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Life During Wartime


Wars come to be defined as much by the first shot fired as the last. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, unprovoked and unwarranted under international law, started with an illegal attempt at group assassination, as 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles and satellite-guided JDAM bombs pulverized a block of suburban Baghdad. Supposedly, the target was Saddam Hussein and the leadership of his regime. Although the Pentagon and the White House continue to coyly suggest to a credulous press corps that Saddam may indeed have died or been injured in the air raid, it now seems evident that the Beast of Baghdad remains in control, defiant as ever, his stature bolstered even more by surviving yet another blitz on his life.

This is nothing new for Saddam. During the first Gulf War, nearly 60 percent of the missile strikes in Baghdad by some accounts were attempts to zero in on the Iraqi despot. Saddam survived. Indeed, there’s no evidence those attacks even came close to killing him. Others weren’t so lucky, of course. Thousands of Iraqi citizens perished, victims of laptop bombardiers operating with flawed intelligence and a blind disregard for the potential human carnage. No one knows yet how many Iraqis died in the first night of this war. Who they were or what kind of lives they lived.

Like the opening night of a bad Hollywood movie, the initial strike on Saddam was propaganda, a two billion dollar demolition job designed to give the impression that Bush was merely interested in annihilating Saddam’s bloodlines, not occupying Iraq and its oil fields. Whacking Saddam has been an obsession for Bush for some time. Kill Saddam prove your manhood. In a story that reads like the transcripts of John Gotti talking to Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, Time magazine reports that for more than year the Bush banter in the White House has been spiced with vows to knock off Saddam. “Fuck him,” Bush snarled. “We’re taking him out.” This murderous apostrophe was uttered more than a year before his precious UN resolution.

So this war has already lost its pretext. To all but the most gullible, it must now be clear that this has nothing to do with Weapons of Mass Destruction or liberation. It’s a clumsily scripted revenge play. Bush is playing the role of the slightly mad and half-witted son out to avenge his father from some play by John Webster. Indeed, this strange war pits a pair of lesser sons against each other, each trying to rack up a bigger body count than their fathers.

The botched assassination bid on Saddam and his junta was followed up by the much-hyped debut of Shock and Awe. Geared to play before the cameras, missiles and bombs shattered Baghdad, in what looked for all the world like a real-time ad for defense companies, like you might see in some arm dealer convention in Bahrain. This was psychological terrorism at its most pornographic and the western media wallowed in it. Of course, the missile and bomb strikes on the governmental buildings were choreographed to pound fear into the minds of the citizens of Baghdad (and billions into the ledger sheets of Boeing, TRW and Raytheon). There was no strategic or military objective to these fire and light shows. The gaudy targets were Potemkin Palaces, emptied out weeks, if not months, ago. Only a maintenance crew of young boys had been left behind to keep up the grounds and wait for the missiles to fall.

These unfortunate young men weren’t part of Iraqi command and control and they weren’t human shields. Now they are just human debris, bit parts in Bush’s ongoing snuff film.

It’s becoming impossible for me to watch the war on American television. The reporting isn’t just embedded; it’s in bed with the Pentagon. And CNN is the worst of all. The most useful thing the Iraqis have done so far is to boot the CNN crew out of Baghdad. Now if they could only do something about Aaron Brown. The preening Brown is the most unappetizing anchor on television. His coy editorializing sets new standards for smugness. Worst of all, he’s done the near impossible by making Christiane Amanpour seem thoughtful. British reports are only marginally more enlightening. So I stick to the papers and prowl the web for news from Europe and the Middle East.

The deeper the US cavalry divisions (units of which have vilely appropriated the names of Indian warriors, including Crazy Horse) drive into the swirling deserts of Iraq, the farther the US media gets from giving us any context for how or why this war started. Let’s be clear. Bush and his gang targeted Iraq because they knew it was a defenseless nation, crippled by sanctions, looted by a dictatorial class, weary from two decades of war, disarmed and dismantled. This was going to be a show, all flash and light and easy triumph. Bush was ready to bray like Caligula after his phony conquest of Britain. You could see it in his eyes on the first night of the war, the visage of a smirking butcher.

It hasn’t turned out that way. There’s nothing like nights of remote control bombing to congeal a resistance, even among the most unlikely citizens, people who have endured decades of repression from their own regime. But this war has come to be about more than just bombs and missiles. Iraqis have lived with those pinpricks from the sky for 12 years.

Bush’s war of liberation looks more and more like a home invasion by the biggest bullies left on the block, who’ve snipped the alarm system and left cruise missiles as a calling card. It’s no wonder the Iraqis are fighting back now in a way they didn’t during the battle for control Kuwait and its oil fields.

Already the Bush brain trust is playing the blame game. First, the warlords at CentCom suggested that Iraqi resistance was being beefed up by the Russians, which must come as a relief to France. When in doubt, revert to the well-worn script of the Cold War.

Then, and most comically, they accused the Iraqis of cheating. They weren’t wearing uniforms. They suckered troops into ambushes. They holed up in towns and villages. A nation that won its revolution using guerrilla tactics is suddenly prudish about the Iraqis defending their nation the same way.

Now there’s a distant, confused look in Bush’s eyes. Always a tenuous creature in public at best, Bush was clearly rattled by the initial resistance of the Iraqi soldiers. The smirk is still there, but it quivers nervously now as he mumbles his bi-syllabic catch phrases.

The managers of the White House have cordoned off Bush from the press. This war has already gone off script. As they always do. We’ve already seen the revival of fragging, Patriot missiles shooting down a British Tornado jet, a US fighter firing on a Patriot missile battery, errant bombs hitting Iranian oil fields, Turkish villages and a busload of Syrians. Less than a week into the war and parents of dead US soldiers have already denounced Bush for sending their son to their deaths in an illegitimate war.

The parents of captured US soldiers must be just as unsettled. Bush has instructed the Iraqis to obey the Geneva Convention guidelines for the treatment of POWs. Iraq says it will comply. Yet at the same time, the Pentagon continues to defy those very same rules at Camp X-Ray on Guantanamo and in Afghanistan where Taliban foot soldiers have been tortured to death by American interrogators. Why should the Iraqis treat US soldiers any differently? What does the professor of torture Alan Dershowitz have to say now? The families of the American POWs should open a back channel to Baghdad and to arrange a hostage swap, Dershowitz and Ann Coulter for those captive soldiers.

The Turks have moved across the border, ready to annihilate the Kurds. The Kurds are already lashing out in frustration that they’ve received little support from the Americans to fight the Iraqis on the northern front or defend themselves against the Turks. It’s an old story for the Kurds, who saw the Americans permitted Saddam’s attack helicopters put down a rebellion in 1991. Like father, like son.

So it goes. The war will be longer and bloodier than expected. Iraqis will resist because they must, as any of us would under remotely similar circumstances. And they will die in great numbers. At least 500 (and perhaps more than 1000) Iraqis will perish for every US or British casualty. The environment of Iraq will be left a smoldering ruin, strewn with the toxic debris of modern warfare, inflicting death and pain for generations to come.

Still, there’s a reason for hope. The real resistance to this war isn’t to be found with the butchers in Saddam’s Republican Guard, but on the streets of Cairo, Paris, New York, Madrid, London, Nablus, San Francisco and hundreds of other cities and towns around the globe. This is the face of the new internationalism. Forget the UN, which exposed its impotence by failing to stand up to the bullying of Bush and Blair and pulled its workers out of the war zone. The globalized and sustained opposition to this war dwarfs the lethal pyrotechnics of Shock and Awe. This is a movement that was born in Seattle, tempered by tear gas, truncheons and the blood of Genoa. Now it has come of age with a vibrancy and exuberance few could have imagined and none predicted. Instead of abating, the movement grows daily. As Subcomandante Marcos said, “We have arrived.” Deal with it.

Now, let’s roll.

Yesterday’s Features

David Lindorff
Peacekeepers at Ground Zero

Diane Christian
Blood Sacrifice

Kathy Kelly
The Morning After Shock and Awe

John Stanton
US Bombs Iran

Wayne Madsen
How to Live with a Rogue Superpower

Anthony Gancarski
Iraq and the Death of the West

David Vest
Earth vs. Bush

Ahmad Faruqui
The Liberation of Iraq in Perspective

Robert Fisk
We Bomb, They Suffer

Website of the War
Iraq Body Count

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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at:

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