Imagining the probable future of places such as Fallujah, Sadr City, Nasiriyah, Karbala, Kut, and Ramadi, I recall the photographs of Grozny (Djohar), Chechnya, taken by the Gamma Press Agency photographer Eric Bouvet.
“In February  when I entered Grozny, it was as if I was hit by an apocalyptic vision,” Bouvet writes. “In 20 years of covering wars I never had the occasion to feel like a astronaut landing on another planet. I had visited Grozny four times in the last war, but this time I couldn’t even be sure where I was. Where Minutka Square — with it imposing buildings that lead to Lenin Avenue — once was nothing remained, just a huge, imposing void. The Russians had dynamited the city, leaving it totally in ruins.”
Sooner or later, in desperation, Bush will surely order the destruction of wide swaths — inhabited by “bad guys” — of Iraqi cities in response to the undefeatable Shia and Sunni uprisings against the occupation. It is inevitable. Like Sharon and the Likudites, Bush’s ideological mentors, the US military will eventually repeat the atrocities and violations of human rights and international law the Israelis eagerly committed in the Jenin refugee camp in September of 2000. Civilians always pay the price for any “up tick” in support for the resistance — be they Palestinians, Chechnians, or Iraqis.
Both Republicans and so-called liberal Democrats will fervently support the flattening of Iraqi cities and the mass murder of civilians, especially now that the Shia have joined the Sunnis in resisting Bush’s neoliberal plans for Iraq. Or should I say the Likudite plan for the Arab Middle East?
In fact, Democrats have a long track record of supporting state terrorism directed against civilians, from the torching of Vietnamese villages to the cluster bombing of neighborhoods in Yugoslavia. Bush Senior, Clinton, and Bush Junior all supported and kept in place brutal sanctions that resulted in the death of 500,000 Iraqi children from 1991 until Bush invaded Iraq last year. All three administrations engaged in the recurring slaughter of Iraqi civilians over the same period of time.
The Pentagon has repeatedly attacked civilians since Bush invaded the country over a year ago, killing more than 10,000 of them. For instance, most recently, on April 7, in response to the murder of four US “contractors” (rumored to be CIA operatives) and increased resistance, the US bombed a Fallujah mosque “as worshippers were gathering for afternoon prayers,” the AP reported. “The bodies of dead and wounded were rushed away in cars to private homes in the area where temporary hospitals have been set up.” On April 6, 60 Iraqis were killed and more than 120 wounded. The dead and wounded are invariably described as “militants” or “insurgents” by the corporate media, but as the history of modern warfare in urban environments demonstrates, a high percentage of the casualties are invariably civilians.
In the weeks ahead, as the Shi’ites intensify their resistance to the occupation, the number of dead will go up dramatically — not that the US cares.
For as the Pentagon told Helen Thomas last September, dead Iraqis “don’t count. They are not important.” Iraqi Health Ministry, Dr. Nagham Mohsen, was ordered by her superior, Dr. Nazar Shabandar, to stop collecting data on the number of Iraqi dead last December, probably at the behest of Paul Bremer and the CPA.
In fact, dead Americans are not important either, for as retired General Tommy Franks told an audience at the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet in Salina, Kansas, in February, “If [conquering Iraq] costs 500 [American lives], that’s OK, or 5000, OK, or 50,000, that’s OK with me.” Obviously, it is OK with the American public as well, since there was virtually no response to Franks’ outrageous remarks.
As the events in Samarra last year reveal, US troops respond to attacks on convoys by slaughtering civilians in trigger-happy fashion. “There was an attack and an exchange of fire between the Americans and the resistance lasting half an hour,” Samarra police chief, Colonel Ismail Mahmoud Mohammed, told the media. “The resistance withdrew, then [US] bombardments started, using all manner of weapons in all directions and without any discrimination.” This resulted in numerous civilian dead and wounded. “We received the bodies of eight civilians, including a woman and a child,” said hospital director Abd Tawfiq. “More than 60 people wounded by gunfire and shrapnel from US rounds are being treated at the hospital.” Many of the wounded came from the al-Shafi mosque, targeted by US rockets and gunfire.
“So far, in the ‘war on terror’ initiated since 9/11, the USA and its allies have been responsible for over 13,000 civilian deaths, not only the 10,000 in Iraq, but also 3,000-plus civilian deaths in Afghanistan, another death toll that continues to rise long after the world’s attention has moved on,” reports the Iraq Body Count website. “Elsewhere in the world over the same period, paramilitary forces hostile to the USA have killed 408 civilians in 18 attacks worldwide. Adding the official 9/11 death toll (2,976 on 29 October 2003) brings the total to just under 3,500.”
The Pentagon and Rumsfeld brag about avoiding “collateral damage,” but the history of warfare over the last 60 or so years tells a different story. In fact, the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure is a military strategy used over and over with gruesome results. From the Allied fire and nuclear bombings of German and Japanese cities during WWII to Bush Senior’s calculated plan to destroy Iraqi sanitation and water purification plants during the Gulf War, the engineered mass murder of innocent civilians is a frequently used “tactic” of war. It will be no different in Iraq now that Shi’ite and Sunni resistance fighters have apparently come together to fight the US occupation.
Last year a newspaper in Ohio revealed the numerous war crimes committed against Vietnamese civilians by the US Army’s Tiger Force in 1967. “The paper said the Army’s investigation of Tiger Force found 27 soldiers who said the severing of ears from dead Vietnamese was an accepted practice,” Reuters reported in October. “One soldier told the newspaper that troops would wear necklaces of ears to scare Vietnamese civilians.”
As would-be president John Kerry admitted before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, US soldiers in Vietnam “raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.” Kerry admitted taking part in these war crimes. “Yes, I committed the same kinds of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed. I took part in search and destroy missions, in the burning of villages.”
Since the Winter Soldier investigation and his testimony before the Senate, however, Kerry has undergone a remarkable transformation from an antiwar activist to a Republican Lite senator who wants to send an additional 40,000 troops to Iraq to bomb mosques and shoot down protesting Iraqis. “I have to tell you, sometimes in foreign policy, certain things are complicated,” Kerry told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews last October.
Many Democrats are literally indistinguishable from their warmongering Republican colleagues. For instance, Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, advised Bush to “Bomb the hell out of them” after 9/11. As it turned out, most of “them” were poor Afghan citizens, such as wedding celebrants massacred in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan in August, 2002.
The urge to reduce sections of Iraq into a “parking lot” will only increase as the Iraqi resistance begins to accomplish its objectives of fighting the US to a standstill, inflicting a growing number of casualties, and eventually driving them from the country.
For instance, as I write this, it appears Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army has “captured a number of soldiers from the <U.S.-led> coalition during clashes currently taking place across a large swathe of Iraq,” Reuters reports, citing Lebanon’s al-Manar television station run by Hezbollah. Naturally, these captured soldiers will likely be exploited for propaganda purposes by the Shi’ites the same way the US exploited the captured and humiliated Saddam Hussein. As Donald Rumsfeld made obvious during the invasion, the capture and parading of US soldiers sincerely angers the Bush administration, as did the murder and gruesome public display of four so-called “contractors” in Fallujah last week.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition’s senior military spokesman, has promised “powerful offensive operations to destroy the al-Mahdi army throughout Iraq,” a highly unlikely prospect considering al-Mahdi claims to have tens of thousands of supporters. Kimmitt is setting the US military up for failure — there is simply no way the US, the Iraqi Governing Council, the CPA , or even Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani can stop the resistance and violence from spreading like wildfire across Iraq — that is, short of flattening cities and killing thousands of al-Sadr’s followers along with an indeterminate — and uncounted — number of civilians.
Eventually, faced with defeat, the Bush administration — or a Kerry administration — will vengefully flatten large sections of Iraqi cities. As the Israeli experience in the West Bank town of Jenin demonstrates, incredible violence and destruction is required to defeat an entrenched enemy in an urban environment. “Only when armored Israeli bulldozers demolished buildings sheltering the last of the Palestinian gunmen was the resistance finally quelled and the full extent of the damage revealed: According to the United Nations, 23 Israeli soldiers and 52 Palestinians were killed. Hundreds of houses were seriously damaged or destroyed,” Yagil Henkin writes in Azure. “Many people, in Israel and abroad, judged the operation by a strict moral standard concerning treatment of civilians.”
Fallujah, Sadr City, Nasiriyah, Karbala, Kut, and Ramadi may eventually resemble Grozny – vast plains of strewn rubble where buildings once stood — but this will not put an end to the resistance. In addition to blasted homes and shops, the US will leave behind 75 tons of depleted uranium in the same way it left behind 72 million liters of the deadly defoliant Agent Orange in South Vietnam. It will not apologize or pay reparations.
Even with their cities flattened, Chechen resistance fighters continue the struggle. Earlier this week, Chechnians fired on Russian positions 19 times, killing four soldiers and wounding seven. As well, Chechnians have taken the battle to the enemy, recently blowing up oil pipelines in Russia.
Is it possible Bush will repeat Russia’s Chechen mistakes in Iraq?
KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent no holds barred blog at www.kurtnimmo.com/blogger.html . Nimmo is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. A collection of his essays for CounterPunch, Another Day in the Empire, is now available from Dandelion Books.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org