|From liberation to
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - It was just 45 days ago that
President George W Bush, in a campaign-perfect photo-op,
landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of
California, swaggered across the deck in full flight
gear, and declared that Operation Iraqi Freedom had
liberated that nation from the evil clutches of former
president Saddam Hussein.
But within six weeks,
the US Central Command in Baghdad has unleashed a new
campaign with a far more ominous name. Operation Desert
Scorpion is designed, in the equally ominous words of
Monday's Wall Street Journal, "to avoid a prolonged
guerrilla campaign" that appears to be under way, at
least in what is now referred to as "the Sunni triangle"
of central Iraq.
It is clear that the weeks of
chaos that followed the collapse of Saddam's government
in early April have taken a serious toll on US hopes
that Iraqis, either out of fear and awe of Washington's
military might or out of gratitude, would simply do what
they were told by their liberators.
But even the
US mainstream press, which has been dutifully
documenting the efforts of the country's troops to
restore order and win over the population, is now
suggesting that things are not going according to plan,
assuming that there ever was one. "Significantly, this
realization is reaching deep into the US heartland,"
writes Tom Engelhardt, whose website of reflections and
key articles about the "war on terrorism" has drawn a
steadily growing audience since the terrorist attacks of
"Newspapers from Cleveland,
Tallahassee, Charlotte and Salt Lake City carried
headlines this weekend such as 'Losing the Peace', 'Iraq
War Still Hot, Commanders Say', 'Civilian Deaths
Intensify Anti-US Ire' and 'The War Is Over, But US
Soldiers Keep Dying'," according to Engelhardt, who
noted that the vocabulary of the Vietnam War is
re-infiltrating the press.
For instance, New
York Times' military analyst Michel Gordon used the
dreaded term "counter-insurgency" about prospects for
defeating unhappy armed Iraqis. "Unlike the rush to
Baghdad, this fight will not be measured in days but in
months, if not years ... For the Americans this is a
campaign of raids, bombing strikes and dragnets, as
American commanders try to isolate and destroy remnants
of the old order. It is more like a counter-insurgency
than in invasion," Gordon added, in what Engelhardt said
marked the first reference to the tactic in relation to
the US involvement in Iraq.
In a swift echo, The
Christian Science Monitor followed with an article on
Monday titled "US Anti-Guerrilla Campaign Draws Iraqi
Ire". "The US army has changed from being a liberator to
an offensive occupier," the article quoted Fawzi Shafi,
editor of a new weekly newspaper in Fallujah, the
apparent center of anti-US resistance, as saying.
Rehabilitating schools and providing free
gasoline to communities are now referred to by the old
Vietnam cliche of "winning hearts and minds"; arms
seized by US troops have been called "weapons counts",
an eerie reminder of the "body counts" of Vietnam days.
And while the US strikes of the past ten days
are referred to so far only by their operation
codenames, it takes very little imagination to see them
as akin to "search-and-destroy missions" of that bygone
period. Washington's first governor in Iraq, retired
General Jay Garner, even told the New York Times that he
saw "Vietnam and the strategic hamlet concept" as
relevant to the Iraqi occupation, presumably to separate
the population from rebellious elements. It remains
unclear precisely who those rebellious elements are,
although Paul Bremer, who succeeded Garner, said that
they do not appear to be under centralized command.
While former Ba'ath Party members and Fedayeen
Saddam are no doubt involved - the media was filled with
stories last week insisting that a bounty is being paid
for dead US soldiers, although it was unclear who would
pay them if there was no central control -
administration officials in Washington and military
commanders in Iraq have also suggested that al-Qaeda and
other radical Islamist fighters from outside Iraq are
infiltrating the borders and rallying to the resistance.
Eager to expand the war on terrorism to Saudi
Arabia, some neo-conservative writers, such as Stephen
Schwartz of the strongly pro-Israel Foundation for the
Defense of Democracies, have suggested that Wahhabi
clerics are infiltrating fighters into Iraq to fight
with the resistance. Others say that Iran is building a
tactical alliance with al-Qaeda and other radical
Islamist groups with a similar aim in mind.
it is also possible that the armed resistance, which has
taken the lives of at least ten US soldiers and injured
dozens more in just the past three weeks, may also be
recruiting among sectors that are rapidly growing
disillusioned or angry about the military presence.
While US forces reportedly have done much better
with Shi'ite communities that opposed Saddam since he
emerged as Baghdad's top leader in 1979, last week's
Operation Peninsula Strike against suspected Sunni
rebels also reportedly wiped out several members of a
Shi'ite family near Fallujah, apparently by accident.
Indeed, according to the Journal's account, the
main victims of Peninsula Strike turned out to be
members of clans that were opposed to Saddam, suggesting
that the US military - as in Afghanistan - is being
manipulated by informants more interested in pursuing
their private or clan interests against others than in
pacifying the country. "The show of force so far has
failed to stop the attacks, while many civilian
casualties have raised support for America's foes," the
Journal concluded from the latest offensives.
Or, as Engelhardt noted in reviewing several
weekend news reports of apparently innocent victims of
the latest operations "that rang with a familiar
Vietnam-era conundrum - how do you carry out brutal
assaults on hard-to-find guerrilla forces in civilian
areas without knowing the language, area or culture,
without alienating that population when some of them
die, others are mistreated, and many are humiliated"?
"What we are seeing here is a fundamental
reassessment of the situation in Iraq in terms of
political and military stability," said Daniel Goure, a
Pentagon adviser at the Washington-based Lexington
Institute. "We have been operating on two assumptions:
that once the war was over the Iraqis would rapidly move
into peaceful mode, and second, that there would be a
new political and economic spirit in the country. We
discovered neither of these assumptions is true."
(Inter Press Service)