Shiite Happens


“For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction (as justification for invading Iraq) because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.”

Paul Wolfowitz to Vanity Fair, May 9, 2003

The Bible on lies: “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”

James 3:11 NIV

Having fibbed his way into a war with a disarmed and weak enemy, Bush now gloats over his victory. Acting as if he understood his grandiose albeit vague statements about historic alliances, W held forth in old and new Europe before going to Egypt to “make peace in the Middle East.”

The new empire visits the old world. After 9/11, Washington demanded that its junior partners simply rubber stamp Washington’s plans, like making war against Iraq. This placed a level of unprecedented stress on the formal and informal alliances that emerged from World War II and from the post Soviet era.

For example, most of the partners except the British, Australians, Poles and a few lesser powers — asked for a just cause to back such a war. Saddam Hussein is evil, Bush first explained.

And? They responded.

Blair and Bush then stared pointedly at their intelligence chiefs.

And, poof, the intelligence agencies delivered reasons. Saddam had illegally accumulated dangerous stockpiles of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. He planned not only to use them, but to give them to the 9/11 gang with whom he had close ties. The CIA and British intelligence reluctantly agreed to these unsupported claims.

Then, the media, Congress and the UN began to debate them as axioms: should we disarm Saddam with or without war?

Documents from Africa, Bush claimed, proved Saddam had a nuclear capacity. The US and British government claimed further proof by citing dissident Iraqi “experts,” who affirmed Saddam’s bio and chemical weapons programs.

The nuclear documents turned out to be forgeries, the exiled Iraqis had not said what US officials claimed and neither Bush nor Blair had hard evidence of Saddam constituting an imminent threat to “security.”

In March, Bush declared that the UN inspectors, who had found nothing, had diddled long enough. The time had come for war to disarm Saddam Hussein. It took the Americans more time to conquer Iraq than it did the Germans to defeat Poland at the onset of World War II. And the Poles fought back!

Now, Bush has switched roles from conquering hero to world statesman — and commander of the US colonial government in Iraq.

In this role, he has had little to celebrate. The June 1 Los Angeles Times reported three Americans died in a vehicle accident in Iraq and in another road mishap and a US supply truck ran over and killed a three year old Iraqi child. During the course of the week, the US military occupation command reported several incidents of Iraqis firing at and killing US soldiers. US troops are afraid to go out at night, reported Robert Fisk in the May 31 Independent.

Just another week of routine colonial occupation, a tradition sorely lacking in US history unless, of course, one includes Indian and Mexican territory.

But as Bush insisted on the urgency of Middle East peace, the media still referred to George Washington Bush, not quite the President who never told a lie, but rather the one who last month dressed like a fighter pilot and landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and photo-op-bonded with the troops. Tony Blair did the photo-op session with British troops in Iraq: two heads of state who never served in the military act like seasoned veterans relating to warriors.

Iraqis ignore such nonsense. They compare their current plight under colonial occupation with Saddam’s dictatorship. One Arab on a May 31 news report on World Link TV, said Saddam was bad but we had water and electricity. Indeed, Saddam’s gang had both systems operating after Coalition bombs destroyed the water and electrical generating systems during Gulf War I.

The fact that most Iraqi soldiers and civilians didn’t fight means that they don’t think of themselves as a defeated people who must abide by the rule of the winners especially the British who had occupied Iraq in previous colonial incarnations. But when looting broke out, the liberating GIs stood by. Indeed, for weeks the Americans did not fashion a constabulary and Iraqis got truly pissed off.

As the intense summer heat descends on much of the country, the threat of disease looms heavily. A May 21, 2003 UN Daily Briefing reported that damage from fighting and the persistent looting have rendered the Al Rustumia sewage plant inoperable, resulting in one million tons of raw sewage discharged daily into the Tigris and Dayala Rivers.

Government barely exists and now hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, recently demobilized and thrown out of jobs, further complicate the task of colonial administrator L. Paul Bremer.

Last week, Iraqi soldiers in Basra demanded that the British occupiers pay them. Other soldiers in different cities threatened violence if the Americans didn’t meet their demands. Mark Kingwell, writing in the May 28 National Post, quotes one Arab: “The Americans promised us food and medicine and freedom. But we have lost our homes, our land, our crops … If we don’t have a solution, we will fight the Americans even if they kill us. It is better than sitting here with nothing and just dying.”

Patrick Cockburn wrote in the May 30 Independent that “all this military triumphalism ignored the disastrous reality of post-war Iraq.” Although Iraqis generally hated Saddam, they have not taken to the US and Britain either. If the occupying powers “are going to stay, they are going to have to fight.”

In the 19th Century Americans discovered that it was easier to kill Indians easier than govern them. Will we successfully apply colonial rule to Iraq when we never could in our own country, the Philippines or Puerto Rico? Yet, before the war even began, the ahistorical President Bush held forth a utopian reconstruction plan for Iraq.

Indeed, the President attacked nation-building ideas as utopian when he campaigned in 2000. But formal empire carries burdens. Indeed, the brilliance of past US empire consisted precisely in its informality. The US controls where it counts, in the economy and military, and lets the natives rule themselves as long as they remain obedient.

This method has allowed the United States to remain free from the costly and embarrassing burdens born by the older empires of Europe. It even allowed the United States to declare its interest in upholding international law since it has traditionally used covert ops to overthrow disobedient governments.

Iraq has changed that long and successful trajectory. The world now sees through the transparent rhetoric, as Kingwell observes, that the United States “dresses up self-interest as universal benefit.”

As some colleagues rejoiced in the TV images of Iraqi freedom. I shrugged and said that we had witnessed that the United States military could easily defeat a disarmed third world country. Now watch and see the very Republican Bechtel Corporation make a quick $680 million to rebuild what our air force needlessly destroyed.

Air power destroyed Iraq, but can’t run the place after conquest. The Iraqis are not cooperating with the vague US plans to “democratize” the entire region (a word that translates to the people of the area as shopping malls, Disneyland and elections in which candidates insult each other on TV and don’t talk about the issues).

Instead of western democracy, “Shiite happens” as one email said, referring to the impending change from the once secular Iraqi society to one in which religious police have emerged in the form of committees to prevent vice and to promote virtue, à la Iran during the Ayatollah.

“Doing good” in the world has provided US foreign policy with a highly successful veneer for informal imperialism. As Iraq descends into chaos and ethnic fighting, Bush confidently asserts that his plan for a US style Middle East will begin to unfold. The world’s greatest empire still hidden from the American public has started to remake ancient societies in its image. It does so behind the veneer of its war against terrorism. It does so as long as the US public remains distracted and disconnected from its own interests and history.

Our leaders have flaunted John Quincy Adams’ July 4, 1821 warning to not seek “foreign monsters.” Hey, how do you justify a $400 billion military budget without having at least one foreign monster? The Bushies took the nation into war by exaggerating the threat of the Saddam monster. Now they count on national memory to focus only on the victory of the US Armed Forces in Iraq while filtering out their lies about the causes of the war. Veni, vidi, vici and all of that old Americana!

SAUL LANDAU’s work also appears on He is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. His films on Iraq and Cuba are distributed by Cinema Guild 800-723-5522. He can be reached at:


SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.