of a Failed Occupation
and incompetence are becoming the signature aspects of U.S.
military rule in Iraq. Exhibit A is the siege of Fallujah,
where more than 600 hundred have died within the past week.
Let’s be perfectly clear about why we are in this bloody situation:
The current uprising in both Sunni and Shia areas of Iraq
was provoked by L. Paul Bremer III, the American proconsul
in Baghdad. First, he shut down al Hawza, the small
weekly newspaper (circulation 10,000) of Moqtada al Sadr,
the radical Shiite cleric. Then Bremer arrested one of his
top aides and announced the imminent arrest of Sadr himself
as an “outlaw.” When Sadr’s followers gathered in protests
in Firdos Square, U.S. troops opened fire on them, and then
took the battle into their stronghold, the Shia slum of Thawra,
or Sadr City.
At the same time, Bremer and the U.S. military vowed spectacular
revenge for the brutal killing of four contractors in Fallujah.
In retaliation, the Marines laid siege to the town and are
now bogged down in bloody fighting on its outskirts.
The truth is that had Bremer and Pentagon’s top ground commander
Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez played it cool and not
provoked the Shias or attacked Fallujah, Iraq today would
probably be limping along in relative peace—as it has been
for the past year.
In January, I spent time in Fallujah, Ramadi, Adamyia and
Sadr City—towns and neighborhoods that are now the battlegrounds
in the war between the United States and the Iraqi resistance.
I’ve both been embedded with the U.S. Military and interviewed
cells of resistance fighters. I was with the 82nd Airborne
in Fallujah, when they came under attack in the area that
the Marines are now trying to occupy.
Based on these experiences, I have concluded that when it
comes to Iraq, America is its own worst enemy.
Don’t get me wrong, I never supported this war and I am not
trying to offer a better way to colonize Iraq. My analysis
is best viewed as an autopsy of a military and political strategy
gone terribly awry.
Most Iraqis I met in January were war-weary and hesitant to
fight. They were desperate for things like jobs, electricity
and safety—i.e., real reconstruction. The resistance was,
for most of the past year, a loose network of cells mainly
capable of hit-and-run attacks. While the Shia and Sunni communities
eyed each other with increasing suspicion, Iraqis in general
appeared to be patiently enduring the occupation; they were
ambivalent toward the resistance, neither supporting nor condemning
it. Many Iraqis continued to hope that maintaining the peace
would allow them to regain real sovereignty.
Now all that has changed thanks to the arrogant and aggressive
U.S. tactics, which are viewed as irrationally cruel by Iraqis.
In Fallujah, the various resistance cells are now engaged
in a massive recruiting drive. As they fight the Marines,
these insurgents are creating new alliances, reorganizing
their efforts and launching a large-scale defense of their
As for new recruits, the resistance owes much to the U.S.
Marine Corps, which is halting all refugee convoys, allowing
the women, children, and elderly to proceed, while turning
back all “fighting age” men! It only gives these men greater
incentive to head right back into an urban battleground of
alleyways, rooftops and side streets, and join the ranks of
insurgents who battle to defend the city. In Baghdad, Sunni
and Shia are united, praying and fighting together. Shia aid
convoys are trying to smuggle food, supplies and men into
Even U.S.-appointed Iraqi leaders like Adnan Pachachi, a former
foreign minister and a member of the Iraqi Governing Council,
are condemning the Americans. Pachachi has called the siege
of Fallujah “unacceptable and illegal.” And it takes real
effort to alienate the likes of Pachachi.
This new state of affairs is also a result of the absence
of any meaningful reconstruction a full year after the invasion.
The stalled political and economic efforts are the result
of two interconnected factors: the pro- market ideological
delusions of Bremer’s staff and the wholesale private sector
fraud these delusions foster.
To win hearts and minds, America needs to turn on the lights,
provide clean water, give people jobs and impose law and order.
But hardly any of this has happened because Bush administration-connected
firms such as Halliburton and Bechtel have stolen the vast
majority of the money allocated for such tasks.
Remember how Halliburton was caught overbilling the military
for food and fuel? Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg,
Brown and Root voluntarily returned millions of dollars while
the Pentagon has opened a criminal investigation into the
matter. But these scandals are just the tip of the iceberg.
In sum, $11.2 billion in contracts have been awarded in non-competitive
bids to U.S. firms. Yet, as journalist and former investment
banker Nomi Prins found, no one agency even keeps track of
this reconstruction. Instead, “a slew of separate entities”
from “the State Department, Treasury Department, multiple
Defense Department divisions, and international organizations
like the World Bank and United Nations” are all keeping their
own books, sort of. “Each is privy to receiving and responsible
for disclosing only a subset of information,” writes Prins.
One U.S. journalist found that many reconstruction projects
that had allegedly been “rebuilt” had in reality barely been
touched. One “repaired” school was overflowing with raw sewage.
When I visited Ramadi and Fallujah in January, people in both
towns were angry about chronic water and electricity shortages.
Power plants, telephone exchanges and sewage systems all remain
looted and bombed out. According to the NGO CorpWatch, only
10 percent of Halliburton’s initial $2.2 billion in contracts
has been spent on meeting community needs.
In counterinsurgency efforts past, lack of real reform—that
is lack of real reconstruction—has forced the military to
use increasingly greater levels of terror to ensure compliance.
To separate what Mao Zedong called the “fish” of guerillas
from the “sea” of the people, counterinsurgency forces use
aerial bombardment, defoliation, forced relocation, torture
and lots and lots of killing. This was the pattern in Vietnam,
El Salvador and Guatemala and is still the case in Colombia.
This hyper-violent “plan B” is now rearing its ugly head in
Fallujah, where AC-130 gunships are being used to concentrate
fire into densely packed civilian neighborhoods.
Will this kind of barbarism “work”? Will it “pacify” Iraq
and if so, at what cost? For once, it is worth listening to
Henry Kissinger, who said of the Vietnam War: “We fought a
military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought
physical attrition; our opponents aimed for our psychological
exhaustion. In the process, we lost sight of one of the cardinal
maxims of guerrilla warfare: The guerrilla wins if he does
not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.”