Three Headless Corpses

Closing out his weekly radio address Saturday during a campaign stop in North Carolina, the American President announced that “At the United Nations this week, I will make some additional proposals to expand prosperity and accelerate the march of freedom in our world. Never in the history of the United Nations have we faced so many opportunities to create a safer world by building a better world. For the sake of our common security, and for the sake of our common values, the international community must rise to this historic moment. And the United States is prepared to lead.” (Sept. 18, 2004.)

Tuesday’s his Big Day, and the world can hardly wait. Six weeks to the day before the November 2 presidential election. And so many victories behind him. Foreign policy victories such as the War on Terror. The War on Genocide. The War on Failed States. And the War on Weapons of Mass Destruction. Domestic policy victories, too. Such as the War on Crime. The War on Unemployment. And the War on Homeland Insecurity. (Or is this one a War for Homeland Security?) Countless other wars, too. Great and small. Each one notched on the handle of his sidearm. (Like Yasir Arafat in 1974, early reports say that Bush will be allowed to carry his favorite sidearm with him, as long as he keeps it fully concealed, when he addresses the General Assembly Tuesday.) The surprise of the current American election cycle is that the Democrats have even bothered to field a challenger. Presuming they have, that is. Because, sometimes, it’s pretty hard to tell. (About which, see Alexander Cockburn, “Swatting at Flies,” CounterPunch, September 11/12, 2004.)

(While we’re on the topic of headless corpses, a quick aside. Judging by the website of the UN Secretary-General (notice today’s date and time), Kofi Annan hasn’t said anything new about any topic since his Thursday, September 16 “Statement to the Press on Darfur.” Certainly nothing new about the situation in Iraq. That is to say, since Annan’s tepid remarks the day before to BBC World Service radio about the American war over Iraq having been “not in conformity with the UN Charter” and therefore “illegal,” Annan has been about as silent, officially speaking, as a Secretary-General can be. No transcript of Annan’s BBC interview has turned up among his archived remarks (“Statements“), whether among his official “Statements about Iraq” or his “Off the Cuff” remarks (the last having been Thursday, the 16th, also pertaining to “Darfur“). As a matter of fact, the last time Annan issued an official “Statement about Iraq” was as long ago as September 8, calling for the “immediate and unconditional release” of all “civilians held hostage in Iraq” (SG/SM/9469-IK/460). And so the Secretary-General has slipped into silence, after his disastrous (for him, anyway, as far as his American mentors are concerned) attempt at diplomatic understatement.—Do you suppose this was what the American Secretary of State had in mind when he told cable television’s Fox News channel on Friday that he had had a “good diplomatic conversation” with Annan, telling Annan that he was “incorrect,” that the “war was necessary” and “rested on sound principles of international law”? (“Interview on Fox News Channel’s Hannity and Colmes Show,” Sept. 17.))

The Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawai and an entourage including his Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Mahmud Muhammad al-Zibari also are scheduled to visit the United Nations this coming week, fresh from their show of solidarity (not quite the right word, but it’ll do) in London with the embattled British Prime Minister. Today, both men emerged from a meeting to reaffirm their commitment to national elections in Iraq some time in January, Allawi adding that the trial of Saddam Hussein might begin as early as next month—a “very transparent and very just trial,” were his reassuring words. (One kind of doubts it. If you know what I mean.) “We are adamant that democracy is going to prevail, is going to win in Iraq,” Allawi said. It is good to know that there are so many people working to bestow the lights of freedom and democracy upon such dark and dangerous corners of the world.

Well. I know that, if I were to get into an alley fight, I’d certainly prefer to have the Iraqi Interim Prime Minister on my side, than his British and American counterparts. But this aside, were I scouring the world’s political leaders for an expression of solidarity over the war’s legality? I don’t think I’d want to touch either of these gentlemen, with any length of pole. Then again, maybe it is this senior Iraqi political figure who ought to be worried about the kind of company he’s keeping?—After all, he was merely the thug the Americans installed as their Interim Prime Minister. What about the Super Thugs responsible for installing him in the first place?

At this moment (again, note the date and time—news from the 10 Downing Street website has yet to be updated beyond the 17th), I can’t tell whether anyone asked Allawi or Blair a question about the (very roughly) estimated 300 people killed in Iraq over the past week (almost all of them Iraqis, and mostly unarmed civilians) by every means imaginable, from the viscously and vengefully disproportionate use of American firepower that has become a daily routine, to some real firefights between the resistance and the occupying power (the Iraqi army and police forces included), to suicide and roadside car bombings and the executions of abductees, a craft now having been extended from foreign individuals to their Iraqi collaborators. According to the British Prime Minister, however, there is a good explanation for all of this: The conflict has entered a new phase. Indeed. Has become a “new Iraqi conflict,” in his exact words this morning. “Whatever the disagreements about the first conflict in Iraq to remove Saddam,” Blair explained, “in this conflict now taking place in Iraq, this is the crucible in which the future of this global terrorism will be determined.” (“Iraq PM: Elections to Go on As Scheduled,” Associated Press, Sept. 19.)

A new Iraqi conflict, Mr. Prime Minister? Global terrorism? Crucible of the future (or whatever)? Really now. How’s this for a textbook example of what the old psychological literature used to call projection? By this point in the bloody and brutal occupation of Iraq, how many times have the “multinational” forces—one of the ill-gotten gains of Security Council Res. 1546, which gave the foreign military occupiers the shield of the United Nations behind which to prosecute their now-dramatically more brutal assault on Iraqi territory—attacked a “meeting” or a “safehouse” occupied by “militants” loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? (Since the American siege of Najaf ended at the end of August, it seems as if almost none of the Iraqis they’ve been firing upon in crowded urban centers are designated as “militants” loyal to the “firebrand” Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr anymore.) Has it been 100 percent of the time that American fire has struck and killed or injured what the body collectors at hospitals and morgues and even the Ministry of Health keep telling us were Iraqi civilians, often women and children? Ninety-nine percent of the time (the other one percent representing statistical error)? Something a little lower still, say, in the 98 percent range? Indeed. Have the Americans ever killed a single Iraqi civilian since they launched the war one-and-a-half years ago today, except by accident, collaterally, oops-a-daisy? Are Americans even capable of killing Iraqi civilians, except in this way? No. Of course they’re not. Nothing new here, Mr. Prime Minister.

Saturday’s Los Angeles Times explained that the “Bush Administration’s plan is to use military force along with the promise of millions of dollars in reconstruction projects to persuade leaders in places such as [Fallujah] to cooperate with the new government and the election process.” (“Powell Rejects Annan’s Doubts on Elections,” Sept. 18.) The Chicago Tribune added, ominously, that “In the face of increasing insurgent violence, military officers and analysts [say] that U.S. forces in Iraq will soon mount military operations to retake important cities and areas they have ceded to the rebels, at the risk of a large number of casualties to U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians.” (“U.S. due to target rebel strongholds,” Sept. 18.)

Imagine what each of these two sentences really means about the absolute commitment of the American forces to violence and other forms of coercion. Then, try to imagine what both of them taken together soon will entail for the Iraqis.

To rewrite (only slightly) one of the leaflets that American helicopters used to drop over the Iraqi city of Fallujah during the first siege, last April:


Except that, now, we are no longer talking about just Fallujah. Just Najaf. Just Tal Afar. Or just certain areas in and around Baghdad. But “important cities and areas they have ceded to the rebels”—that is to say, cities and areas of sufficient geographic size and population density to have bred their own brands of local resistances to the murderous tactics the Americans have rained down upon them, and become 2004’s equivalent of “free-fire” zones. The true origins of which lie in the nature of the military occupation—and, ultimately, in the nature of the occupier. And not in some international “terrorist” network, the “cells” of which happen to be operating in every theater something works contrary to the Americans’ design. (For an analysis of one recent example of this, the case of the American helicopter gunship crew that fired upon civilians gathered on the central Baghdad street of Haifa, see Brian Dominick, “Motive for Haifa Street Helicopter Massacre Remains a Mystery,” The NewStandard, Sept 14.)

Well. American casualties will be kept to a minimum—of that we can be certain.

Which only means that, as far as Iraqi casualties are concerned—and whether armed combatants or unarmed civilians, they are equally the casualties of a criminal war and a criminal military occupation that routinely resorts to criminal measures—the sky is the limit.

Do you suppose this is what the British Prime Minister meant by a new Iraqi conflict?

Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954-1960,” Volume 1, Chapter 5, The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971)

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