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    Middle East
     Aug 12, 2005
America's new bogeyman
By Ehsan Ahrari

The Iraqi insurgency has emerged as the new bogeyman for the American military in Iraq. The dictionary meaning of "bogeyman" is: "A cruel or frightening person or creature, existing or imaginary, used to threaten or frighten children." But bogeyman also exists in the imaginations of adults. It includes all things or phenomena that we don't understand, but that might be harmful or deleterious to us.

Except in this case the Iraqi insurgency is very real and it aims to kill the American or Iraqi "collaborators". The death of six American soldiers on August 10 brings the total number US service members killed since the war began to 1,841. Even America's best intelligence estimates portray a picture of uncertainty and confusion, while describing the essence of that insurgency.

The insurgents are killing American and Iraqi security forces. They seem to be everywhere and are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their murderous tactics. Worst of all, the Iraqi insurgency has created a constant pressure on America's top decision-makers to declare a timetable for withdrawal of American forces. While Iraq is edging toward getting a new constitution, the Iraqi insurgency is working very hard to force the Bush administration to declare an "exit strategy". Such a declaration is likely to plunge Iraq into even greater turbulence than it is currently experiencing.

No invading force wishes to recognize the insurgency as such. It is frequently described as being composed of "terrorists". Bush officials initially described its members as "deadenders". The implication is that the insurgency comprises persons who are working against the tide of time to bring back the failed and the dead past, meaning the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein. American officials almost always make a point of stating that the Iraqi "deadenders" and terrorists were only few hundred to a few thousand. The numbers that were officially bandied about at any given time were about 500 to 5,000. Only rarely were we given a larger number in official news conferences about the Iraqi conflict.

The fact of the matter is that no one really knew the real numbers. The American intelligence description of the insurgency was that it comprised some of the former Iraqi military, members of the former ruling Ba'ath Party, angry Iraqis, pan-Arabists and pan-jihadists. That was a good estimate, since it did not leave out any major Iraqi or foreign element.

Why did the insurgency become such a major force? A ready-made blame was placed on the decision of the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Paul Bremer, to abolish the Iraqi army and Ba'ath Party. That was also a partially correct explanation. What was ignored was the fact that, in most episodes of foreign occupation, insurgency emerges sooner rather than later.

However, Iraq was a special case, even as invasions go. It was seen in the region as the first Muslim nation invaded by a Christian country. Not too many people in the US either appreciate or accept that explanation. But that was how it was envisioned in the Middle East. Yes, Iraq was the second country in the context of the chronology of America's invasion in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks; Afghanistan was the first. However, Afghanistan brought that invasion on itself by allowing al-Qaeda to operate there. Iraq, on the other hand, was invaded, and invaded under a false pretext.

The irony involving America's invasion of Iraq is that there was no moral force in the Arab or even the Muslim world to stand up and loudly proclaim that it was an immoral act. All Arab dictators were lying low. No one on the side of the Arab governments was willing to become voluble in criticizing the then-impending invasion, for fear of creating an impression that they were trying to save Saddam's hide.

In the US, President George W Bush and his neo-conservative allies were spinning all sorts of scary tales of why it was so urgent to invade Iraq. The American public, indeed the international community, will never forget the statement Bush's then-national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, made: "The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly [Saddam] can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

The international community and some European allies became the foremost critics of the US invasion of Iraq. Still, there was no loud and clear moral outrage in the Middle East. In the meantime, the Iraqi insurgency emerged as a symbol of Arab and Muslim rage. The Arab dictators were still befuddled, and they lost further credibility in the eyes of their subjugated masses.

But the US was looking for approval, if not of its crude invasion of Iraq, then of removing a brutal dictator. Bush never understood why he did not receive that approval. To him, Saddam's rule was so morally repulsive that his remedy of "regime change" should have been envisaged by the world as the right and "moral" remedy.

It has to be one of those historical developments that even befuddle historians, but the US invasion of Iraq was happening at a time when Bush and Osama bin Laden were also waging war on each other. The global "war on terrorism" (Bush's war) was also a global war on the "chief infidel" (bin Laden's war). By invading Iraq, Bush made a perfect argument for bin Laden and his ilk that Islam was under attack, not because a dictator was removed, but because one more Muslim country was being occupied by the forces of the "new crusaders".

So the Ba'athists and the pan-Arabists in Iraq might have been waging a war on the US because they lost paychecks and pension funds, which, indeed, is the making of economic catastrophe anywhere. However, the rest of the Iraqi insurgency was waging a war for Islam. That is the only explanation for the intensity of the outrage that one regularly witnesses in the brutal attacks on the American forces and against those Iraqis whom the insurgents depict as "collaborators".

For the insurgents, even the very concept of an Iraq that is created under American hegemony is an offense against Islam. They point out the essence of what the Americans are attempting to achieve by indirectly crafting the new Iraqi constitution. In that constitution, Islam is not likely to be the main source of legislation, but only one source of legislation They also deride the notion of "popular sovereignty", which is apostasy to the thinking of the Salafi branch of Islam. They are angry at discussions of secularism that are largely promoted through the alliance of the Iraqi Kurds and the American Embassy in Iraq. To the insurgents, the only solution to these "crimes against God" is mayhem and destruction of everyone and everything that is being created under the rubric of the "new" Iraq. Once the Americans leave, that will be the end of just one phase of their battle. Then they will have to settle scores with all the "collaborators", including the Kurds and the Shi'ites. After that, the Iraqi populace should rally around the notion of an Islamic government, according to the pan-jihadis of Iraq.

America is increasingly finding itself in a quandary in Iraq. It cannot leave any time soon. Indeed, it should not leave any time soon. But what is the alternative? If the emergence of Iraqi security forces becomes one condition for its withdrawal from Iraq, then the insurgents are likely to be definite winners at least for the foreseeable future. All they have to do is keep killing any Iraqi conscript or a trained security person who is found unprotected. Indeed, they are doing just that. How long and how often will those personnel keep taking safety measures? They will have to lower their guard some time. And that will be the moment the insurgents will attack them.

Here is another alternative. There is no other way the US can get out of Iraq without completely defeating the insurgency. And the more severe measures that are taken to eradicate them, the more there is the likelihood of it increasing its strength. Furthermore, the bloodier the campaign to eradicate the insurgency becomes in Iraq, the higher the chances of more loss of young American lives.
The question then is how much more American soldier bloodshed will the US public absorb before someone in their Congress or any other prominent public official will publicly tell Bush: "Let's declare victory and get out of Iraq"? The echoes of the Vietnam imbroglio are always lurking in the background.

Right now, public support for America's continued presence in Iraq is slipping. The only reason there has not yet been any outcry of "out of Iraq" is because the suicide attacks in London have shaken up the American public about the possibility of similar attacks in the US.

Then there is one more reality that should be weighing on Bush's mind. The bloodier America's presence becomes in Iraq, the lower the possibility would be that Iraq would emerge as a shining example of anything that Washington has been hoping when it insisted on introducing democracy in that country.

The Iraqi insurgency remains a big potential spoiler for Bush. Even sadder is the reality that it might also become a spoiler regarding the emergence of Iraq as a stable democracy. Poor Iraqis! They thought that their lives would be better after Saddam was gone from the political scene.

Ehsan Ahrari is an independent strategic analyst based in Alexandria, VA, US. His columns appear regularly in Asia Times Online. He is also a regular contributor to the Global Beat Syndicate. His website: www.ehsanahrari.com.

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)

The Iranian nightmare (Aug 11, '05)

Basic questions about bases (Aug 6, '05)

Iraq exit on the agenda (Jul 27, '05)

In Iraq's insurgency, no rules, just death (May 13, '05)


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