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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Tuesday | June 24, 2003

Iraq: waiting and watching

The path to peace: Allies face a tough battle to bring normality
By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad
25 June 2003

The killing of six British soldiers and the wounding of eight yesterday shows that the war in Iraq never really ended with the capture of Baghdad and the flight of Saddam Hussein. It also demonstrates that, when the British and Americans invaded Iraq, they entered one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

"Remember even Saddam Hussein found this a difficult place to rule," said an Iraqi neurosurgeon yesterday

Iraq is waiting.

While there are enough guerrillas to keep the Coalition occupied, a full-scale rebellion has not occured yet. But what is happening is silence. Iraqis have decided that they have no stake in telling the Americans that the bad guys are coming or where they're going. Most people keep silent.

We have been waiting for an American tipping point, one which signals that the war has truly changed shape, but there is an Iraqi one as well.

People have forgotten that the Iraqis are a difficult people to rule and even Saddam barely hung on. He filled prisons and graveyards and he still had to be protected by a battalion of troops with anti-aircraft guns.

Occupation, even with alliances, would be difficult at best. But at this rate, the resistance is only growing and operating with the permission of Iraqi leaders. They are doing nothing to stop them from killing Americans. If they so chose, it would take little to hunt down these bands in the Sunni and Shia heartlands. But when the clerics take pleasure in cursing the Americans every Friday, who is going to rat out the guerrillas? It is socially acceptable to support them.

Most Iraqis want to return to normalcy. They want a peace and stability that has been ripped from them for the past 23 years. No Iraqi family wants to have another son die in combat. The graves of the dead fill miles of cemetaries. They do not need more war. But they do not need an occupation which is more concerned with creating a free market than with getting them electricity so they can keep their food refrigerated.

They also want the right to speak freely and to determine their future.

But, they do not want this and will not accept this as vassels of the US. When people say "we must rebuild Iraq", that's true. We must rebuild Iraq. But we must let Iraqis do it. If we think an occupation is the only route to rebuilding Iraq, we will see dead flow home on a daily basis.

When people say the guerrillas are "remnants of Saddam", they're missing the point. Saddam is gone. Every one is armed. Baathists are being kept alive only by the word of Shia clerics. How could the Baathists walk around armed if the population was not encouraging of their anti-American efforts? Wouldn't they be seen as a danger to Shia and Sunni tribal ambitions?

The guerrillas are not a mass movement yet, but they retain the symapthy of the populace. Despite the arrests and gun searches, few caches are found, few guerrillas caught. In a country where even 12 year old girls feel free to pop off a few shots at GI's, there is minimal cooperation between the US forces and the locals.

The Iraqis are watching and waiting. Their tipping point may be a speech, a massacre, one day of no electricity too many, but the Iraqis watch and wait and decide if they can work with the US or have to, like their ancestors did in 1920, rise up against the occupiers.

Steve Gilliard

Posted June 24, 2003 08:31 PM | Comments (42)


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