After The Fall
The “Liberation Honeymoon” Is Over
by Doug Ireland
April 19, 2003
Chaos. Anarchy. Looting. Armed vigilantes. Armed inter-ethnic rivalries. A country whose people are desperate for water, desperate for food, desperate for medical care, desperate for order and peace. A country that could slide into civil war.
This is the reality of post-Saddam Iraq, reported by all the world's independent press and television. These are the horrors which Donald Rumsfeld dismissed as merely "untidy" on April 12 -- a display of arrogant insensitivity that made the tour of the planet's TV screens. This is how the Bush administration conducts its battle for the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqis, the Arab and Muslim third of humanity and the rest of the world. But, as the BBC's man in strife-torn Basra put it 12 hours after Rumsfeld's sniffy locution, "The 'liberation honeymoon' is over."
There could have been a more orderly way. The problem is that this administration -- which smugly used to condemn nation-building -- seems to have never really thought there would be anything but a honeymoon. That's one of the reasons why so many their post-war moves have seemed so naïve and so unnecessarily inflamatory.
One has heard little mention on U.S. television of the United States' obligations as an occupier under the Geneva Convention, the violation of which makes Washington an accomplice to the destruction in post-Saddam Iraq. If you were watching the daily CENTCOM briefing at 7 a.m. EST on April 12, you might have noticed that it took a Brit reporter to ask about the exigencies of the Geneva Convention: Why did the U.S. war plan not prepare for these obvious eventualities?
The response from Gen. Vincent Brooks was predictable. Brooks is the Stepford General, specifically screened and chosen by the White House's political image makers for his ability to tell the most enormous whoppers without blinking an eye. "We foresaw this happening," Brooks said of the chaos; everything was under control, and "we will continue to fulfill our obligations" under the Geneva Convention.
Rumsfeld continued the lie about the state of stability in Iraq in his Meet the Press appearance on April 12. Tim Russert asked about the destruction and looting of the priceless artifacts in Baghdad's archaeological museum. These irreplaceable treasures represented some 7,000 years of the history of Mesopotamia -- the cradle of civilization, the birthplace of science and mathematics (algebra, don't forget, is an Arabic word). The historical memory of an entire people, in sum. (The April 14 edition of the Guardian reported -- that "U.S. army commanders have rejected a new plea by desperate officials of the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad to protect the country's archaeological treasures from looters.")
One soldier would have been enough to prevent the annihilation of this irreplaceable cache of history -- but Rumsfeld claimed our boys were too busy, suggesting that the soldier who might have been placed on guard duty "was guarding hospitals instead." This was a sick joke piled on top of his lie: 49 of Baghdad's 50 hospitals had already been destroyed by pillage or combat damage, and the International Committee of the Red Cross had just described the medical situation in Baghdad -- indeed, in all of Iraq -- as "catastrophic." But Article 18 of the Geneva Convention (unmentioned by Russert) spells out that one of the duties of an occupying power is to "protect and maintain" hospitals. It would have taken very little manpower to stop the looters, who could be seen on the BBC, France2 and other foreign TV nets sacking the hospitals right under the noses of heavily armed U.S. troops, who stood by idly and let it happen.
Meanwhile, the media savvy world sneers in disbelief at the Pentagon's mendacities, its rosy picture of a post-conflict Iraq. As Patrick Cockburn, co-author of the book Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession, put it in an article on inter-ethnic violence in the Independent on April 14:
The United States has a lot to answer for in allowing the violence to continue for so long. In Baghdad, American troops were notoriously inactive while shops and homes were being looted. In northern Iraq, mobs of looters were able to take over Mosul because almost no American soldiers were present. The reason for their absence was that the United States had rushed 2,000 men, most of its slender forces in the north, to take over the Kirkuk oilfields. Only a few hundred soldiers were available for Mosul. The chants of anti-war protesters about how the conflict is all about control of Iraqi oil do not seem as overstated today as they did a month ago.
Another example of the Pentagon's low nation-building IQ is embodied in Ahmad Chalabi, the world-class crook whom the Pentagon has thrust forward as a putative leader of Iraq. Chalabi, who faces 22 years in prison for embezzlement and fraud in neighboring Jordan, heads the nepotistic Iraqi National Congress (INC) and its greedy exiles. Chalabi has lately been calling himself a "secular Shia." But, as a veteran reporter in the region, Frank Smyth -- who spent time in one of Saddam' s prisons -- has pointed out, Chalabi's father was a Sunni, the wealthiest man in Baghdad under the monarchy. Chalabi has only been calling himself a Shia in the last six months, after criticism of the INC for being unrepresentative (his mother was Shia).
The wisdom of imposing a Sunni -- at the head of the so-called "Free Iraqi Forces," armed, trained and airlifted into Iraq by the Pentagon -- on a country that is three-quarters Shiite, might have suggested a question or two for Chalabi and for his sponsor Rumsfeld. As The Washington Post's Anthony Shadid -- an indefatigable non-"embedded" journalist -- reported April 14 from Baghdad, "the clergy of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority have moved to fill the void left by the ouster of Saddam."
The Pentagon's culture-bound blunders are much more than "untidy" -- they have left a seething wreck. From Baghdad to Nasiriyah to Najraf, throngs of demonstrators are chanting, "No to Saddam, no to Americans." The face-off in the holy city of Najraf between armed supporters of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani -- an Iranian -- and those of the 22-year-old Mouktada Al-Sadr, leader of a rival Shiite tradition with great appeal (described in the April 14 edition of Le Monde -- and recounted more summarily in The Guardian), underscores the way in which internecine struggles among the Shiites are creating a skein of parallel power structures which will undermine the U.S.-anointed "transitional administration." And, thanks to the war, all these factions now have guns. This is what allegedly provoked the slaughter of protesters in Mosul by U.S. soldiers on April 15.
Assassinations by opposing power-and-vengeance seekers have already become a daily feature of Iraqi life. Just as the Wild West gangs in post-Communist Russia led to nostalgia for the peace and security of the old Stalinist order and the rise of the autocratic kleptocrat Vladimir Putin, so the fever-pitch quarreling among the armed power-seekers in Iraq is already producing the first expressions of nostalgia for a strongman to restore order there.
The administration's latest gaffe? By making a general, Jay Garner, the country's "civil administrator," Rumsfeld and the Pentagon have again shown how little they understand about the country they have despoiled and occupied. (He is, to boot, a general with close political and financial ties to the Israeli extreme right who has praised Ariel Sharon's most indefensible repressions of the Palestinians.) The notion that a retread military-industrial complex brass hat like Garner has the sophistication to untangle Iraq's Byzantine inter-Shiite, inter-ethnic and political rivalries and keep the country from full-blown civil war between multiple power centers, is laughable.
Want proof? The Nasiriyah exile summit meeting -- even with the absence of the largest, Iran-sponsored faction, which boycotted the meeting -- was adjourned on April 15 for 10 days. These handsomely rewarded Pentagon clients, handpicked by Garner to give a figleaf of legitimacy to the puppet government we are installing, were so riven by rivalries that they could agree on nothing. And the vague post-summit press communiqué was issued, not by the assembled Iraqis, but by CENTCOM -- which, as the BBC pointed out, was a "curious" way to signal the vaunted "independence" of the cobbled-together assembly, which the rest of the world already believes is a sham.
The honeymoon has long been over in Afghanistan -- where heroin-financed warlordism has returned in force, assassinations are rife, where the U.S. puppet Hamid Karzai is little more than "the president of Kabul" (in the pungent phrase of The Los Angeles Times' Robin Wright), where Mullah Omar recently issued an anti-American fatwa signed by 600 clerics, and where U.S. "friendly fire" blew up another 11 Afghan civilians just last week. One can get a pretty good idea of the coming months and years in Iraq by looking at the state of Afghanistan today.
So, was this war necessary? I think of the impoverished Alouite Christian woman interviewed Sunday in an Iraqi hospital by a France2 TV crew. Blinded by an American bomb, her head completely swathed in bandages except for her ruined mouth, the woman wept through sightless eyes. Her shredded husband lay crippled for life in the bed next to hers. The bomb that ruined them forever had also taken the life of their 2-year old daughter. And over and over, the woman kept sobbing, "It's always the poor people who suffer in war. It's always the poor people who suffer in war."
Doug Ireland is a New York-based media critic and commentator. This article first appeared in Tom Paine.com (www.tompaine.com)