Fruits of War
Dahr Jamail’s interviews with refugees from Falluja now living in a Baghdad tent camp are chilling. The refugees describe wanton, almost systematic attacks on civilians. At best, non-combatants are caught by murderous American firepower. More troubling, they describe refugees displaying white flags shot dead by US soldiers. Contrast this with reporters’ descriptions of an empty city and cautious, professional American troops. "We're the good guys. We are Americans. We are fighting a gentleman's war here -- because we don't behead people, we don't come down to the same level of the people we're combating...,” says one US commander. I want to believe him. But I cannot ignore Falluja’s refugees either
From this distance, it’s hard to tell what is happening. The refugee stories may be exaggerations but I doubt if they are completely without foundation. Jamail's photographs of wounded civilians bear out at least part of the stories. Whatever the actual combination of fact and exaggeration, these people have lost homes and family to what they consider an unjust occupation, an unjustified assault on their city. In a society where feuds and grudges last generations, the United States has created an implacable foe in the Sunni Arabs of Iraq. Even if they cannot defeat the US outright, the Sunnis will be a constant source of instability and unrest. Welcome to the Quagmire.
In effect the US has taken sides in a civil war. The Shi’as and the Kurds are relatively quiet, hoping that the January elections will work to their advantage. The biggest obstacle to Shi’a and Kurd objectives is Sunni resistance to their loss of power with the fall of the Ba’athist dictatorship. The Shi’as and Kurds fear Sunni interference in their plans for post-Saddam Iraq and, in the absence of the US, would have to face the Sunnis themselves. Instead, American forces are doing the job for the Kurds and Shi’as. Sweet deal for them. (This interpretation is from Karen Kwiatkowski. It makes much sense to me.)
The dynamics of the Sunni-Shi’a-Kurd rivalry are complex and longstanding but in its simplest terms, it has to do with autonomy and payback. Shi’as and Kurds have long chafed at domination by a Sunni minority controlling the government. Not only do they see an opportunity to end a 80 years of (often brutal) oppression but also a chance for payback. In one sense, the destruction of Falluja is the return on Saddam Hussein’s destruction of Shi’a and Kurd cities, neighborhoods and the murder of many of their people.
But violence begets violence and the outraged Sunnis of Iraq, most of whom were not part of the Ba’athist dictatorship, will remember the death and destruction wrought by the Americans with the consent of the interim government under a Shi’a prime minister. The Sunnis will seek revenge and their intransigence will remain a festering wound for years to come, even if America “defeats” the insurgency. Unless American troops remain for the long term, the new Iraq will be unstable, with armed conflict likely to reappear at any time.
Of course, long term American presence in Iraq is just what BushCheney are looking for. As long as this goal can be had at an acceptable cost, they will pursue it. And so far, Americans have accepted the costs, albeit with reservations. Short of calling a cease fire and stand down, American policy has little option but to continue the war against the Sunni insurgents. If BushCheney are successful, they will have their bases, at least for while, and can turn their attention to Iran, a turn unlikely to be welcomed by America’s Shi’a hosts in southern Iraq. As the CIA reported in its assessment of likely outcomes in Iraq, the best case scenario is for continuing instability and conflict through next year. Worst case is civil war but that’s already taking place with active American participation, so maybe American forces will have only the remaining hard core Sunnis to contend with in 2005. But Americans will still fight and die in Iraq. So will Iraqis.
Current events in Iraq are nowhere close to the BushCheney pre-invasion scenario of a new government in place and most American forces returning home at the end of 2004. But I don’t believe that was ever really their plan; it was only to convince Americans to support their pre-emptive war. Now their long term plans are taking shape as “military necessity”, with the uncertain, reluctant support of the American people.
We can get fooled again. And again. And again. For how long?