“In Iraq, no doubt about it, it’s tough. It’s hard work. It’s incredibly hard. It’s … and it’s hard work. I understand how hard it is. I get the casualty reports every day. I see on the TV screens how hard it is. But it’s necessary work. We’re making progress. It is hard work.” – President George W Bush, presidential debate, September 30
Fallujah may become the new Gaza. Or the new Grozny. Meanwhile, here’s what’s happening on the ground, as summarized to Asia Times Online by sources in Baghdad very close to the Fallujah resistance.
More than 1,000 marines, supported by a few hundred US-trained Iraqi forces, are entrenched less than a kilometer away from the city. There are constant firefights in the eastern and southern sectors. Thousands of families have left, “90% of them” – according to guerrilla leaders themselves – but there is no looting. Hospitals are badly overstretched. All shops are closed. And the city may be running out of food. The Americans even bombed a local institution – the top kebab restaurant in a city that prides itself on making the best kebabs in Iraq.
Fallujah at the moment is still basically controlled by the Iraqi police and dozens of different mujahideen groups from different clans. They all fiercely coordinate the defense strategy among themselves. The unifying banner is Islam, not the tribal clan. The police – as long as they are not perceived as being bossed around by Americans – and the mujahideen get along very well.
According to the sources in Baghdad, Fallujans vehemently deny the presence of foreign jihadis – including of course the ubiquitous al-Qaeda-linked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, blamed by the Americans for virtually everything that happens in Iraq. The few dozen foreign jihadis who indeed may be in action have blended in smoothly. Fallujah tribal leaders are notoriously suspicious of foreigners: they fear they may be spying for the Americans. One of the key organizers of the guerrillas is Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed, a former senior Ba’athist official also badly wanted by the Americans.
The majority of Fallujah’s citizens yearn for peace. But they also believe US military precision strikes – at times imprecision strikes – and the almost inevitable assault against the city will happen because the mujahideen, after three weeks and hundreds of casualties in April, inflicted a de facto military defeat on the Americans. Most citizens also believe the central government in Baghdad is split between President Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni sheikh, deeply involved in negotiations, and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a Shi’ite surrounded by a coterie of thuggish neo-Ba’athists, taking orders from the Americans and ready to level Fallujah to the ground. The problem is negotiations collapsed last week. Senior Sunni clerics are adamant: if the Americans attack, they will issue a fatwa proclaiming jihad all over Iraqi territory.
“Democracy” is not the issue in Iraq. How can people believe that precision strikes against civilian neighborhoods are a persuasive weapon conducive to winning hearts and minds and establishing democracy? Moreover, there’s nothing “precise” about it: US ground intelligence is sketchy at best.
There are only four United Nations officials on the ground preparing for the elections scheduled for January. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and other Arab leaders had persuaded US President George W Bush to accept an Arab and Muslim peacekeeping force of several hundred to protect UN operations in Iraq. But then Washington killed the idea because the force would be under UN, not US, control. Arab countries refused to place their soldiers under US control. So the whole project died last month.
The Gaza model
Alain Joxe, sociologist, strategist and president of the French think-tank Cirpes, has written one of the most devastating indictments of the Bush neo-conservative world view (“L’Empire du Chaos”, La Decouverte, 2002). Joxe goes to the heart of the matter when he analyzes the reason Israel is so important to Washington: “Israel maintains itself as a model of delocalized border demarcation that technically interests the American military: the creation of a prototype of suburban war, with no hope of peace, but placing the prototypes of the perimeters of fortified security which will be very useful if the Empire of Chaos of George W Bush keeps its progression.”
So the key point in the whole exercise is the “military interest for a technical prototype”. Joxe notes that nowhere else is the prototype of suburban war so precise and high-tech as in Palestine. He then analyzes how the Israeli model has been applied to the control of Baghdad. A natural development will be the application of the Gaza model – invasion, leveling of whole neighborhoods, lots of “collateral damage” – to Fallujah and other rebel Sunni triangle cities.
The US may level Fallujah in order to “save it” – yet another Vietnam recurrent theme. The Pentagon has identified up to 30 cities in Iraq that must be subdued before the January elections. But even assuming these 30 Fallujahs will be subdued – starting with precision strikes causing untold civilian deaths – it is impossible to occupy such vast “conquered” territory. The Americans cannot even control most of Baghdad – and the guerrillas are now systematically attacking the Green Zone itself. All major roads around Baghdad are intersected by the guerrillas, who in many cases have established their own checkpoints. The only way to get into Haifa Street, the so-called “Little Fallujah”, which is only 400 meters away from the Green Zone, is with tanks supported by helicopters.
As a national liberation movement, the Iraqi guerrillas, increasingly unified, are bound ultimately to prevail. For example, the Imam al-Mujahideen Brigades, a resistance coalition now operating under a central command, has grown to more than 7,000 members all over Iraq. They have access to an unlimited supply of heavy weapons – strategically placed throughout Iraq before the US invasion. At least 25,000 guerrillas – and counting – may now be in operation all over Iraq.
‘Free and fair’
As for the January elections, if they indeed take place, the majority of Iraqis, Sunnis and Shi’ites alike, will not accept the concept of a “free and fair election” with 138,000 US troops occupying the country. So most Sunnis will boycott them. Shi’ite rebel leader Muqtada al-Sadr is inclined to boycott them – because they are being imposed by the occupying power. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the influential Shi’ite leader, wants them as free and fair as humanly possible. But if he doesn’t get what he wants, he can issue a fatwa and start a widespread urban revolution that will the make the US presence absolutely untenable. So even if elections do happen, few people will vote, there’s a risk of enormous bloodshed and the whole process will be regarded as illegitimate.
The guerrillas meanwhile are succeeding in mobilizing the Iraqi urban masses, Sunni and Shi’ite, against the occupation. The ultimate aim of the guerrillas is urban revolution – exactly what Sistani will inspire if he does not get his fair elections. That’s why every day the guerrillas target the already crumbling Iraqi infrastructure and bomb crowds of civilians: their aim is to make people realize that the key reason their lives are so miserable and dangerous is because the invaders refuse to leave.
Meanwhile, in the US elections
The European diplomat in Washington does not mince his words: “The Americans know they have lost the war in Iraq. What they are trying to find now is an exit strategy.”
On the political level, inside the US, a dynamic is set: Bush desperately tries to destroy Democratic candidate John Kerry on the campaign trail as the Iraq bloodshed – more than 100 daily attacks – slowly destroys Bush. On the military level, inside Iraq, the Bush administration’s counter-insurgency strategy consists of precision strikes in heavily populated neighborhoods – even during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan that is now under way. If Bush is re-elected, as administration strategists spin it in euphemism alley, “you’ll see us move very vigorously”, meaning the leveling of whole cities.
No amount of spin disguises the fact that the real reasons for the war on Iraq are related to Washington establishing an impregnable strategic beachhead in the oil-drenched Middle East, and at the same time eliminating any conceivable threat to the security of Israel. As the whole adventure went badly wrong, desperate measures applied: that’s why Iraqification is being enforced – yet another reminder of another failed policy, Vietnamization.
The options left are all unsavory. 1) Washington may put at least 300,000 troops on the ground, instead of the current 138,000, and try to smash the resistance for good. This means an indefinite occupation – and no “democracy” at the end of the tunnel. 2) Washington may leave the whole mess as it is, with a constant stream of US casualties and the resistance getting stronger by the minute. 3) The US may pull out of Iraq entirely.
Even leading US military strategists and prominent retired generals are angrily denouncing, on the record, Bush’s war as already lost. Seasoned intelligence analysts are resigned that the best hope is for an Iraqi “semi-failed state hobbling along with terrorists and a succession of weak governments”. In any case, the neo-con model for a “reformed” Middle East is dead. There is also insistent chatter in Washington from “influential sources” that Bush, if re-elected, will beat a hasty retreat from Iraq. This is extremely unlikely. As the neo-cons consider Iraq the ultimate strategic prize, a retreat would never be considered.
So on the campaign trail, Bush cannot possibly tell the truth: his real choice, if re-elected, is to bury Iraq under an avalanche of precision strikes – as Richard Nixon imprecisely bombed Vietnam and Cambodia – or to manufacture an exit strategy under the cover of a barrage of spin. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Kerry on the other hand has said on the record that, if elected, he will “double the number of Special Forces so that we can do the job we need to do with respect to fighting the terrorists around the world”. So this would mean an equally unsavory global counter-insurgency, a gigantic operation modeled on the covert wars the US waged all over Latin America, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, Indonesia and Afghanistan from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Whom is al-Qaeda voting for?
From al-Qaeda’s point of view, the US leaving Iraq would be a major victory. And the US staying in Iraq – bleeding thousands of men and billions of dollars in the hands of a national guerrilla struggle – is also a major victory. So al-Qaeda does not bother to vote Bush or Kerry because the main sticking point – US policy in the Middle East, the thirst for oil, the one-sided support for Israel – will still be there. But in terms of accelerating a clash of civilizations – a total polarization between the Muslim world and the Christian world – of course al-Qaeda prefers a fundamentalist like Bush.