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Bush Says the War is Over? Tell It to the Shi’a

When Iraqi civilians look into the faces of American troops, President Bush famously told the world on Thursday, “they see strength and kindness and goodwill”. Untrue, Mr Bush. They see occupation

So, it’s the end of the war in Iraq, is it? If anyone thinks George Bush Jnr could pass that one off aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln last week – “major combat operations have ended” was the expression he used on Thursday night – they should take a closer look at Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld’s cosy, sinister little speech to US troops in Baghdad a day earlier.

It was filled with all the usual myth-making: the “many” Iraqis who flocked to welcome the Americans on their “liberation” of Baghdad, the “fastest march on a capital in modern military history” (which the Israelis achieved in three days in 1982). But the key line was slipped in at the end. The Americans, he said, still had “to root out the terrorist networks operating in this country”. What? What terrorist networks? And who, one may ask, are behind these mysterious terrorist networks “operating” in Iraq? I have a pretty good idea. They may not actually exist yet. But Donald Rumsfeld knows (and he has been told by US intelligence) that a growing resistance movement to America’s occupation is gestating in Iraq. The Shia Muslim community, now supported by thousands of Badr Brigade Iraqis trained in Iran, believes the US is in Iraq for its oil. It is furious at America’s treatment of Iraq’s citizens; in three days last week at least 17 Sunni demonstrators were killed, two of them less than 11 years old. And it is not impressed by Washington’s attempts to cobble together an “interim” pro-American government.

Even during the war, you could hear the same sentiments. Yes, the Shias would tell us, the Americans can get rid of Saddam. No one doubted his viciousness. But, always, this sentiment was followed by a desire to see the back of the Americans. Most of the civilian victims of American and British bombs were Shias, especially around Nasiriyah and Hillah. Which is another reason why the Americans did not arrive in Baghdad – where a US armoured vehicle pulled down the famous statue of Saddam – to be greeted by flowers and music. When Iraqi civilians look into the faces of American troops, President Bush famously told the world on Thursday, “they see strength and kindness and goodwill”. Untrue, Mr Bush. They see occupation.

Already it is possible to identify some familiar landmarks in the progress of occupation: a series of brutal incidents for which the Americans are never, ever, to blame. Just like the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the killing of civilians is never the fault of the occupiers. The driver and the old man shot and killed by US forces near a checkpoint in Baghdad, and the little girl and the young woman badly wounded whose tragedy Channel 4 witnessed, received no apology from the United States. A family is shot in its car in southern Iraq; cameramen are killed in the Palestine Hotel; 15 Iraqis, including at least one child, are gunned down in Falujah. For the Americans, it is always “self-defence”. Though, strangely, few if any Americans have been seriously wounded in these incidents. Of course, there must be gunmen shooting at the Americans. But the evidence suggests there aren’t very many. The evidence also suggests that very soon, there are going to be a lot more. You have only to observe how deeply the Iraqi Shias admire the Lebanese Hizbollah to understand how well they comprehend the art of guerrilla resistance. Succoured by Iran – or schooled in Saddam’s torture chambers – they are not going to take orders from ex-General Jay Garner, whose all-expenses-paid trip to Israel to express his admiration for the Israeli army’s “restraint” in the Palestinian occupied territories is well known in Iraq. And they realise full well that America’s big corporations are preparing to make millions from their broken country.

Without waiting for any “interim” government to take such decisions, the US Agency for International Development has invited American multinationals to bid for everything from road rebuilding to new text books. A US company, Stevedoring Services of America, has already gobbled up the $4.8m (lbs3m) management contract for the port at Um Qasr. US oil executives, many of them chums of George Bush and his administration, are expected to visit the Iraqi oil ministry (one of only two Iraqi ministries that the Americans miraculously saved from arsonists) within a week.

No, Iraq today resembles not some would-be democracy but rather the tragedy that greeted the British when the German occupation of Greece ended in 1944. Hitler, like Saddam, had ensured there were plenty of abandoned weapons lying around to fuel a guerrilla resistance against the new rulers. Churchill supported the nationalist government of George Papandreou – the Ahmed Chalabi of Greece – but the Elas Communist guerrillas wanted power. They had fought the Nazis since Germany’s 1941 invasion and, like many of the Muslim Shia today, feared that they were going to be excluded from power by a new pro-Allied regime.

So the “liberation” of Athens quickly turned into a pitched battle between British troops (for which read the Americans in Iraq) and the Communists, who had received years of support from the Soviet Union. For Russia then, read Iran now. Claiming that he stood for freedom, Churchill remarked that “democracy is no harlot to be picked up in the street by a man with a tommy-gun”. But when martial law was imposed by the British (something the Americans may have to consider) Churchill less charitably told the British commander in a secret message that he should “not hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city”. In various battles, there were attempts to find a mediator – not unlike the desperate meetings in Falujah last week between Iraqis and Americans. In the event, Churchill was able to restore order only because he had secretly obtained Stalin’s agreement that Greece should remain in the Western sphere of Europe. Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and other eastern European countries paid the price. The parallels are not exact, of course, and a critical difference today is that the nation which might be able to help Washington, as the Soviets helped London, is Iran. And Iran, far from being an uneasy ally, is part of President Bush’s “axis of evil”, which fears that it may be next on America’s hit list. So here is a little prediction.

Mr Bush says the war is over, or words to that effect. Then Shia resistance begins to bite the Americans in Iraq. Of course, Mr Rumsfeld will have warned of this: it will be characterised as the famous “terrorist networks” which still have to be fought in Iraq. And Iran – and no doubt Syria – will be accused of supporting these “terrorists”. The French did much the same in their 1954-62 war against the FLN in Algeria. Tunisia was to blame. Egypt was to blame. So stand by for part two of the Iraq war, transmogrified into the next stage of the “war on terror”.

 

 

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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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