Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 June 2006
Issue No. 800
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Mohamed Hakki

'Itching for a fight'

Zarqawi may be dead, but public information in America is in worse shape, writes Mohamed Hakki*

If you want to understand anything serious about what goes on in America, especially in its war in Iraq, you're better off not watching American TV. To make the mistake of believing otherwise is to be sucked into interminable hours of nonsensical verbiage from ignorant interviewers without ever learning one scrap of information.

Take the incident of the killing of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. All TV networks carried hundreds of hours of discussion with government figures, congressmen and women, pundits and commentators without conveying one iota of useful information. Indeed, even the soundbites were off. After declaring that Zarqawi was killed instantly it was discovered the next day that he stayed alive for as much as 50 minutes following the decimation of his house with two 500- pound bombs, as if to thumb his nose at US forces before departing.

Indian writer A K Gupta, writing for the New York-based Indypendent, observed: "The death of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi should be of small comfort to the Bush administration. Having cried victory on many previous occasions -- from 'Mission Accomplished', the capture of Saddam Hussein, and the killing of his sons to the 'transfer of power,' the razing of Fallujah and three elections -- the White House struck a more cautious note upon discussing the death of the 'Al-Qaeda in Iraq' leader."

Gupta makes two points: first, that Zarqawi's death will offer opportunity "for the Iraqi-based resistance to re-emphasise the struggle as one of national liberation (even under a theocratic medievalism), rather than a global jihad." Second, that if the Pentagon is sending more troops to Iraq it "indicates that the war is long since lost". Gupta adds: "If the US is increasing its presence after three years of increasingly destructive warfare, more than $10 billion spent on barely operational Iraqi security forces, perhaps 200,000 Iraqi civilian deaths and 2,700 American troops, then why would one man's death change anything? Like the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein three years ago, Zarqawi's death will become one more forgotten way station on the road to Iraq's destruction."

What is truly amazing is how this nincompoop Zarqawi -- this common thing, this nobody, voyou as the French would say -- can command so much attention and create so much havoc. Le Monde put it best: Yes, Zarqawi's death is a victory for the Iraqi government and security services, for he was their enemy. It is also a victory for the majority of the Iraqi people since, whether pro- or anti-American, they were Zarqawi's first victims.

The victory must, nonetheless, not hide reality: the real winner, even now, in this war is Zarqawi himself.

He promised an international rout: by attacking the UN headquarters in Baghdad he succeeded in clearing the ground, forcing UN agencies, NGOs and businessmen to flee Iraq. He promised war against the American army. The result is clear: no American patrol can hope to leave its base in Baghdad, or in the Sunni triangle, without being harassed, often to deadly affect. Finally, he promised a civil war in Iraq; it is there.

What I find amazing is how a people who had not harboured any visible signs of hatred of America in the past continue to struggle and resist American occupation for three years without letting up. The average Iraqi must really wonder why do the Americans hate us? Why are they so hell bent on subduing our people? Why did they level a whole city, "Fallujah," killing tens of thousands of its inhabitants? On the other hand one has to ask: how can the American people be so oblivious to what is going on?

Ray McGovern, the former CIA officer who returned his medals in protest at the Iraq war, wrote recently that he shared speaking duties with a courageous Iraqi lady, Faiza Al Araji, for three successive days. She came to America in March to give firsthand testimony to the suffering of the Iraqi people, appealing to US citizens to do something to end the tragedy of her people.

McGovern captures the crux of the whole tragedy. He says that whenever Faiza recounted the horrors being experienced by her people, the answer was always the same: "What can we do?" She finally wrote on his notebook, "So, the Iraqis are in the middle between the American people who don't know what to do, and the American administration which makes advance plans to wage war and never listens."

Faiza said: "At the beginning of my meetings I felt sad for the American people but after time has passed and my people are dying and Americans still ask stupid questions like 'What can we do?' I feel sick."

McGovern says: "Faiza could see it. We are, for the most part, blissfully unaware of our own power -- the power we still enjoy as Americans, even as the claws of fascism creep steadily closer. We in the dominant culture often feel impotent, despite the power of inherent privilege."

McGovern concludes by saying: "Perhaps it's a subconscious thing. Maybe we prefer to remain in denial, because otherwise we would have to look in the mirror and decide whether we have the courage to put that power into play."

Greg Palast, author of Armed Madhouse, noticed something that escaped most other writers: why Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fired General Jay Garner on 21 April 2003, and the consequences.

Garner, appointed by Bush, made the mistake of "taking the US president at his word". He thought that his job was to keep the peace and bring democracy. Then he was given a plan. It was a 101- page document to guide the long-term future of Iraq. There was nothing in it about democracy or elections or safety. There was, rather, a detailed schedule of selling off "all of Iraq's state assets," "especially" said the plan, "the oil and supporting industries."

The plan, according to Garner, included the sale of Iraq's banks and, curiously, changing copyright laws; "items that made the plan look less like a programme for getting Iraq on its feet than a programme for corporate looting of the nation's assets."

Garner did not think much of the plan. He had other priorities like food distribution and preventing famine. "Seizing title and ownership of Iraq's oil fields was not on Garner's must-do list. He let it be known to Washington that 'what we need to do is set an Iraqi freely elected government represent the will of the people. It is their country, their oil.'"

Apparently, Rumsfeld disagreed. "Worse," writes Palast, "Garner was brokering a truce between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. They were to begin what he called 'big tent' meetings to hammer out the details and set a date for elections. But quick elections would mean the end of the state-asset sell-off plan. An Iraqi-controlled government would never go along with it. Garner had spent years in Iraq in charge of the Northern Kurdish zone and knew the Iraqis well. He was certain that an asset-and-oil-grab, 'privatisations', would cause a sensitive population to take up the gun. 'That's just one fight you don't want to take on right now.'"

But that's just the fight the neo-cons wanted. Palast continues: "And in Rumsfeld's replacement for Garner, they had a man itching for the fight. Paul Bremer III had no experience on the ground in Iraq, but he had one unbeatable credential that Garner lacked: Bremer had served as managing director of Kissinger and Associates."

General Garner, watching the insurgency unfold from the occupation authority's provocations told Palast: "I am a believer that you don't want to end the day with more enemies than you started with." Such words seem from a different era to ours.

As Palast concludes, "You can't have a war president without a war. And you can't have a war without enemies. "Bring 'em on," our commander-in- chief said. And Zarqawi answered the call."

* The writer is a political analyst resident in Washington.

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