Just Another Week

Outside the gated Green Zone, lawlessness reigns in occupied Iraq.

| Thu Dec. 11, 2003 4:00 AM EST
"'You have to understand the Arab mind,' Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, said as he stood outside the gates of Abu Hishma. 'The only thing they understand is force - force, pride and saving face.'" (This only sounds like it was spoken in 1917 … from Dexter Filkins, Tough New Tactics by U.S. Tighten Grip on Iraq Towns, the New York Times)

The week that was

It was just another day, just another week in occupied Iraq. The U.S. military announced that attacks on our troops were down, thanks to our new offensive operations. However, an American soldier was killed and two wounded by a roadside bomb near Mosul on Sunday, as yesterday a soldier guarding a Mosul gas station was assassinated in a drive-by shooting; another helicopter went down today; a suicide car bomber struck at the front gate of an American base, wounding 58 Americans and three Iraqis, only four seriously; another Iraqi policeman was assassinated; Bangladesh withdrew its diplomats from the country, while 60 South Korean engineers seem to be in the process of withdrawing as well.

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The Koreans were subcontracted to work for the U.S. government repairing the Iraqi electricity grid. This is, according to the Washington Post, "the largest known withdrawal of contractors over security issues and follows a week of confrontations between the workers and their managers that culminated with yelling and punches Sunday afternoon." Evidently, others in the vast army of privateers that we've brought into Iraq to fix this, that, and the other thing, are also growing nervous (and unlike the military, as civilians, they need no exit strategy and no orders, should they decide to depart.)

And oh yes, not so surprisingly, electricity in Baghdad is again blinking off for hunks of the day, while those gas lines are once more stretching toward the horizon, partially because of constant sabotage of oil pipelines. The Japanese government announced that it would send 1,000 troops (though only for peacemaking operations). Meanwhile, in duty-free Iraq, goods are pouring into the country meant for the slice of Iraqis making money on the back of the occupation (though at least 60% of the country remains jobless). According to Rory McCarthy of the Guardian, reporting from the docks of Abu Flus ("the name means 'Father of Money'"), $200 satellite dishes and TVs are now flowing in and a new black-market economy is forming (Making a killing in the new Iraq):

"Today few scenes in postwar Iraq capture so powerfully the exuberance and the lawlessness that has accompanied America's invasion and its promises of free trade and open markets… The vast influx of new satellite dishes, televisions, fridges and cookers on to the streets of Iraqi cities is one of the most visible signs of change since the war. But the corollary of these new-found economic freedoms is a wave of smuggling."

Time magazine, on the basis of numerous meetings with the Iraqi insurgents (one of its journalists even seems to have gone out on an operation against an American base), reports on an increasingly well organized guerrilla movement into whose hands the military equivalent of all those TVs and refrigerators are pouring, and offers the following from an unnamed Pentagon official: "'They know they can't beat us militarily, but they think they might be able to defeat us politically.' The guerrillas are trying to drive U.S. casualties so high that the American public turns against the war, he says, adding, 'They could succeed.'"(Iraq Insurgents Show Off Firepower to Time)

And the Iraqi Governing Council is now seen by a large majority of Iraqis as an illegitimate body, the creature of the occupiers. According to Steven Komarow of USA Today (Iraq Governing Council in a 'serious crisis'):

"A nationwide survey released on Monday by Oxford Research, a British consulting firm, found that nearly three-fourths of Iraqis had little or no confidence in the government led by U.S. administrator Paul Bremer and the Governing Council. Oxford said 3,244 Iraqis were surveyed from mid-October to mid-November."

Containment (American-style)

Say whatever you want, you are what you do. If we destroy the houses of "suspects," enclose towns (remember the "strategic hamlets" of Vietnam?), arrest relatives of wanted insurgents, recruit Saddam's feared former intelligence officers for "manhunts" (as Donald Rumsfeld evidently loves to call them), and turn our military into so many air and land-based assassination squads, you tell me what we are. Colonial-style occupations and colonial-style suppressions of rebellions tend to be brutal affairs. But as happens sometimes, the policies you pursue have a way of pursuing you. We've clearly made the decision to contain "them," but in the process we're not only forcing whole communities into the arms of the Iraqi resistance, we've enclosed ourselves.

There's usually something touching about the deep but modest desire of those uprooted from their surroundings to recreate home, or some small hint of home, elsewhere. But as in Vietnam, where extravagant Little Americas were created on military bases, those gripped by an imperial urge do nothing with modesty. Recently, Ariana Eunjung Cha wrote a vivid description in the Washington Post of life not just inside Baghdad's Green Zone where, "to reach someone, even just a few miles away in Baghdad, you call an upstate New York area code," but in the little green zones all around the country, which sound distinctly like old colonial compounds. In the Fallujah compound, for instance, food "is served by waiters in white shirts, black pants and black bow ties." She begins (Baghdad's U.S. Zone A Stand-in For Home):

"In Elzain Elzain's Baghdad, they serve peanut butter, lobster and ice cream. The cell phones have a 914 area code. The television sets show Monday Night Football. The people speak English. And the strictly enforced speed limit is 35 mph. 'It's like I never left America,' said Elzain, an artist from [Washington] who works as an interpreter for the U.S.-led occupation government…

"The cafeteria [in the Republican Palace], run by U.S. contractor KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton Inc., has retro silver tables that look like part of a 'Happy Days' set… Near the swimming pool in the back is a giant television screen, which usually is showing sports events. On the rare occasions when people are able to break away from work, they come out here, often in shorts and T-shirts. There's a new gym with free weights and yoga classes."

But the people inside the Green Zone, who are, of course, supposed to be running Iraq, are completely isolated. Simply to leave the Zone "is not just a chore, it's a feat. Forms must be filled out explaining the reason for the outing, requesting transportation and a protective detail." Read the whole piece and then imagine running a country and a counterinsurgency like this. We've provisionally imported the West Bank model for the Sunni areas of Iraq and the Gated Community model for our own ruling enclaves (bit they are also taking on a tinge of that other very American model of our time, the prison).

Additional briefings can be read throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a web log of The Nation Institute

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