Having pushed Iraq’s Sunnis into waging guerrilla war by effectively disenfranchising them when we outlawed the Baath Party, we now seem intent on picking quarrels with Iraq’s two other main groups, the Kurds and the Shi’ites. Desperate for troops, we have bribed the Turks into offering upwards of 10,000 janissaries, to whom the Kurds promise a warm welcome. Using Turks to garrison the Sunni triangle may reduce violence there, because the Turks and the Sunnis are long-time allies. Regrettably, they are allied against the Kurds, who in turn are allied with us. It is as if we had invited the Waffen SS to garrison Syria–where it would no doubt be welcomed–and just told Israel not to worry. Even our puppet Iraqi Governing Council has rejected Turkish involvement. But Mr. Bremer seems as deaf to them as he is to history.
The real time-bomb waiting to go off in Iraq is the Shi’ite community, or more accurately communities. When the Shi’ites go up, what U.S. troops have endured thus far will seem like a picnic. The Shi’ites define themselves as heroic martyrs, and the volunteer suicide bombers will be lined up around the block in every Shi’ite town and city.
There may be an even more effective Shi’ite resistance tactic, and we got a hint of it last week. When U.S. troops arrested a minor Shi’ite cleric in Baghdad, his supporters not only did the usual demonstrating, rioting, and ambushing of American soldiers (two dead this time). Some of them also laid down in front of American vehicles, preventing them from moving.
If the Shi’ites are smart, and it would be prudent for us to expect them to be smart, they could quickly generate a massive Gandhi-style passive resistance movement directed against the American occupiers. The American forces in Iraq depend heavily on movement by road-bound wheeled vehicles. Virtually all their supplies come by road. How would they function if every truck convoy or Humvee that tried to move through a majority-Shi’ite area were quickly stopped by civilians lying down in front of it? Of course, Shi’ite video cameras would be taping every incident, and if a civilian protestor were injured, the tape would be on al-Jazeera before the day were over.
Nor would the Shi’ites have to take the Gandhi road all the way. Violent and non-violent resistance can be combined. Once the American vehicles are stopped and the troops get out, if snipers open up on them, who is to know where the shots came from? The Shi’ites will be happy to blame Wahhabis. Meanwhile, what happens to our soldiers? Again, the cameras will be rolling, so if they get back in their Humvees and head out, leaving some new Shi’ite martyrs in their wake, we have a PR disaster throughout the Islamic world. Such are the dilemmas of Fourth Generation war.
Meanwhile, the Bush Administration claims that life is getting better in Iraq because there is more electric power, schools are re-opening and we are pumping money into the local economy. All that may be true. Where the Administration errs is in thinking that any of it will make Iraqis like us or stop fighting us. This is a classic Establishment calculation, reflecting the Establishment’s own belief that all anyone cares about is the material aspects of life.
Outside the decadent West, many people see things like honor, dignity, manliness, and religious belief as far more important than life’s material conditions. So, at one time, did we. When the American colonists went to war against Great Britain, fighting for their independence, they did not do so because they were starving. Nor did the British troops become popular because they paid gold while all Washington’s soldiers could offer were worthless paper Continentals. What kept Washington’s freezing, starving army together at Valley Forge was a burning desire for independence. The same desire motivates many of the guerrillas now fighting American troops in Iraq.
During the Vietnam War, more than one American soldier said that we and the British had exchanged roles. We had become the Redcoats, while the local patriots hid behind trees and took potshots at our ordered ranks. In Iraq, the red coats have been replaced with body armor and the marching columns by truck convoys, but it looks more and more as if Burgoyne might be spelled Sanchez.
WILLIAM S. LIND’s On War column appears weekly in CounterPunch.