|The Baghdad Goetterdaemmerung
By Marc Erikson
battle for Baghdad is about to be joined. The military
outcome is not in doubt. However, whether this war can
be concluded with a minimum of civilian casualties and
damage to essential infrastructure (so far one dead, 32
injured in Baghdad according to the Red Cross), does not
in the main lie in the hands of coalition forces. In a
comprehensive profile of Saddam Hussein in these pages
Saddam's mind ), my colleague Pepe Escobar
documented the megalomaniacal historical ambitions of the
Iraqi dictator. No one can rule out that this man, on
whose orders tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens have
been brutally murdered since 1979, will in the end adopt
"defensive" measures - dispersing military personnel
among non-combatants, mining buildings and
infrastructure, in effect bringing down the temple on
himself - which will bring about mass casualties.
By April 1945, when the Allies had crossed the
Rhine river and Soviet forces had reached the Oder river
just east of Berlin, World War II was certainly over for
the Nazi regime. And yet, one of the largest, most
deadly battles of the war, the battle for Berlin, was
yet to come. On the night of April 16, well over a
million Soviet soldiers with 6,000 tanks and 40,000
artillery pieces commenced the final push to Berlin.
Before the Soviet victors hoisted the red flag on the
Brandenburg Gate on April 30 and Adolf Hitler shot
himself in his bunker, nearly 100,000 more Soviet and
60,000 German soldiers had lost their lives, along with
tens of thousands of civilians. Overall, at least
250,000 soldiers and civilians lost their lives in the
last two weeks of the war.
Why? The war - in all
but formal declaration - was lost. As documented in Nazi
propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' diary (he spent the
final weeks of the regime in Hitler's bunker and died
there), Hitler was determined to see Germany and the
German people destroyed, indeed, deemed them deserving
of destruction, if they couldn't win. But that doesn't
explain why not only the Waffen SS (Hitler's elite
guards), but regular army and Volkssturm (under
18 and over 60-year olds) units fought to the last day.
Germans have a term for that, Mut der
Verzweiflung - courage (born) of desperation.
Rational decision gives way to the elemental fight for
Could this happen in and around
Baghdad in coming days? I don't know, but I can't rule
it out. One outstanding fact of the war so far is that
widely expected mass surrenders haven't occurred.
Thousands, yes. Tens of thousands, entire divisions, no.
Nor have we seen anti-Saddam uprisings or celebrations
in the streets of "liberated" towns. From fear that much
as after the Gulf War the US-led forces would depart and
leave any uprising to be crushed by Saddam's security
forces? That may be part of it, but it's not the whole
story. There is an element of defiance and resistance
that can't just be explained away. And therein lies the
danger that - much like Hitler - Saddam would see
justification for going down in a
Goetterdaemmerung (Twilight of the Gods)
cataclysm and take the believers with him.
is not a prediction. It's a credible risk to be factored
in. The US has tried to avoid civilian casualties. It
may find - much as the Allies did during World War II -
that to win a war, there's no clean and antiseptic way
to do so.
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