Georgie Anne Geyer

Alarming News From Iraq Describes Country's Breakdown

WASHINGTON -- This was to be the spring and summer of Iraq's "democratization." She would become the lynchpin of the "New Middle East." Her oil riches would be flowing, providing the desert nation with funds to rebuild. Political parties would be forming, as indeed they should everywhere in the world, and Iraqis would be filled with wonder at their new life.

Instead, as the consuming heat of the Iraqi summer soars to 110 and 120 degrees, one or sometimes two American soldiers are killed every day. Deadly attacks on them seemed to be especially coordinated across the Sunni mid-section of the country, Saddam's native territory. But the attacks are now almost equally shared with the majority Shiites in the South. Muslim clergymen, used to the habits of Iraq, pay respects to the Americans publicly, then preach in the mosque about violently driving them out.

In Baghdad, the American Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, run by the Pentagon, functions in ruined palaces. Its 1,000 staffers have only a few phones, which function only indoors, and work with only six flush toilets and working showers. For the most part, these international civil servants have been as cut off from the Iraqi populace as the American military. Many of them move around Baghdad escorted by American tanks, a clumsy way to "win hearts and minds," and the American civilian chiefs have decided against forming an Iraqi government in the near future, some of them saying on the record that Iraq is "not ready for democracy." The oil facilities are so run-down, it will take years for them to produce.

So, what are we really dealing with in this historically brutal country, where we were scheduled to stay only three months?

The country is breaking down exactly as it could have been expected to break down. Its historically warring groups are forming their own militias (the 1970s and '80s Beirut model), attempting to establish religious authority as the new Shiite state (the 1980s Khomeini model in Iran), and vowing above all else to drive the "liberators" out (the anti-colonial model of the early 20th century all over the Middle East). That this is a surprise, since it is what they always do, is really the only surprise.

Even worse, The Washington Post this week analyzed on its front page: "The persistence and evolution of tactics is giving the violence the appearance of a guerrilla movement." The Iraqi fighters, the reporters quote Army commanders, appear to be "moving from city to city, looking for vulnerable targets and pressuring the local population to secretly support their activities."

In some places Iraqi women are throwing grenades at American soldiers, causing them then to hold or even search Muslim women. If ever there was a match that would light the tinderbox that is Iraq, such actions with their women is it!

The personal testimonies of countless people just back from Baghdad are far more alarmist than the news stories (which are quite alarmist enough). What is certain is that we are now in Iraq for a good long time.

So first, we might consider the form of our military within the parameters of the occupation/reconstruction term.

No one questions the bravery of our soldiers, men and women sent out to one of the most savage deserts in the world to fight a nasty war. Instead, the question becomes the practical one of how our hallowed "force protection," which has been greatly magnified since attacks on American troops in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s, is working in Iraq.

Everyone I talk to who has just returned from Baghdad describes the Americans, in their huge and fearsome vehicles of war, as strange and ominous creatures essentially obsessed with keeping Iraqis away from them. The Iraqis soon grasp this and learn quickly how to get around it, notably with their neighborhood militia organizations that may soon resort to all-out guerrilla warfare.

Second, our American troops on the ground are paying terrible prices for the practical and morally incomprehensible fact that the Bush administration did not immediately bring in European, U.N. and other military police, NGOs, humanitarian workers, archeologists and weapons inspectors. This was a decision made at the very beginning -- a decision based in stubbornness, arrogance and hubris in Washington -- for which the bill comes due to the Americans on the ground, people with names like Bill and Stewart and Joe, in cities with hitherto unknown names like Fallujah, Tikrit and Haditha.

Finally this week, for instance, after a futile month-long search by American soldiers in the shards and ruins of Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, the American administration bent and allowed ONE seven-member team from the International Atomic Energy Agency into Iraq to search ONE nuclear-storage site south of Baghdad. That's all, folks. (Let's hope there are no Frenchmen among them!)

Dare one voice the thought that this all might be different if any of the American civilian brass involved had children of their own in Iraq? And, someone please tell me: How can one morally justify decisions to place all the onus of the occupation on the shoulders of young Americans and direct all the hatred of the conqueror toward them, when so many others could have taken part and defused the hatred we see breaking out all over Iraq today?

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