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Tip of the Iceberg

Bilal El-Amine
Date Published: 
February 01, 2005
    The US elections revealed the unfortunate fact that a large section of the American population does not appreciate the profound mess created by the Bush administration in Iraq. Fresh figures of US casualties for November easily matched the record set last April (2003) when occupation forces besieged Najaf and Falluja. And December looks just as grim - the first weekend alone harvested 80 Iraqi deaths, mostly national guardsmen or police, who are being slaughtered by the dozens at the hands of the resistance. No doubt, the road to the Iraqi elections set for the end of January will be paved with blood. Much of the American public's ignorance is probably due to media manipulation or Pentagon spin. The Pentagon, for example, has consistently portrayed the resistance as a limited number of fighters - "remnants of the old regime," "foreign Arab fighters" and so on. In the first months of the occupation, the US military estimated the number of guerrillas to be around 2,000 to 3,000 fighters. But the sheer scale of the insurgency - up to 150 attacks a day according to the most recent figures - eventually forced them to revise that number to 20,000-25,000. Yet the Pentagon continued to maintain the deception that these were largely foreign fighters funded by outsiders and that with enough force, the resistance can be broken. But the November assault on Falluja, supposedly the last isolated haven for the resistance, proved the Pentagon's predictions deadly wrong. As the former UN arms inspector Scott Ritter rightly described it, the US military confrontation with the Iraqi resistance is like fighting jello - you push it down in one spot, it erupts elsewhere with equal intensity. And that is precisely what happened: as the Marines were flattening Falluja to the ground, hundreds of resistance fighters overran Iraq's third largest city of Mosul, killing and dispersing its 4,000-member police force in the course of a day. That the resistance can move so easily from city to city and operate so brazenly suggests the fighters are merely the tip of the iceberg and enjoy wide support among the Iraqi population, which shares their rage against the US occupation. In this context, the heavy-handed policies of the US military only serve to turn previously passive supporters into active guerrilla fighters. The assault on Falluja which completely destroyed the city and emptied it of its 200,000-300,000 inhabitants will certainly swell the number of resistance sympathizers for years to come. If the Pentagon believed its own propaganda and most of the fighters were in fact not Iraqi, then the Falluja assault may very well have broken the back of the resistance, but even according to the US military, less than 5% of the guerrillas captured in Falluja turned out to be foreigners. Although the armed resistance today is largely Sunni and operates mainly in Sunni areas, it would be a mistake to think that the Shia majority in any way supports the occupation. It is true that the armed wing of the Shia resistance under the leadership of Muqtada al-Sadr has been contained - crucially with the help of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But the Shia are now looking to the elections as the means by which to expel the US from Iraq. The moderate Sistani (who, it should be noted, has consistently refused to meet with any American officials) has always maintained that as soon as there is a legitimate Iraqi government, it should negotiate the withdrawal of American troops. If the US attempts to block or manipulate the elections to prevent such an outcome, we may yet see the return of armed resistance in Shia areas. Reluctant supporters Having failed to quell the resistance, the Bush administration now has a lot riding on the upcoming election and has held firm to the January 30 deadline, hoping against hope that Iraq's now multi-layered problems can be handled by the new government. But this is highly unlikely. The siege and destruction of Falluja has further alienated the Sunni population, who will not only boycott the elections but will do all they can to undermine the process. But even if enough Sunnis participate to declare the new government legitimate, who will maintain order and enforce the new constitution? Attempts at building an Iraqi police and army have failed miserably so far and the resistance has repeatedly shown it can easily defeat any such force without US protection. This can only mean that because of its incompetence and brutality, the occupation will continue as before with US troops trying suppress a resistance that only grows stronger with each assault. Some reluctant supporters of the war, who acknowledge that it was a mistake to invade, continue to maintain that the US must "stay the course" to prevent the country from descending into civil war or becoming a "failed state." But this begs the question - it is the very presence of US troops in Iraq that is radicalizing the population and exacerbating religious and ethnic divisions. Thousands of Iraq's Christians for example have already fled and relocated in Syria. And in response to the uprising in Mosul, the US military dispatched a Kurdish militia to restore order in a city with an Arab majority. Add to that, rebel control of critical areas of Baghdad like Haifa Street and the road to the airport, not to mention daily kidnappings and widespread insecurity, one wonders if Iraq is not already a "failed state." The best case scenario for the occupation is to muddle through for years hoping to eventually exhaust the resistance while racking up Vietnam-scale casualties on both sides. But given the current trend of a growing resistance despite (or perhaps, because of) a ruthless counter-insurgency campaign, even this scenario is unlikely to succeed. The only option that remains is for the US to declare a date to completely withdraw its troops from Iraqi soil and with the help of the UN or the Arab League launch diplomatic efforts for a power-sharing agreement among the various Iraqi parties (including ones hostile to the US). The current course will only lead to disaster, if it has not done so already. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Bilal El-Amine is a writer based in Lebanon. He can be reached at [email protected]. Previous reports on the Lebanese elections and other articles by Bilal can be found at,, and