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Another pyrrhic victory
By B Raman

If the George W Bush administration in the US were wise, it would have waited for the current holy fasting period of Ramadan of the more than a billion Muslims of the world and their Eid festivities to be over before launching its much-publicized and much-hyped offensive to pacify Fallujah, the Sunni stronghold in Iraq, which is apparently perceived by the Pentagon as the nerve center of anti-US resistance and jihadi terrorism in Iraq.

But wisdom has rarely been the hallmark of the Bush administration, whether it be in the so-called "war against international terrorism" or the continuing war to pacify Iraq. Insensitivity to Muslim feelings and a shocking ignorance of Islam continue to be the two constants in US policymaking since September 11, 2001.

Heavens would not have fallen if the US had waited for another week or 10 days until the fasting period and the Eid festivities were over. Instead, by launching its offensive even before the fasting period was over, the Pentagon would have strengthened the widely held perception of the US all over the Islamic world as anti-Islam. It would have equally strengthened the urge for martyrdom in the minds of millions of Muslims all over the world.

The most important objective of any counter-terrorism campaign is to dilute the motivation of the terrorists and weaken their feelings of solidarity against a common enemy. Instead of attempting to do so, the US has, since September 11, again and again indulged in inept and unwise actions, whose only outcome could be to further strengthen their motivation, feelings of solidarity and urge for martyrdom.

Like the United States' original sin of the invasion of Iraq of last year, the current Fallujah operation is based on a mix of deliberate disinformation, illusions, wishful-thinking and inept psywar. What has been the outcome of this?
  • The perception that Fallujah is the source of all the evils confronting the US in Iraq. This is similar to the perception created before the invasion last year that Iraq was the source of all the evils confronting the US in West Asia. The occupation of Iraq did not lead to peace and the end of terrorism in West Asia. It only made them even more elusive. Similarly, the occupation of Fallujah, which should not pose a major military problem for the US, is unlikely to lead to peace and an end to anti-US resistance and terrorism in Iraq. The occupation of Fallujah will lead to more Fallujahs, and not to peace.
  • The perception that Fallujah is controlled by terrorists. There is no credible evidence to show that this is so. The defiance of Fallujah until now has been due to Iraqi anger over the US occupation and not due to the control of the area by the terrorists. There are terrorists, many of them of foreign origin, operating in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq, but they are not in a majority. The bulk of the resistance has been from Iraqis.
  • The perception that there is a central command and control guiding all acts of violence and terrorism in Iraq and that its general headquarters is located in Fallujah. There is as yet no credible evidence of any such central command and control operating from Fallujah. Most of the resistance and terrorist operations all over Iraq seem to be autonomous and not subject to centralized control. The seeds of this strategy were sown by Saddam Hussein and the International Islamic Front of Osama bin Laden, acting separately of each other and not in tandem, even while the former was in power, as I pointed out in my articles even before the US invaded Iraq. The seeds have since bloomed into thousands of resistance fighters and foreign terrorists.
  • The creation of an image of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as if he is a master strategist of jihadi terrorism who has proved himself to be more than a match for the strategists of the Pentagon. This is similar to the image the US created of bin Laden post-September 11 as if he is the Napoleon Bonaparte or Bernard Montgomery of international terrorism. The United States' over-projection of bin Laden and his prowess ended up unwittingly creating in the minds of millions of Muslims all over the world an image of an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient strategist and a desire to follow and emulate him. A similar image of Zarqawi has now been created. Bin Ladens may come and bin Ladens may go. Zarqawis may come and Zarqawis may go. But the images of them created by the US will endure for a long time and continue to motivate hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslims all over the world to seek martyrdom in a holy jihad against the US.

    There need be no doubt about the US ability to reoccupy Fallujah. But that will be neither a beginning nor the end. It will be only a continuation of the bleeding of Iraq and the bleeding of the US.

    B Raman is additional secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, government of India, New Delhi, and currently director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and distinguished fellow and convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail:

    (Copyright 2004 B Raman.)

  • Nov 11, 2004
    Asia Times Online Community

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