Nearly 70 percent of Americans tell Newsweek that “the United States will be bogged down in Iraq for years without achieving its goals.” Yet 61 percent tell the same poll that invading Iraq was the right thing to do. The reason for this weird disconnect: people think that we’re in Iraq to spread democracy and rebuild the Middle East. They think we’re The Good Guys. But the longer we keep patting ourselves on the back, the more we tell ourselves that the Iraqi resistance is a bunch of evil freedom-haters, the deeper we’ll sink into this quagmire. It’s time to get real.
In war, the side that most accurately sizes up the situation ultimately prevails. In this war in Iraq, our leaders thought the fall of Baghdad meant the end of the conflict. “Mission accomplished,” as the banner behind George W. Bush read on the aircraft carrier. But Saddam understood the truth: the war began with the occupation. Guerilla warfare offered the only way for Iraq’s tiny, poorly armed military to resist the U.S. The Baath Party planned to provoke U.S. occupation forces into mistreating the population.
It worked. Random bombings and sniper hits have made the American occupiers jittery and paranoid. They’ve withdrawn into fortified cantonments where they’ve cut off contact with civilians. Their ignorance causes them to offend Iraqi cultural and religious sensibilities. Even better, from Saddam’s perspective, U.S. troops push people around: shooting unarmed motorists, stealing their money and jewelry at roadblocks, breaking into houses in the middle of the night, manhandling wives and daughters, putting bags over men’s heads and carrying them off to God knows where for who knows how long.
“U.S. troops put their boots on the back of men’s heads as they lay face down, forcing their foreheads to the ground,” the Associated Press’ Scheherezade Faramarzi writes about the procedure used by U.S. troops during sweeps. “There is no greater humiliation...because Islam forbids putting the forehead on the ground except in prayer.” Amnesty International says the U.S. subjects Iraqi prisoners to “cruel, inhuman or degrading” conditions. In Iraq, we are the bad guys.
What about the “terrorists” who bombed the U.N. headquarters and Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, who sabotage oil and water pipelines, who use rifles and rocket-propelled grenades and remote-controlled mines to kill our soldiers? Aren’t these “killers” evil, “killing people who just want to help,” as another AP writer puts it?
In short: no. The ad hoc Iraqi resistance is comprised of indigenous fighters ranging from secular ex-Republican Guards to radical Islamist Shiites, as well as foreign Arab volunteers waging the same brand of come-one-come-all jihad that the mujahedeen fought against Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan. While one can dismiss foreign jihadis as na?ve adventurers, honest Americans should call native Iraqi resistance fighters by a more fitting name: Iraqi patriots.
I collect propaganda posters. One of my favorites, from World War II, depicts a strapping young SS officer holding a smiling local kid in his arms. “Trust the German soldier,” the caption exhorts citizens of occupied France. But when liberation came in 1945, Frenchmen who had obeyed that poster were shot as collaborators. The men and women who resisted--the “terrorists” who shot German soldiers, cut phone lines and bombed trains--received medals and pensions. Invaders always say that they come as liberators, but it’s almost never true. Whether you live in Paris or Baghdad or New York, you’re expected to know that, and to act accordingly.
“We want deeds, not words,” says Abu Mohammad, a retired teacher about our inability (unwillingness?) to restore basic services to the city of Baghdad. Here are our deeds: Talking about democracy as we cancel elections. Guarding the oil ministry building while museums are sacked. Exporting Iraqi oil to Turkey as Iraqis suffer fuel and power shortages. Iraq’s natural resources are being raped. Its people are being murdered. Yet it’s the patriotic Iraqi resistance, which is trying to stop these outrages by throwing out the perpetrators of an illegal war of aggression, that the Bush Administration dares call “terrorists.”
On July 5 a bomb killed seven recruits for a U.S.-trained Iraqi police force in Ramadi. U.S. occupation administrator Paul Bremer deplored the murder of “innocent Iraqis.” Cops who work for a foreign army of occupation are not innocent. They are collaborators. Traitors. They had it coming.
Under George W. Bush, truth and justice are no longer the American way. The U.S. occupation of Iraq is misguided, evil and doomed to failure. The sooner we accept this difficult truth, the sooner we decide to stop being the bad guys, the sooner we’ll withdraw our troops. The bloodshed may continue after we leave--and we’ll be partly to blame for that. But until we pull out, the carnage is all ours.
Sami Tuma’s brother was shot to death when he drove past a U.S. military checkpoint. (The psychotic U.S. military policy in Iraq, despite countless killings of innocent civilians and at least five reporters to date, is not to warn victims before opening fire.) “It is simple,” says Tuma. “If someone kills your son, wife or brother without any reason but only that they happen to be walking or driving in the street, what you will do? You retaliate.”
It’s what I’d do. It’s probably what you’d do too.
Ted Rall is the author of Rall Online, and the graphic travelogue “To Afghanistan and Back,” an award-winning recounting of his experiences covering the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.