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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

America-looking for scapegoats in Iraq

By Karamatullah K. Ghori

Bush, having made the January 30 date of elections in Iraq into a test case of his resolve to 'stay the course' there, is finding the going increasingly tough. He is up against the odds looking increasingly daunting with every passing day.

Bush knows that with all others of his gross fabrications on Iraq having been exposed as nothing but blatant lies, tailored to fit his expansionist agenda and imperialist hubris, elections on the date promised by him is the last straw for his sinking credibility on Iraq. Hence his desperate bid to keep the election D-Day, no matter how much more innocent blood of Iraqis may yet be spilled in the confrontation between his occupation army and those Iraqis determined to throw the invader out of their land.

That a fairly sizeable segment of the Iraqi population is not prepared to let Bush's election charade succeed is implicit in the mounting toll of casualties in the resistance-related violence. Not a day passes without half a dozen or so incidents exacting human toll in blood in central and northern parts of Iraq. The average daily death toll in such acts of violence is at least 20. These acts are becoming increasingly more focused and daring as the deadline of January 30 nears. Even the so-called 'Green Belt' in Baghdad, where the 3000-strong American Embassy and the factotums of the puppet Allawi government are located, is no longer safe. The so-called 'insurgents' are becoming bolder as American rhetoric gets louder. The killing of the Governor of Baghdad in broad daylight is evidence of the 'insurgents' ruling the roost.

Bush's response to tackle the 'insurgency' is typically Orwellian. He is beefing up his occupation troops with fresh detachments sent from the U.S. The strength of American forces in Iraq now stands at 150,000. But the spiraling troop presence is, apparently, unable to contain the determined Iraqi backlash to the occupation.

The imperialist mind, through ages of recorded history, has taken refuge in unbridled use of force against a restive or agitating population in a captive or conquered territory. Winston Churchill, the arch imperialist, resorted to the use of chemical weapons against his hapless Iraqi quarries when he was War Secretary at the end of World War I. He wanted to make a 'horrible example' of the Iraqis daring to challenge the then prime imperialist power.

Bush had also given the green light for the Fallujah operation within hours of his re-election last November because his mind worked exactly like Churchill's. He thought that by decimating Fallujah into a pile of rubble he will have sown fear in the hearts of the Iraqi resistance, which will, in turn, pave the way for the success of his election scam.

But the incontrovertible evidence of American savagery in Fallujah has only fueled the fires of resistance much more than before. So no amount of extra troop reinforcements is going to contain the resistance, or quench the fire lit by American barbarity in Fallujah.

But while the Iraqis, from one end of the country to another, remain resolutely united in their gritty determination to throw out the invader, the election scam is dividing the country along ethnic and sectarian fault lines. This is a danger sign for the territorial integrity of Iraq.

Elections mean different things to different factions and political groups.

To the majority Shias of Iraq, it is a chance they have been waiting for anxiously since the overthrow of Saddam Hussain. The Baathists had kept the majority population-65 % of Iraqis-from the nerve center of governance during their long rule of nearly 35 years. But the Shias had suffered, if not as much, in the denial of their rights under other regimes too. 

The Iraqi Shias know that the democratic way is the easiest, most acceptable and most legitimate means of their acquiring their right to rule Iraq on the basis of their numerical strength. This has been the catalyst of Shia reaction to U.S. occupation of Iraq. They hate it as much as any other Iraqi ethnic or sectarian group but have not allowed their antipathy to translate itself into violent expression. 

Moqtada Al Sadr's brief revolt against American occupation of Iraq was an aberration in the sedate and well- deliberated Shia response to this menace. The center of their politics has held itself with remarkable dexterity and restraint. It was this element that eventually overcame Al Sadr's outburst and licked the problem. Ayotallah Sistani's quiet, but highly efficient and coordinated leadership has bestowed a perspective and context to the Shias-a unique feat in occupied Iraq.

Knowing the need and importance of unity in their ranks, and quiet, passive, resistance to U.S. occupation that would lead them to their cherished goal of ruling over all of Iraq, the Shias have organized themselves with great care and conviction. Their coalition now contains all the major and minor Shia political factions. The two largest factions-the 'Supreme Coalition for Islamic Revolution in Iraq' (SCIRI) and Al Dawa, the oldest Shia faction of Iraq-have willingly decided to accommodate smaller groups which have sprung up in the wake of the American occupation. A fire- brand like Moqtada Al Sadr is rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ahmed Chalabi, who was a pariah until not too long ago because of his long association with the Americans.

Leaving aside the seats from the Kurdish areas, this coalition will have a unified, single, slate of candidates for 252 out of a total 275 seats up for grab at the January 30th elections. Since seats in the constituent assembly, thus elected, will be allocated on the basis of proportional representation, the Shias are certain to get their numerical majority fully reflected in the upcoming Assembly. They are determined not to lose or squander that opportunity to put their stamp on a new, and hopefully democratic, Iraq.

The Kurds of the north also want the elections to go through largely for the reason to get the majority backing their special rights and privileges in a democratic and federal Iraq.

With an eye on this, the two leading Kurdish groups-Masood Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and his arch-rival Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)-have decided to sink their differences, for the moment at least, and put up their own united slate of candidates at the forthcoming polls. The Kurds, with long experience of dealing with various Iraqi regimes behind them, are conscious of the fact that by standing united they stand the best chance of ensuring their separate identity within a federal order in Iraq.

But while the Shia majority and the Kurds-who have been virtually independent of Baghdad for years since the end of the 1991 Gulf war-have nothing to lose in the elections George W. Bush is so keen to hold, at any cost, the Sunnis of central and northern Iraq fear more losses than gains.

The Sunnis of Iraq, though not more than 20 per cent of its population, have enjoyed extraordinary powers and perks under successive regimes over the past 80 years. Their zenith was reached under Saddam Hussain whose rule was equally punishing to the Shias and the Kurds of Iraq.

The so-called 'Sunni Triangle' where resistance to the U.S. occupation is so well pronounced, violent and gory, fears a near-total loss of all those perks and privileges they enjoyed under Saddam despite being in a visible minority in Iraq. They are a frustrated lot, truncated and divided. They lack the kind of cohesiveness that the Shias of Iraq have, or the experienced leadership that the Kurds have had for so long.

The Sunni response to the election scheme is two-fold.

On the one hand, they have taken to violent means to make a political statement. There may be an admixture of foreign 'terrorists' in their ranks-the name of Abu Musab Zarqawi has been routinely mentioned by the Americans as the principal perpetrator of most acts of violence in the triangle. However, the Sunni resistance is, predominantly home grown and its cadres are drawn from among the youths who have been deprived of life opportunities under American occupation of their country and see little prospect of an early end to their suffering. It is, on their part, an expression of abject and utter frustration as far as their future is concerned.

The other aspect o the Sunni response to elections is political and hinges, for the moment, on threatened boycott of the elections. This stance of non-co-operation could change but there is, at the moment, little likelihood of that.

Boycotting the elections is, no doubt, a negative and defeatist eaction. It is also an indirect admission that the Sunni leadership is uninspired by the election prospect as it would, for the first time in modern Iraqi history, knock the political power platform from under their feet.

It is a combination of these two elements that has been feeding the 'insurgency' in the triangle. The brutality of American response at Fallujah has only further exacerbated it and fueled its intensity manifold.

The Americans, miffed at the failure of what they had conceived as a 'horrible example' in Fallujah, are now looking for scapegoats to take the blame for their dismal failure to snuff out the Iraqi resistance.

The Iraqi head of intelligence has publicly disclosed that the ranks of the 'insurgents' are much larger than they were earlier anticipated. According to him, they number at least 200,000, out of which 40,000 are combat ready all the times while the rest provide the reserve and backup support.

The obvious intent of the announcement by a principal factotum of the puppet Allawi government is to magnify the problem and come up with a credible alibi for the failure of American policy of using an iron fist. The problem is much larger than bush or his hawks had ever anticipated.

A related and pronounced policy plank of Bush is to blame some of Iraq's neighbours for feeding the 'insurgency'.

The first and foremost candidate for this title of 'intruder' into the latest possession of U.S. imperialist drive was none other than Iran. But that served only a limited purpose as long as Moqtada Al Sadr was active in the field. With his standing down, Washington has lost the stick to beat Iran with. The Sistani-led political coalition has been especially sensitive and cautious on the issue of Iran. It has deliberately distanced itself from Tehran lest it was accused of being on the take of the Iranians, or acting as their proxy.

That only leaves Syria to covet the dubious title of fueling the 'insurgency' and disturbing the U.S. imperialist agenda in Iraq.

The American line of argument is that major figures of the defunct Baathist regime of Saddam Hussain have been sheltered in Damascus and other places in Syria and they are the ones who are feeding the uprising in Iraq with money and weapons.

So Bush and his henchmen-from Colin Powell and Rumsfeld et al, down to other ranks-have lately been fuming a lot and putting Syria under intense pressure to clamp down on these sheltered Baathists. The Syrian response is that the Americans, while making sensational headlines in the establishment media at home, have not been able to come up with credible evidence or give the Syrians anything concrete to chew on.

The Americans cannot come up with convincing evidence because they lack any. The purpose behind breathing down the neck of Bashar Al Asad and others in Syria is to rattle them enough to succumb to whatever diktat the Bush neo cons would want Syria to swallow. They have long been looking for ways to snuff out whatever little moral resistance there is in Damascus to the Israeli domination of the region. Ariel Sharon, a moral guru and mentor to the Bush neo cons is not happy with Syria's independence and wants a free hand from Bush to deal with Syria the way he has been with the Palestinians at his mercy.
But the irony implicit in the election scam for the Iraqis cannot be ignored. They were deprived by Saddam's totalitarian regime of any free expression. And now an alien, hostile and desperate imperialist power is doing all it can to thrust its brand of democracy on them on the strength of its bayonets. The Iraqi tragedy and suffering is refusing to go away. The putative elections could well spell the disintegration of Iraq in its present geographical entity. But that is not a concern of Bush.

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