Monday, September 26, 2005

JUAN COLE has consistently opposed an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, arguing that if Americans leave, the result might be all-out civil war.

Now, in the aftermath of a march and rally against the war that drew at least 150,000 people to Washington, D.C., Prof. Cole has changed his mind.

The hundreds of thousands of protesters who came out throughout the world on Saturday were demanding a US and British withdrawal from Iraq.

The protesters are right that we have to get US ground troops out of Iraq.

Steve Soto writes:

It is significant to me when someone who has been against the withdrawal of our forces from Iraq suddenly changes his or her mind based on new information, or a reassessment of their previous position.

I would add: Especially when that someone is an internationally recognized expert on the history and politics of the Middle East. Prof. Cole's knowledge and understanding of that region of the world is both authoritative and deep.

So it makes sense that Cole's shift in thinking is about more than the instantly obvious reasons why the U.S. needs to get out of Iraq now.

The issue is not the rights and wrongs of the war. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There was no nuclear program, and the mushroom clouds with which Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice menaced us were figments of their fevered imaginations, no more substantial than the hateful internal voices that afflict schizophrenics.

But that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.

The issue is not the lack of operational cooperation between the secular, socialist, Arab nationalist Baath Party of Iraq and the religious fanatics of al-Qaeda. There was no such operational involvement. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Zubaydah were captured before the Iraq War, and told their American interrogators that al-Qaeda had refused to cooperate with Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration deliberately hid this crucial information from the American people, and puzzled US intelligence officials who knew about it were astounded to see Cheney and others continually go on television and assert that Saddam and Bin Laden were in cahoots in the build-up to the war.

But that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.

But here is a reason: This war is turning American soldiers into monsters and transforming Americans into a nation of Madame DeFarges, knitting registers of revenge while the guillotine falls, over and over.

Abu Ghraib was horrific, and we who are not in Congress or the Department of Defense have still only seen a fraction of the photographs of it that exist. Sy Hersh learned of rapes, some of them documented. Human Rights Watch has documented further prisoner abuse by US troops in Iraq. Sometimes the troops just go in and break arms or legs out of frustration. It has long been obvious that the Abu Ghraib scandal was only the tip of the iceberg, and that the abusive practices were allowed and encouraged by Rumsfeld and high officers, and weren't some aberration among a few corporals. (Even Senator Frist may be involved in a cover-up of the torture.) There is also no reason to think that the abuses have ceased. The denials of the US military, based on its own internal investigations (which apparently involve looking at official reports filed and talking to officers in charge) are pretty pitiful. The brutalization of the US military and of its prisoners is a brutalization of the entire American public. It is an undermining of the foundational values of the Republic. We cannot remain Americans and continue to behave this way routinely. The some 15,000 Iraqis in American custody are all by now undying enemies of the United States. Some proportion of them started out that way but perhaps could have been won over. Some of the detainees were probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time. After a time in US prison camps, they will hate us forever. And they know where thousands of tons of hidden munitions are.

And here is another reason: Not only are we failing to accomplish the mission, but in fact the American presence is hurting our supposed cause and making it even harder to accomplish the mission -- whatever the mission is (which is another problem).

Cole demonstrates this vividly by outlining the actual chain of events that led to the impossible situation the U.S. is in now.

When Saddam Hussein first fell, the Sunni Arab elites were mostly quiet, and were waiting to see what their relations with the US would be like. ... But the US insisted on garrisoning troops in a local school, which alarmed parents that their children might be endangered. They mounted a demonstration, and green US troops panicked and shot 17 civilian demonstrators. ... By March of 2004, anti-American feeling was so virulent that crowds attacked, killed and mutilated four private security guards, one of them a South African. George W. Bush took the attack personally, and ordered an assault on Fallujah. ... The spring attack on Fallujah, however, was extremely unpopular among Iraqis, and members of the US-appointed Interim Governing Council began resigning or threatening to resign. Even the Shiites in Kufa sent aid. The US backed off Fallujah.

In summer of 2003, there had been a growing, low-intensity guerrilla conflict in the Sunni Arab areas. But large areas were relatively quiet, including the city of Mosul (with a population of about a million). A lot of Sunnis were still on the fence.

Then after Bush won reelection, in November of 2004, Bush sent the Marines into Fallujah. He emptied a city of 300,000, turning the residents into refugees and the homeless no less surely than the hurricanes have done to the inhabitants of New Orleans more recently. The American assault damaged 2/3s of the buildings in Fallujah and left it a ghost town. ...

The reaction among the Sunni Arabs to the Fallujah campaign was immediate and explosive. They mounted large-scale urban revolts and rebellions virtually everywhere. Ramadi, Samarra, Qaim, Heet, you name it. The coup de grace was Mosul. Some 4,000 Iraqi policemen abruptly resigned. Masked men appeared on the streets and set up checkpoints. Mosul went over to the guerrilla movement, and substantial portions of it are still unstable.

Mosul contains about a fifth of the Sunni Arabs! It had been quiet. It was a model, under Gen. Petraeus. Now it had exploded. It became unsafe.

The Great Sunni Arab Revolt of November-December 2004 was a direct result of the Fallujah campaign.

It was a disaster, and not just on security grounds. The Great Revolt made it impossible for the Sunni Arabs to participate in the January 30, 2005 elections. Their areas were too insecure, or too sullen, to vote. The Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group descended from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, had announced a slate of 275 candidates for parliament. They were withdrawn. The cooperation vanished.

The Sunni Arabs only managed to elect 17 deputies to the Parliament on Jan. 30, out of 275 seats. ... The Sunni Arabs were virtually absent. Who was present? The election was won by the religious Shiite parties, especially the Da`wa and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. ... The other winners were the Kurds, who wanted to safeguard their semi-autonomy and if anything hated the Sunni Arabs more than did the religious Shiites.

And now the elected parliament drafted the constitution. The Sunni Arabs were included in the negotiations, rather as an eccentric uncle might receive a half-hearted invitation to stay for dinner, but would then be politely ignored, as he twittered on about some conspiracy theory, or sometimes greeted with giggles by the ruder children.

The constitution that was fashioned by the religious Shiites and the Kurds unsurprisingly contains all sorts of goodies for Shiites and Kurds, but cuts the Sunni Arabs permanently out of the deal. Substantial proportions of the oil income will stay in the provinces (i.e. Kurdistan and the Shiite South) rather than going to Baghdad. All future oil fields that are discovered and developed will be the sole property of the provincial confederation in which they are found. Most such likely fields are in the Shiite areas. (There are rumors of a field off Fallujah, but it is not a sure thing).

All the major Sunni Arab organizations and respected political and clerical figures have come out against the constitution.

In the meantime, the US has now attacked another Sunni city, this time the Turkmen stronghold of Tal Afar. In the continued "scorched earth" policy of the US military in the Sunni areas, a joint US/ Iraqi (mostly Kurdish) force appears to have levelled entire neighborhoods in Tal Afar, a northern Turkmen city, making most of its 200,000 inhabitants refugees living in squalid tent camps or with friends and relatives elsewhere. The operation yielded relatively few arrested terrorists. There is a news blackout on Tal Afar imposed by the US and the Iraqi authorities. This move is draconian and anyway unnecessary, since the American cable news channels have already imposed a global news blackout in favor of playing "Weather Channel" 24/7. Members of a Red Crescent delegation reached Tal Afar, but had their cell phones confiscated, were told to distribute aid in a remote and little known part of the city, and ended up mainly giving help to the displaced persons in their tent settlements: "Hasan Bal, a member of the Red Crescent team that went to Tal Afar, stressed that theirs was a very difficult mission. 'The people and especially the children in Tal Afar are living in miserable conditions. Their conditions are indescribable. It is practically impossible not to cry for them,' noted Bal."

Basically, if all the US military in Iraq is capable of is operations like Fallujah and Tal Afar, then they really need to get out of the country quick before they drive the whole country, and the region, into chaos.

In short, the Bush administration forged this chain, link by link.

And what is most stunning to me is the fact that these linked events were presented as though they were separate and unrelated by the Bush administration and its right-wing defenders, as well as by the mainstream media. We saw the horrifying images of those four U.S. contractors burned, mutilated, and hung from a bridge in Fallujah -- but we never were told about the forced garrisoning of U.S. soldiers in a school and the subsequent killings of 17 civilians protesting against the danger to their children. Or maybe it was reported at the time, in a perfunctory way, but when those contractors were murdered in Fallujah, that atrocity was never traced back to the seeds of rage and hatred that were sown when U.S. troops demonstrated to Iraqis that they didn't give a f**k about the lives or safety of the children who attended that school. We read and heard ad nauseum about the intransigence of the Sunni Arabs in the elections for parliament and during the drafting of the constitution, but that hostility was never traced back to its roots in the seige and sacking by U.S. Marines of a city that was home to 300,000 Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs! The destruction of Fallujah, the elections, and the drafting of the constitution were separated from each other in space and time; but there was a causal link between them that was never acknowledged.

It's very difficult, if not impossible, to understand why the Iraq war has not turned out the way many expected, or why U.S. troops are spinning their wheels fighting an insurgency that never ends, or why the violence in Iraq is getting worse rather than better, if the war is presented as a series of separate and isolated events with all the context left out. It's like trying to understand the meaning of a conversation when you only can hear a few random words.

No comments: