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The Battle the US Wants to Provoke

Naomi Klein reports from Baghdad, and the news is grim indeed.
The battle the US wants to provoke

Bremer is deliberately pushing Iraq's Shia south into all-out chaos

Naomi Klein in Baghdad
Tuesday April 6, 2004
The Guardian

I heard the sound of freedom in Baghdad's Firdos Square, the famous plaza where the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled one year ago. It sounds like machine-gun fire.
On Sunday, Iraqi soldiers, trained and controlled by coalition forces, opened fire on a demonstration here. As the protesters returned to their homes in the poor neighbourhood of Sadr City, the US army followed with tanks, helicopters and planes, firing at random on homes, shops, streets, even ambulances. According to local hospitals, 47 people were killed and many more injured. In Najaf, the day was also bloody: 20 demonstrators dead, more than 150 injured.

In Sadr City yesterday, funeral marches passed by US military tanks and the hospitals were overflowing with the injured. By afternoon, clashes had resumed.

Make no mistake: this is not the "civil war" that Washington has been predicting will break out between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. Rather, it is a war provoked by the US occupation authority and waged by its forces against the growing number of Shia who support Moqtada al-Sadr.

Sadr is the younger, more radical rival of the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and portrayed by his supporters as a cross between Ayatollah Khomeini and Che Guevara. He blames the US for attacks on civilians; compares the US occupation chief, Paul Bremer, to Saddam Hussein; aligns himself with Hamas and Hizbullah; and has called for a jihad against the controversial interim constitution. His Iraq might look a lot like Iran.

And it's a message with a market. With Sistani concentrating on lobbying the UN rather than on confronting the US-led occupation, many Shia are turning to the more militant tactics preached by Sadr. Some have joined the Mahdi, his black-clad army, which claims hundreds of thousands of members.

At first, Bremer responded to Sadr's growing strength by ignoring him; now he is attempting to provoke him into all-out battle. The trouble began when he closed down Sadr's newspaper last week, sparking a wave of peaceful demonstrations. On Saturday, Bremer raised the stakes further by sending coalition forces to surround Sadr's house near Najaf and arrest his communications officer.

Predictably, the arrest sparked immediate protests in Baghdad, which the Iraqi army responded to by opening fire and allegedly killing three people. At the end of the day on Sunday, Sadr called on his supporters to stop staging demonstrations and urged them to employ unnamed "other ways" to resist the occupation - a statement many interpreted as a call to arms.

On the surface, this chain of events is mystifying. With the so-called Sunni triangle in flames after the gruesome Falluja attacks, why is Bremer pushing the comparatively calm Shia south into battle?

Here's one possible answer: Washington has given up on its plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, and is creating the chaos it needs to declare the handover impossible. A continued occupation will be bad news for George Bush on the campaign trail, but not as bad as if the hand-over happens and the country erupts, an increasingly likely scenario given the widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the interim constitution and the US- appointed governing council.

But by sending the new Iraqi army to fire on the people they are supposed to be protecting, Bremer has destroyed what slim hope they had of gaining credibility with an already highly mistrustful population. On Sunday, before storming the unarmed demonstrators, the soldiers could be seen pulling on ski masks, so they would not be recognised in their neighbourhoods later.

The coalition provisional authority is increasingly being compared on the streets to Saddam, who also didn't much like peaceful protests, or critical newspapers.

In an interview yesterday, Iraq's minister of communication, Haider al-Abadi, blasted the act that started the current wave of violence: the closing of Sadr's newspaper, al-Hawzah. Abadi, who is supposedly in charge of media in Iraq, says he was not even informed of the plan. Meanwhile, the man at the centre of it all - Moqtada al-Sadr - is having his hero status amplified by the hour.

On Sunday, all these explosive forces came together when thousands of demonstrators filled Firdos Square. On one side of the plaza, a couple of kids climbed to the top of a building and took a knife to a billboard advertising Iraq's new army. On the other side, US forces pointed tanks at the crowd while a loudspeaker told them that "demonstrations are an important part of democracy but blocking traffic will not be permitted".

At the front of the square was the statue that the Americans put up in place of the toppled one of Saddam. Its faceless figures are supposed to represent the liberation of the Iraqi people. Today they are plastered with photographs of Moqtada al-Sadr.

Or Blame Seira 06.Apr.2004 01:21

playing too much Risk

Or the US is going to try to blame oh Seira for suporting the shia revolt and then they can try to cut the middle east in half. (any one look at a map as of late) I mean control all land traffic across the region. Now thats power or at least Bush's handlers probably see it that way, but then again maybe the isrealis will beat em to the punch. Just a theory thuogh.

No it would be Iran 06.Apr.2004 01:58

playing to much risk

No it would be Iran, I mean if I was playing risk.

". . .blocking traffic will not be permitted" 06.Apr.2004 10:39


I'm sorry, but the last quote in the story is rich with irony. heard these words before?

"demonstrations are an important part of democracy but blocking traffic will not be permitted".

The Abhrams A-1 tank is the newest less than lethal crowd control device. Maybe the popo should get one or two.

don't worry, ampfh 06.Apr.2004 10:55

anne frank

I'm certain the POPO is considering it.

I'm confused 06.Apr.2004 11:47


For a moment I looked at Fox News yesterday. They were showing video of the Shia demonstrations and pictures of Moqtada al-Sadr, and below that was the headline "Operation Firm Resolve" or whatever the attack on Fallujah is called.

You see, what the Bush admin. would like, and what Fox News and to a lesser extent other news programs are helping them do, is to confuse people about who the enemy is.

Our enemy, the US occupations enemy, is Iraq and Iraqis, men women children, whatever religion or race.

It's been a year now, so it's not supposed to be a surprise when the US starts rounding up the people that Saddam would be rounding up if he was still in charge. In other words, time has been the great deceiver, an entire year has gone by, and people are mentally and morally exhausted from watching their tv reports everyday, so when the US goes after Saddam's traditional enemies, we're too exhausted and defeated to even realize what's happening.

Read "Blind into Baghdad," a story by James Fallows that came out in the Atlantic Monthly a couple months ago. It's online but I don't have the link. In that story he carefully details how the Pentagon, and others in the administration, deliberately set aside plans for the aftermath of the war, in fact how they refused to even consider what might happen after an attack on Iraq. It was Rumsfeld's philosophy mostly that pervaded this strategy--he wanted a much smaller force to begin with, and he did NOT want people predicting what would happen once Saddam was overthrown. He did NOT want people to think about that at all, he went so far as calling that a defeatist attitude.


Consider what would have happened if the invading army had been what some people, many generals and Pentagon folk, wanted. An "overwhelming force" which I think is also called the "Powell doctrine." If they had done that, and declared martial law for the entire country for a month or two, what would have happened?

They wouldn't have been able to disband the Iraqi army, and they wouldn't have been able to start the corporate bidding process right away. They would have had to find something for the Iraqi army to do, such as rebuilding the country and helping with security. Instead they disbanded the army and many men decided to just blow themselves up, or organize other ways to resist. But at least by disbanding the army, the reconstruction could go full steam ahead, and the "foreign jihadists" were allowed to slip into the country, which was the whole point, because then we would be "bringing the fight to the terrorists."

Also, if the US had gone in with "overwhelming force" instead of a scaled back force, they would have been confronted with the Shia much earlier. In essence, they would have had to find a way to pacify them, which would likely have been the remnants of the Iraqi army. But remember, the Iraqi army was not just Sunni--there were Shia and possibly Kurd elements, and mixed races of course.

The US would have been forced to "make a decision" about how to pacify both Shia and Kurds, and make it look like it wasn't just a kinder, gentler Saddam Baathist tyranny. It would have required alot of action and effort and diplomacy. And if they had done it, what is happening now might never have happened, or if it did, it would have been over by last summer.

Lack of planning for post-war Iraq was a MAJOR part of the plan. It gives the illusion of a long drawn-out struggle between good and evil, or between democracy and terrorists or evil-doers. This major illusion and confusion benefits whoever happens to be in power.

Read "Blind into Baghdad" by James Fallows in the Atlantic Monthly.

moved link 06.Apr.2004 13:07

White Lilac

what happened to 'mission accomplished'? 06.Apr.2004 14:40


The first Bush said in '91 that "the spectre of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula." He didn't count on the fact that his son would dig it up.