April 29, 2004
Fallujah "Security Deal" a Solution?The ever-stumbling and wildly-lurching behemoth that is the imperial project in Iraq seems to have has lurched once more, but there is little evidence that this lurch will be any more successful in solving the fundamental political problems that doom its disastrous occupation. The bombs continued to fall and gunfire continued to rattle Fallujah's streets hours after the the U.S. Military had announced a withdrawal deal involving the replacement of U.S. troops by an Iraqi force dubbed the Fallujah Protection Force. Reinforcing the recent re-Ba'athification policy U-turn, it appears the the new force of 1,100 men will be commanded by one Lieutenant-General Salah Abboud al-Jabbouri, Saddam's former governor of the Anbar province, home to Fallujans and many other angry Iraqis. Why does the U.S. think that these forces will be any better at quelling the resistance than the so-called Iraqi Civil Defence Forces, which had two of its five battalions mutiny rather than fight in Fallujah? While it's not entirely clear if the U.S. thinks the former Saddam crony still has some decisive political sway in Fallujah, it's even less clear that such presumptions might be true. Without such decisive political sway, it's difficult to see what this 1,100-strong force could achieve through simple military force that the U.S. Marines could not. One hint that the U.S. is indeed harboring such hopes is the confession, illusioned or not, by an anonymous officer reportedly privy to the negotiations that:
it was "very likely" that the Fallujah Protective Army, which would fall under the command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, could include some gunmen who joined the uprising in Fallujah particularly criminals who signed on for money, and former soldiers digruntled at losing their jobs when the Americans disbanded the Iraqi army.The officer added that "hardcore" fighters and Islamic militants would not be included, but the report doesn't note how the officer believes the near-politically-blind occupation was going to determine the difference between these various categories. If these reports are accurate, it seems the U.S. believes the resistance is a primarily "disgruntled Ba'athist" phenomenon, in which case they can be brought (and bought) back under the arms, as it were, of the occupation. If only for the short-term health of the civilian population of Fallujah, killed and maimed in the hundreds this month, such a development might be welcome, but numerous reports from Fallujah by independent journalists and, until they got censored by the U.S. military, Al Jazeera suggest that the U.S. belief is fundamentally flawed. It is becoming increasingly clear that the resistance is forming into a popular and, yes, Islamically-flavored movement of anti-colonial nationalism fighting against a hated occupation. The rapidity of this process in Fallujah is due, in no small part, to the shooting by U.S. forces, early in the occupation, of unarmed protestors; continuing "accidental" civilian killings; indiscriminate and humiliating house-to-house raids, sometimes occasioned by theft; and the disappearance of hundreds of the city's residents into the legal black hole of Abu Ghraib, Saddam Hussein's most notorious prison, from which pictures have now emerged of Iraqis being mentally and physically tortured by U.S. forces. A local Fallujah sheikh, talking to British humanitarian aid worker, says:
Fallujah people like peace but after we were attacked by the US the lost all their friends here. We had a few trained officers and soldiers from the old army, but now everyone has joined the effort. Not all of the men are fighting: some left with their families, some work in the clinics or move supplies or go in the negotiating teams. We are willing to fight until the last minute, even if it takes a thousand years.(shortly after her conversation with the sheikh, Wilding was kidnapped and then released by the armed resistance, an event she describes at the above link)
If the local Fallujah resistance can't be co-opted, it will not be long before the U.S. military will again be tempted to resort to overwhelming violence, with predictable negative political consequences globally and in Iraq.
It's literally a no-win situation, which shouldn't surprise those aware of the past hundred years of anti-colonial struggle.
Update:According to this report from the Scotsman, the right hand doesn't seem to know what the other right hand is doing on this policy. The Pentagon is reported to be unaware of the deal, while simultaneously Marines are packing up to leave. Which leads to the question: Are the Marines doing a little unilateral policy pre-empting of their own?
Update 2AP is now reporting that the general in charge of the Fallujah Protective Army is a different General Saleh than the one reported above. Not much information on the new general, other than that he was in the Republican Guard.
April 28, 2004
The New Iraqi Flag
Here's the "New Iraqi Flag," about as rooted in the social and political realities of Iraq as the endlessly touted "New Iraq" (tm) itself, which exists in the mind of George W. Bush and the words of his dervishly spinning political and military flacks only. The crescent represents Islam, but without the usually associated star. The gold stripe is said to represent Iraq's Kurdish population, while the two blue stripes are doing double duty representing the two Arab populations, the Shia and the Sunni, and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
The Associated Press leads their story on the flag with the line, "Iraq's U.S.-picked leaders approved a new flag for the country, dropping Saddam Hussein's red-and-black standard."
"Saddam's red and black standard."
But of course "Saddam Hussein's red-and-black standard" differed from the older Iraqi flag, waving in the desert breeze since 1963, only in the 1991 addition of the words "allahu akbar" (god is great) as Saddam tried to shore up his political support in the wake of his disastrous Kuwait invasion by increasing his appeals to Islam.
Flag of the Iraqi Republic (1963-1991)
Yes, yes, some might point out, that flag, even without Saddam's additions, was still the product of the Ba'athist party's rule. But it should be noted that the flag of the "New Iraq" (tm) manages to abolish the basic color scheme of all Iraqi flags since its nominal independence in 1921, ditching the colors used by the pan-Arab movements throughout the Middle East.
Flag of the Kingdom of Iraq (1921-1958)
Flag of the first Iraqi Republic (1958-1963)
So where did the new colors come from? Well, clearly we can't look into the aesthetic mind of Rifat Chaterjee, the "winner" of the flag design "competition", but it should be no surprise that many Iraqis have noted the similarities of the color scheme with the pale blue Star of David on the white background with two blue stripes of the Israeli flag.
Iraqis reacted with predictable scorn. Was this similarity purposeful and arrogant? Or just ignorant? It's difficult to know, but either way the Iraqi resistance shows that it is more in touch with the sentiments of the Iraqi population than either the "Iraqi Governing Council" or their bosses in the West Wing. Reports Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent:"Already anti-US guerillas are adopting the old red, white and black banner as their battle flag, tying it to their trucks and sticking it in the ground where they have their positions."
Baghdad blogger Riverbend had this to say:
I also heard today that the Puppets are changing the flag. It looks nothing like the old one and at first I was angry and upset, but then I realized it wouldn't make a difference. The Puppets are illegitimate, hence their constitution is null and void and their flag is theirs alone. It is as representative of Iraq as they are-it is might as well have "Made in America" stitched along the inside seam. It can be their flag and every time we see it, we'll see Chalabi et. al. against its pale white background.Indeed, in terms of the widespread and near immediate rejection of the legitimacy of the flag, it may ironically become the perfect symbol for the "New Iraq" (tm). That symbology is strengthened by the story of the flag's origins. The "Iraqi Governing Council" declared that the flag was a product of contest between 30 proposals. Rifat Chaterjee, the winner of the contest just happened to be, purely coincidentally I'm sure, the London-based brother of a member of the Council.
April 25, 2004
BushymandiasI met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings.
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
-Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)