support. All they seek is international pressure for the withdrawal
 of an illegitimate occupying power so that internal forces can have
 the space to forge a truly national government. Surely on this
 limited program progressives throughout the world and the Iraqi
 resistance can unite.

 *) Walden Bello is executive director of the Bangkok-based Focus on
 the Global South and professor of sociology and public administration
 at the University of the Philippines. A visitor to Baghdad shortly
 before the American invasion in March 2003, he is heading up the
 International Parliamentary and Civil Society Mission to Investigate
 the Political Transition in Iraq that is scheduled to visit Baghdad


------------------ schnapp --------------------------------

Lüko Willms                   http://www.mlwerke.de
/--------- L.WILLMS at jpberlin.de -- Alle Rechte vorbehalten --

"Das Volk, das ein anderes Volk unterjocht, schmiedet seine eigenen
Ketten."             - Karl Marx     (1. Januar 1870)

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