After US deal with Saddam: real war just beginning


Richard Moore

From: "dnordin" <•••@••.•••>
Date: Wed, 7 May 2003 10:53:39 -0700           


The war is not over; it has not even begun. Iraq has
been betrayed from within, the regime having cut a deal
with the invaders. The resistance now remains deferred.

UMM QASR is a small town of a couple of thousand
inhabitants, close to the Kuwaiti border and barely a
few kilometres from the point from where the mighty
Anglo-American forces entered Iraq. It was the first
town that those forces tried to take, but the town held
out in a fierce battle that raged for two weeks. During
those same weeks, the Iraqi forces held out throughout
the Fao peninsula against massive armour and ferocious
air attacks, with no air cover for themselves. Battles
raged during those two weeks around An Nassiriyah,
Basra, Kerbala, An Najaf and scores of other towns and
cities, large and small, and none of them fell. That
same story was being repeated in the North which had
been largely under Kurdish control thanks to 10 years
of Anglo-American bombings which had favoured their
Kurdish clients against the Iraqi state administration
and armed forces. Neither Kirkuk nor Mosul fell during
those weeks of resistance.

The encircling of the southern towns and cities
required the deployment of large contingents of troops
and quantities of weaponry. This meant that the
Anglo-American forces which raced through the desert
towards Baghdad kept getting depleted and came to have
intolerably long and exposed supply lines behind them.
Most military observers believed that two weeks of
fighting and traversing hundreds of kilometres had
probably tired out the remaining forces, that the
invaders would probably need fresh supplies and at
least another one hundred thousand troops before
mounting an assault on Baghdad, that there would be a
lull of perhaps three weeks in preparation for an
assault on a city of perhaps six million people which
was also the citadel of a government that had yet not
used its air force, most of its armour and artillery,
most of its famed and feared Republican Guard, the
Fedayeen- e-Saddam, the Baathist irregulars who were
said to be fully armed for urban warfare. Unless there
was a Dresden-style firebombing of the city on an even
larger scale, Baghdad was expected to remain a
fortress-city that would have to be won through a
prolonged battle with a much bigger army than the
Anglo-American alliance had when it reached the city's

But there was neither a lull before the assault, nor an
assault of any great scale, nor fighting even on the
scale seen in the small towns where the invaders had
been held at bay. The Americans just kept driving, some
of their tanks wandered into various parts of the city,
then more came, occupied one part, then another, and
then another. Baghdad did not fight back. The invaders
celebrated their victory in this non-war by allowing
and inciting a sacking of the city quite on the scale
of - in some respects worse than - the sacking of
Baghdad by the Mongols in the 13th century. The regime
simply disappeared. The accumulated treasures of a
civilisation were looted, and libraries burnt, on a
scale that even the marauding Mongols had not dared to
do - not just in Baghdad but in town after town, which
now fell, after the Surrender of Baghdad.

This is worth repeating. Umm Qasr, a dusty border town
of no military significance, fought back for two weeks.
Kerbala and An Najaf, sleepy towns of shrines and
seminaries and holy men, fought back for two weeks. So
did scores of others. None of them fell. Baghdad fell,
the whole of it, in three days, without a fight. A myth
is now being made in front of our eyes, which is being
lapped up by the more gullible even within the anti-war
movement, that Baghdad collapsed in the face of
superior weaponry, greater firepower, the historically
unprecedented ferocity of the bombings which began on
the first night of the attack.

The fact of the matter, however, is that Baghdad fell
not to that weaponry but thanks to a deal that the
Baathist regime made with the Americans under which it
renounced the defence of the city in exchange for a
whole variety of favours - to the Baathist leaders and
Ministers, the military commanders including the
commanders of the elite Republican Guard, possibly to
Saddam himself and his family - the details of which
are yet unknown but these can be easily surmised:
secret transportation to safe havens, treasury chests
and payoffs, and, for many, lucrative posts in the
post- Saddam regime that the U.S. is now putting
together. The Americans have said all along that they
shall absorb much of the Baathist Party and bureaucracy
in the new regime - and so it shall be.

Saddam Hussein had begun his savage, ignominious career
in treason, as a 22-year-old paid agent of the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) hired in 1959 to assassinate
Abdel Karim Qasim, the man who had led the
anti-monarchical revolution the previous year. Once the
Baathists firmed up their grip on power in 1968 and
Saddam seized positions as the Vice-President and
deputy head of the Revolutionary Command Council, he
used lists provided by the Western intelligence
agencies to execute communists.

It is widely believed that the U.S. assisted him to
seize power in 1979 in a palace coup against President
Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr because the U.S. wanted to build
him up against the new Iranian regime after the Islamic
Revolution. And indeed he invaded Iran the next year,
in collusion with the U.S. which supported him in a
variety of ways, including through the supply of
technology for the production of chemical and
biological weapons, in its own bid to get Iran weakened
and have both Iraq and Iran, major oil producing
countries opposed to Israel, weaken each other. He fell
afoul of the Americans only when he invaded Kuwait, a
close U.S. ally, in an attempt to capture Kuwait's vast
oil resources and thus emerge as the strongman of West
Asia. In this respect, the recent U.S. determination to
oust him resembles the earlier cases of Ngo Danh Diem
in Vietnam, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and
Manuel Noreiga in Panama, who were all agents and
allies but became liabilities later on.

In the perspective of this past history, it is only
fitting that Saddam's regime collapsed thanks to a deal
made with the U.S. Whether the deal was made by him to
save his own skin, or by his subordinates who acted
against him, is unclear. It is also unclear as to who
brokered the deal. Probably Vladimir Putin's men did
it, just as Boris Yeltsin's men had eventually
persuaded Slobodan Milosevic to give up. It is often
the case that traitors are eventually betrayed by their
own friends.

Details of that deal are now beginning to emerge,
though some of the relevant facts are still shrouded in
mystery. The circumstantial evidence pointing to a deal
is overwhelming nevertheless. The entire political and
military high command has disappeared without a trace.
Indeed, most of that high command disappeared from
sight immediately after the war began. Key leaders such
as Saddam's two notorious sons, Vice-President Taha
Yassin Ramadan, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, the
Ministers of Defence,

Health, and so on, have all become invisible. U.S.
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld kept repeating in
statements over the past several weeks that the U.S.
was in "negotiation" with senior leaders of the party
and senior military commanders, offering safe passage
to all, jobs to others in the post-war dispensation.

Is that why we do not see now those eminences of
yesteryear? No one knows what happened to the
Republican Guard; they just melted away. And even the
`embedded' reporters and photographers have reported no
big battles or scenes of military carnage - as was seen
on television when the Iraqi Army that had retreated
was decimated by U.S. bombing during the Gulf War of
1991, with U.S. bulldozers pushing thousands of the
dead into mass graves. Saddam Hussein had made a
spectacular bonfire of oil wells during that earlier
war; this time they were wired (just in case the deal
did not go through) but never put to flame (because the
U.S. did come through with the deal).

Iraq was said to have some 500 military aircraft and,
as the destruction of the World Trade Centre
demonstrated, planes can be used as missiles to crash
into targets, even if they cannot take on the superior
might of the U.S.-U.K. air forces. But none was used.
The U.S. tanks drove on highways which were never
mined, not even in the vicinity of Baghdad; they
crossed into the city over bridges which were wired for
destruction but never detonated. They came on to the
boulevards and encountered the most sporadic of
small-arms fire. They parked their tanks in squares,
and nothing happened. They just sat atop their tanks,
watching the burning, the looting. From the first day
to the last, independent journalists who were working
in Baghdad on their own were mystified why they never
could see any preparation for the defence of the city
even as Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, the brutish
Information Minister, kept making all kinds of claims
about impending battles in the city - until he too
disappeared, slipping into an obscurity which might
have been prepared for him in advance.

Understanding that Baghdad failed to fight back not
because of the overwhelming military superiority of the
U.S. but because the regime cut a deal even before a
battle for Baghdad could begin is a matter of great
political importance. This fact tells us at least three
things. First, the Saddam regime was so barbarically
repressive, so unwilling to tolerate any force
independent of it, that the regime alone - and no one
else - controlled all the resources and therefore had
the wherewithal to wage a battle for the defence of
Baghdad; once it made a deal, there was no alternative
force to organise a defence of that magnitude.
Secondly, and most crucially, it means that the removal
of that regime - that is, its top political leaders and
military commanders - is in fact the precondition for
the emergence of a popular struggle.

Thirdly, and by the same token, the quick surrender
tells us nothing about the will of the Iraqi people to
fight for their freedom or even the preparedness of the
lower levels of the armed forces or of the ordinary
cadres of the Baath Party itself. They are probably
relieved over the demise of the Saddam regime even as
they are revolted by the re-colonisation of their
country. Their resistance has been deferred, and their
war is yet to come. And the leadership for that shall
emerge over the next few months. The U.S. is planning
to announce a victory formally in a few days. That is
too soon. The war is not over; it has not even begun.

IN a sense, however, this new war has actually begun -
in the shape of an extraordinary expression of mass
resentment against the U.S. presence as such. The tone
was set already on April 15, as the occupation and
sacking of Baghdad was fully under way and the U.S.
tried to hold a meeting of some of its top clients in
An Nassiriyah, the first such meeting since the
beginning of the invasion and certainly the first on
Iraqi soil. Jay Garner, a retired General and currently
an arms dealer who has been appointed to lead the U.S.
administration in Iraq, opened the conference, held
near the city of Ur, the biblical birthplace of the
Prophet Abraham. Garner opened it with the grand
statement: "What better place than the birthplace of
civilisation could you have for the beginning of a
freer Iraq?" Well, much to his dismay, his little
meeting was greeted by 20,000 protesters in that small
town, chanting "No to America, No to Saddam."

When the Baathists came to power (briefly in 1963, and
in a more lasting stint in 1968 through a coup), Iraq
had a huge Communist Party, the largest in the Arab
world, which then faced mass arrests, torture,
execution, exile and general decimation. Other modern
political forces met the same fate as Saddam perfected
his brutal monopoly over power and politics in civil
society, but he failed to suppress entirely the
religious opposition which took refuge in its mosques
and seminaries, its informal civil networks, its
monopoly of shrines and pilgrimages. Now, with the
demise of the Saddam regime, there is no secular force
that is organised enough to fill the vacuum and, for
the first time in modern Iraqi history, the mosque is
emerging as the site of opposition, the focus of anti-
colonial organisation, and a contender for the
construction of a parallel system of governance rooted
in civil society, in opposition to the colonial
administration and a subordinate network of clients
that the U.S. is putting together. Less than two weeks
into the colonial occupation, Friday prayers became the
occasion to mobilise a mass insurgency.

On Friday, April 18, Sunnis and Shias offered prayers
together in the Abu Haneefa Al Nu'man mosque in Baghdad
(a veritable Sunni mosque, and one whose dome was
smashed by American bombing), listened to anti-American
sermons and erupted into the streets, marching
peacefully and calling for a united struggle of Shias,
Sunnis and Kurds against foreign occupation. Some of
them were chanting "No Bush - No Saddam; Yes to Islam".
Others were carrying banners in English and Arabic
saying "Leave our country. We want peace" and "We
reject American hegemony." The organisers, mostly
Sunni, are calling themselves `the Iraqi National

Meanwhile, in the poorer part of Baghdad where the Shia
population predominates, local militias that are
hostile to the occupation forces are reported to have
sprouted everywhere, taking control of the streets at
night and organising welfare activities - supplying
food, providing medical aid, making funeral
arrangements - by the day. In faraway An Najaf, the
city where Ayatollah Khomeini spent some 15 years in
exile and from where he plotted his revolution for
Iran, the venerated clergy have come together as a
decision-making body, organised a nation-wide system of
communications for instructions sent through
messengers. They have also initiated the formation of
defence committees in neighbourhoods throughout Iraq,
ostensibly for the restoration of normalcy and
provision of aid for the suffering population but
obviously as part of a move to create a grassroots
administration designed to function as a parallel state
and a network of local organisations to launch a
popular armed struggle. Meanwhile, the U.S. creates its
own administration at the top and pretends to put in
place a supposedly `democratic' government comprising
its own clients.

In towns such as Kut, some enterprising clergymen have
simply walked into the mayoral offices to take over the
local administration, with a remarkable degree of
popular acceptance. Checkpoints are coming up inside
cities and on roads linking various cities in southern
Iraq which are manned by these new groupings, and there
are already reports of confrontations with Americans
who are simply unprepared for this kind of challenge on
the ground. The presence of militants from a variety of
Islamicist groups is in evidence, and some of them are
reported as having said that in case the Americans
oppose them on the ground they are willing to turn
themselves into suicide bombers. Most of the groups
that have emerged are Shia ones, but more Sunni groups
are likely to emerge as well.

Reports suggest that entirely secular armed groups are
also emerging in particular neighbourhoods. All these
shall be the militias of tomorrow. As was stated in the
previous essay in this series ("Barbarians at the
gate," Frontline, April 25), far from turning into a
"Stalingrad in the desert", as some people fancifully
expected Baghdad to become, it was more likely to
resemble Algiers under French occupation, Palestine
under Zionist occupation, and Beirut at the time of the
Israeli occupation and the prolonged civil war. Not a
city defending itself against siege by a foreign army
which is then repulsed after some weeks or months, but
a city actually under full occupation where the costs
of an occupation will become unbearable only over a
period of time and which engages in a type of warfare
against which the most modern weaponry is largely
useless. And a city, moreover, that is surrounded by a
rebellious hinterland comprising other cities, towns
and villages. But then, also like Beirut, a city riven
by its own communal divides, its warring militias
fighting for turf, arms merchants flourishing by
feeding the multiplicity of militias - the more warring
factions there are, the more splendid the arms bazaar
becomes. Not the sheer, brute power of American
weaponry but the internal communal divides shall be the
largest challenge to anti-colonial unity in Iraq during
this new phase. For, just as the establishment of a
colonial administration shall serve to bring together
the various opposing groups, the sudden collapse of the
central authority and the lack of a successor central
organising force shall serve to accentuate the communal
divides and mutual competition over scarce resources.

For, what the Americans have brought with them is not
only the gift of colonisation but all the paraphernalia
of communalisation and factionalisation of Iraqi
society: dividing the Turkoman against the Kurd, the
Kurd against the Arab, the Sunni against the Shia, and
indeed one Shia faction against the other, not to speak
of the Baathist against the non-Baathist, the torturers
of yesterday against a battered people, the clients
against the patriots.

The one positive aspect of Saddam's authoritarian rule
was its militant commitment to secularism against
religious strife and to state-centred nationalism
against divisive localism. With that nationalist cement
gone, collapse into fiefdoms of local power in the name
of primordial loyalties is very probable, and the
colonial power is likely to do all it can to accentuate
these conflicts since these conflicts are the surest
means through which anti-colonial forces can be
disorganised and the presence of colonial authority, as
keepers of the peace among communities, can be
justified. Far from this being an unintended
consequence of colonisation, this emerging
communalisation of Iraqi society is something that the
invaders have foreseen and wanted to achieve. A
foretaste of the bloody nature of this communalisation
can be had in the ethnic cleansing of Arabs that is
already under way in northern Iraq, at the hands of
Kurdish zealots.

Intoxicated by the scale and ease of the victory, the
U.S. had already begun to make ominous statements
against Syria. Within a span of one week, George Bush,
Colin Powell and Rumsfeld accused Syria of harbouring
fugitives from the Iraqi regime, manufacturing chemical
and biological weapons and providing bases and training
facilities to a variety of "terrorist" organisations
such as the Hizbollah. Each of them warned of
reprisals, and Rumsfeld ordered the Pentagon to make
contingency plans for the invasion of Syria. That
planning shall indeed continue and Syria certainly
faces the threat of invasion, especially now that it
has refused to submit to the charade of inspections,
which paved the way for the invasion of Iraq.

It also seems probable, however, that with the
emergence of widespread religio-political opposition in
Iraq, and with the religious establishment already
launched on creating structures of dual authority even
before the U.S. has put together its own
administration, the Americans have come to understand
that the pacification of Iraq shall be infinitely
harder than the military conquest. The neo-conservative
cabal at the Pentagon and the think tanks may well be
restrained in their designs for a swift conquest of
other countries in the region (Syria, Iran, perhaps
even Saudi Arabia), and an invasion of Syria may well
be postponed until after the U.S. presidential
elections of November 2004. The fate of Syria shall in
any case be decided in Iraq. If the resistance is slow
in emerging, and if the U.S. feels confident of
containing it, the invasion shall come sooner rather
than later.

Meanwhile, the structure of a unilateral colonial
occupation and administration is being put in place
with great alacrity, with Iraqi clients assigned a much
more subordinate role, the United Nations being kept
out of any significant decision- making process, and
even Britain being given only a marginal role. Garner,
who is to head the colonial authority, has been flown
in and sections of the U.S. media have appropriately
taken to referring to him as `viceroy'. This arms
contractor specialising in missiles is known to get
non-competitive contracts from the Pentagon. This year
alone he obtained a defence contract worth $1.5
billion, as well as a contract for building Patriot
missile systems in Israel.

Garner shall supervise a total of 23 Ministries, all
headed by U.S. top brass and each of the heads of
Ministries assisted by three assistants and eight
advisers - all Americans. The `reconstruction' of Iraq,
expected to generate $100 billion worth of contracts,
is being monopolised by the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID), which is
distributing these contracts among U.S. transnational
companies. A whole range of these corporations, from
the little ones like Stevedoring Services of America to
giants such as Bechtel and Halliburton - all closely
aligned with the highest officials in the Bush
administration - are grabbing these contracts. In the
process, everything that has been in the state sector
in Iraq - ports, water works and power grids, building
of roads and bridges, trains and telecommunications,
pharmaceuticals and medical facilities, and so on - are
to be privatised and opened to foreign, principally
American, investment and ownership.

The Iraqi dinar is being provisionally discarded as an
unreliable and worthless currency and dollars are being
spread as part of the so-called "humanitarian aid"
packages and remunerations of various types. The dollar
is already legal tender, parallel to the local
currency, in Lebanon; the U.S. would like it to be so
in the much larger, oil-based and lucrative economy of
Iraq. If Saddam had the temerity to adopt the Euro as
the currency for its foreign trade and foreign currency
reserves, the U.S. is retaliating by making the dollar
a domestic currency for Iraq.

Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the supreme
commander of the neo-conservatives and the real
godfather of this war, declared in early April that
direct U.S. rule shall last at least six months and
"probably... longer than that". Ahmed Chalabi, a crony
of Wolfowitz and head of the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi
National Congress, has been flown into Iraq along with
a number of other Iraqi clients from London, New York
and elsewhere.

Echoing his Washington bosses, Chalabi has said that
there can be no role for the U.N. in Iraq and that
direct U.S. rule may be required for as long as two
years. All the basic economic decisions shall have of
course been made during these two years, putting in
place an entirely new, privatised, neo-liberal economic
structure dominated by U.S. multinationals. Plans for
the privatisation of Iraqi oil are afoot. A lesser
member of the Chalabi clan, Fadhli Chalabi, a former
official of Iraq's Petroleum Ministry, said: "We need a
huge amount of money coming into the country. The only
way is to privatise the industry partially."

This privatisation of Iraqi oil assets and their sale
to transnationals has been a major objective driving
this war, as a first step in the campaign - backed by a
military campaign if necessary - to privatise oil in
Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and elsewhere, including of
course in the Caspian Sea basin.

Not the least significant aspect of this restructuring
of the Iraqi oil industry is that a pipeline is being
sought to be built quickly to supply Iraqi oil to
Israel, which is currently boycotted by Arab states and
purchases most of its oil from distant Russia. A direct
pipeline from Iraq is expected to cut the Israeli oil
bill by about a third, while more gains are expected
from the plummeting of oil prices once Iraqi production
is fully restored. A veritable tripartite
Iraq-Jordan-Israel axis is envisaged in this regard,
with Iraqi oil being delivered at the Jordanian port of
Aqaba, across the waters from the Israeli port of

IN the face of these grand designs, it is turning out
to be virtually indecent to ask just what happened to
the rationale that was trotted out to justify the
invasion. Saddam Hussein was supposed to be sponsoring
`international terrorism', yet the only `terrorist' the
Americans have captured so far is an ageing Palestinian
whose last action dates back to 1984. Predictably, the
so-called weapons of mass destruction have not been
found and the U.S. seems to be neither in a hurry to
look for them nor embarrassed by their non-existence.

Saddam Hussein's "tyranny" was the other plank. Instead
of toppling a regime, the U.S. made a deal with it,
promising to integrate most of it in its own
administration. The U.S. was said to bring in
"democracy". Instead, what we have is a veritable
colonial administration that is already being projected
for two years. General Tommy Franks, who led the
invasion, has said that U.S. troops shall be stationed
on Iraqi soil for many, many more years, "on the model
of Korea". Meanwhile, the Americans do not really like
the democracy they are beginning to encounter on the
streets of Iraqi cities, in the form of popular
protests and the emergence of a grassroots
administration opposed to the U.S. designs.

One has deliberately tried here not to outline the
scale of atrocities and suffering that the invasion has
inflicted upon the Iraqi people and the criminal
silence of the so-called international media in which
these atrocities have been shrouded. For the first time
in the history of modern warfare, journalists from the
entire spectrum of the international media, from CNN to
Le Monde, agreed to become subordinates of the military
command structure, voluntarily giving up their right to
report what they saw.

This internationalised vow of silence has had a
mafia-like quality to it, and only from the margins did
a few brave ones tell the story of at least some of the
gruesome details of mass civilian killings, organised
looting of the national heritage and its treasures, the
bonfire of books and rare manuscripts that would have
impressed even the Nazis.

Every single Article of the Geneva Convention and the
U.N. Charter was violated, and a whole range of war
crimes committed, with impunity. Yet, not a single
member of the so-called "international community" has
come forward to say so: not Kofi Annan and his
bureaucrats at the U.N., not the leaders of the
Franco-German alliance or any other member of the
Security Council, not the head of any Arab state. The
moral bankruptcy of the whole state system of the world
is there for all to see. This global complicity is what
made the invasion possible in the first place.

And yet, in the distant and dingy alleyways of that
battered and occupied country, a resistance is in the
making. It will take some months to take organisational
form, more months to make a transition to credible
forms of armed resistance. In the long run, though, the
U.S. may have made for itself not just a client state
whose assets can be bought up for a song, but a
veritable Palestine writ large. As the whole history of
anti-colonial movements has shown, history does not end
with conquest. A different history then begins.


    For the movement, the relevant question is not, "Can we
    work through the political system?", but rather, "Is
    the political system one of the things that needs to be
    fundamentally transformed?"

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