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Growing resistance throws Washington's occupation into crisis
"Gates of hell open in Iraq"

By Eric Ruder | September 24, 2004 | Page 16

"THE GATES of hell are open in Iraq, where the situation is becoming more complicated and troubled." Those were the words of Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, at the organization's meeting in Cairo last week.

Two years ago, when Moussa predicted that an invasion on Iraq would "open the gates of hell," U.S. military officials and analysts sneered. U.S. soldiers would be welcomed as "liberators" by a grateful Iraqi people, the Bush administration insisted.

Now, however, Moussa's view represents mainstream opinion. "The idea that this is going to go the way these guys planned is ludicrous," retired Gen. Joseph Hoare, former Marine commandant and head of U.S. Central Command, told Salon journalist Sidney Blumenthal.

"There are no good options. We're conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in Iowa--no sense of the realities on the ground. It's so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part of the world. The priorities are just all wrong."

On September 16, U.S. warplanes strafed a village just south of Falluja, the city at the center of Iraq's spreading insurgency. For three hours, jets mercilessly bombed the area, destroying at least a dozen homes and burying untold numbers of people beneath the rubble.

Doctors at Falluja's main hospital reported 56 dead and 44 wounded. At least 17 of the wounded were children and eight were women. U.S. officials defended the assault, saying that they had killed a number resistance fighters. But such "victories" are only stoking the fury of Iraqis.

"This is the classic contradiction of counterinsurgency," said Steven Metz, a strategy specialist at the U.S. Army War College. "In the long term, winning the people matters more. But it may be that in the short term, you have to forgo that in order to crush the insurgents. Right now, we are trying to decide whether we have reached that point."

As during the Vietnam War, the U.S. has overwhelming military might to use against all signs of resistance. But even if the U.S. wins every battle, the resulting carnage and devastation invariably drives more people to loathe the U.S. presence--ruling out any hope of a political victory.

The result? "We have a growing, maturing insurgency group," W. Andrew Terrill, a professor at the Army War College, told Blumenthal. "We see larger and more coordinated military attacks. They are getting better and they can self-regenerate.

"The idea there are x number of insurgents, and that when they're all dead, we can get out is wrong. The insurgency has shown an ability to regenerate itself because there are people willing to fill the ranks of those who are killed. The political culture is more hostile to the U.S. presence. The longer we stay, the more they are confirmed in that view."

One chief reason for the limitless supply of resistance fighters is the desperation caused by unemployment in Iraq--which officially stands at 50 percent, but is much higher in some areas. Because the U.S. has been unable to insure the stability necessary for reconstruction, there seems to be little prospect of creating new jobs--or tackling the causes of miserable living conditions in Iraq, which also feed the resistance.

Of the $18.4 billion that the U.S. Congress allocated a year ago to rebuild Iraq's tattered infrastructure, only $1.1 billion has been spent. Earlier this year, the World Bank and the Coalition Provisional Authority estimated that $17.5 billion was needed just to return public services and infrastructure to pre-U.S. invasion levels.

Many areas of Baghdad only receive electricity for 14 hours a day. In Basra, only 18 percent of the water supply is clean. And now, to deal with the deteriorating security situation, the State Department is shifting $3.4 billion from reconstruction funds into hiring more police and boosting oil output. "My budget for projects to supply fresh water and irrigate land has been cut by half from $800 million to $400 million," said Minister of Water Resources Latif Rashid. "People are going to be very disappointed."

It's entirely unclear whether spending more money on training Iraqi police to take over security matters will produce the results that Washington wants. The U.S. hopes to get the police to identify with the occupation, but many join up simply because no other jobs exist.

When the Iraqi resistance detonated a bomb next to a line of police recruits last week, killing 47 and wounding dozens more, many continued to identify with the resistance anyway. "[W]hen I spoke to the maimed survivors in the hospital afterwards," wrote the Independent's Patrick Cockburn, "they either believed that they had been hit by a missile fired by an American aircraft, or they asked why the insurgents were killing Iraqis when they should be killing Americans."

Every day the occupation continues, more Iraqis and more U.S. soldiers will die--from the fighting, or simply from lack of clean water and other basic services. We have to keep up the demand to end the occupation--now!

Bring the troops home!

RESENTMENT AND resistance is growing among U.S. troops. Soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J., spent two weeks prior to their deployment to Iraq in mid-September under a disciplinary lockdown.

Officers imposed the extraordinary measures on troops because 13 members of the South Carolina National Guard battalion went absent without leave in order to see their families before shipping out. Then, a nasty altercation between more than 30 soldiers from different units resulted in a near-brawl that was only averted when base police intervened.

With the growing body count of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, tensions are rising and spirits are plummeting. "Our morale isn't high enough for us to be away for 18 months," said Private Joshua Garman. "I think a lot of guys will break down in Iraq."

"There's a federal prison at Fort Dix, and a lot of us feel the people in there have more rights than we do," said Specialist Michael Chapman.

For soldiers already in Iraq who were told that they were playing the role of "liberators," the seething anger of Iraqis and growing effectiveness of the resistance have created bitterness among soldiers, sparking the conditions for atrocities to be committed. As Lance Cpl. David Goward put it bluntly, "We're not taking any chances: Shoot first and ask questions later."

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