As American forces penetrate ever deeper and more destructively into the city of
On the other hand, all those months of saber rattling evidently allowed many local fighters and jihadist leaders to leave the city before the invasion began, a troublesome development for American strategists and the interim government of Iyad Allawi as they seek to pacify the larger Sunni Triangle in time for announced elections in January. In the last week, after all, insurgents reoccupied the city center of Ramadi, attacked fiercely in Samarra, fought it out in Baghdad neighborhoods, and left authority in Mosul tottering, while American troops were occupied with the battle of Falluja — and these were just a few of the many indications that, no matter what happens in Falluja, the insurgency is anything but defeated.
Yet if enough resistance fighters are killed to reclaim Falluja and sap the force of the insurgency in other cities, American strategists can at least hope to be on their way to a limited pacification of Sunni Iraq. Sunni leaders might next be bought off or co-opted and enough followers, fighters, and civilians killed elsewhere to quiet the country for the next several months.
The ongoing, seemingly ceaseless violence in the
The Jenin Scenario: If Falluja is largely subdued but low-level fighting continues for weeks or months in its back streets, chaos and anarchy might increase across the country, forcing a curtailment or postponement of the January elections, and yet the overall situation might not spin completely out of American control. The Allawi government would remain more or less in power in
Here, the example of the 2002 Israeli siege of the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin might prove the model for the present Falluja campaign. It stirred up incredible anger, violence, and chaos in Palestinian society and outrage internationally, but when the dust settled — as it usually does —
Even if the dust doesn’t settle quite as advantageously in Iraq, or settle at all, Bush Administration hawks could turn the ensuing low-level chaos to their immediate advantage by allowing it, or encouraging it, to spread to Syria (near whose border the U.S. recently staged a bloody invasion of the Iraqi town of Tal Afar) or Iran (already in the sights of senior Administration officials, regardless of any nuclear deal its leaders may sign with the Europeans). In fact, it is well known that Israeli operatives have been working with Kurds in both border regions to gauge the feasibility of such a scenario. In the meantime, according to Iraqi officials I’ve spoken with, American oil companies are quietly exploring the 90% of
The “British” Solution (or 1920 Revisited): If the invasion of Falluja backfires — if the fighting drags on and, for instance, there is evidence of large-scale civilian casualties, perhaps broadcast to the world by a dreaded al-Jazeera reporter via video phone — Iraqi public opinion might be inflamed to the point of sparking a more general Sunni or yet more significantly Sunni-Shia revolt. This actually happened in 1920 when occupying British troops tried to use massive force to pacify the country and the results were devastating for the occupiers (as well as the occupied); or if the resistance in Falluja proves more resilient or better armed than American military officials assume it to be and is capable of dragging out the fighting until a desperate compromise solution along the lines of the deal to end the Najaf siege becomes inevitable, a revolt might also be encouraged; or if the insurgents, with months to plan, left only a minimal force in Falluja to fight a delaying action against the Americans and their Iraqi allies and are able to conduct a larger, sustained insurgency across Sunni (and parts of Shiite) Iraq, as seems increasingly likely, the result could be the same.
Any one of these developments or any combination of them would destroy what is left of the credibility of the Americans and of the Interim Iraqi Government. If not contained, the present insurgency, facing overwhelming and relatively indiscriminate American power, could spark a more general revolt, joined by significant number of Shiites (whose leaders, unlike during the first siege of Falluja in April, have so far remained relatively quiet). It would capitalize on the intense anger felt by a country that has seen as many as 100,000 of its citizens killed in the last eighteen months. With the political costs of retreat almost incalculable, the Bush administration in turn might ratchet up the violence (as it did in Vietnam) before considering real withdrawal strategies, hoping that the prospect of tens of thousands of further deaths in the next year would lead Iraqis to accept some continued American military presence in the country and, most important, a continued hand in the management of the country’s petroleum resources.
The “French” Scenario: Any version of the “British” solution might, sooner or later, lead the Bush administration into the thickets of the even more unsettling “French” scenario. In this, a growing awareness of the human toll of the occupation, coupled with levels of political corruption that are already staggering would lend force to a desire to internationalize the next phase of Iraq’s transition to full sovereignty. (A former top Allawi aide, who recently escaped the country, summed up Iraqi despair on the issue of corruption in lamenting to me that “the new regime is the same as Saddam’s, just with different faces.”) The “French” scenario might involve the intercession of
If all four outcomes described above are striking for what they reveal about the narrowing of the Bush Administration’s grand vision of a democratic and prosperous Iraq, the last one — a kind of final humiliation — would certainly be fiercely resisted by American officials and the Allawi government (nor would some factions of the insurgency be any too pleased by the possibility).
The wild card in the current crisis is the Iraqi people who, since the toppling of the Hussein regime, have more often than not remained horrified spectators while their country’s political landscape has been reshaped. This passivity, though understandable given the Iraqi experience over the previous two decades, has proved as disastrous for them and their country as the passivity of Palestinians was during the crucial early years of the Oslo peace process (which in actuality allowed Israel to increase significantly its West Bank and Gaza settlements, while Yasir Arafat cemented his autocratic and corrupt rule virtually cost-free).
Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s call for a massive nonviolent mobilization to end the siege of Najaf and the success of women’s groups in preventing a rollback of their social rights, both demonstrate that the Iraqi people can become active shapers of their own destiny. Were the Shiites to pour into the streets nationwide, as they did in Najaf in response to Sistani, the Iraqi situation would immediately take on a different look and the American occupation might find its days quickly numbered. But can Iraqi society challenge the violent calculus of American military planners and insurgents alike with a vision of a future free of occupation and autocracy, corruption and extremism? More than wishing the Iraqis well, the international community needs to get its hands dirty to ensure that they have a fighting chance.
Mark LeVine is professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture, and Islamic studies at the University of California Irvine and author of the forthcoming books Why They Don’t Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil and Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948, He is also the editor with Viggo Mortensen and Pilar Perez of Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation. He last spent time in
Copyright C2004 Mark LeVine
[This article appeared Nov. 11 on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]