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The Power of Shame

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December 13, 2004, 8:52 a.m.

The Power of Shame

Why so many American’s don’t get the Sunni opposition.

By Steven Vincent


The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow — and they will win. — Michael Moore


She was a Sunni Muslim, an attractive, thirty-something writer, one of the few women I met who eschewed a scarf in public. And she was overjoyed at the demise of Saddam. "I am so happy! Freedom at last! The world is open to me now!" she exclaimed during a small social function at an art gallery in Karada. "Can you recommend some American magazines I might send my writing to?" I promised I'd draw up a list of suitable periodicals, then added — carelessly, for this was my first trip to Iraq — "You must not mind seeing American soldiers on the streets." The woman's smile vanished. Her brow darkened and she shook her head. "Oh, no. I hate the soldiers. I hate them so much I fantasize about taking a gun and shooting one dead." Stunned by her vehemence, "But American soldiers are responsible for your freedom!" I replied. "I know," the woman snarled. "And you can't imagine how humiliated that makes me feel."


He was a short, intense, bespectacled lawyer from Baquba, who claimed he had connections with anti-Coalition forces in the Sunni Triangle. As we drove through the desert into Baghdad, "I hate your country," he informed me. "Every time I see a U.S. tank I feel like it is crushing my skull." Less startled by this expression — for this was my second trip to Iraq — I asked the attorney the cause of his feelings. As if explaining the most self-evident thing in the world, he replied, "America is occupying my country — as a patriot, of course I must resist." He fixed his wire-rimmed gaze on me. "Imagine if a foreign power was occupying America — wouldn't you resist?"


I think of these people each time I read about violence in the Sunni Triangle, that one-hundred-mile area stretching from Tikrit to the north, Ramadi to the east, and Baghdad to the west. I think of similar Iraqi confessions of shame, resentment, or "patriotism" each time I hear of an American soldier or Iraqi civilian killed by an IED, mortar assault, or car bomb. I feel a simmering anger over the pointlessness of these attacks and those aspects of Arab psychology that cling to humiliation and rely on violence to satisfy grievances. And my anger burns hotter when I read comments from the Western media ennobling these murderous "insurgents" by calling them the "Resistance" — or, more horribly, the "Revolution" — ignoring the thousands of Iraqis who risk their lives every day opposing the nihilistic bloodlust of these men.


After more than eighteen months of fighting in Iraq, there seems to be no means of dealing with this insurrection. The Kurds and the Shia (renegade cleric Moqtada al-Sadr notwithstanding) have shown a willingness to negotiate over the future of Iraq — why not the Sunnis? What do they hope to gain from their "guerrilla" war against the U.S. and against the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi? More important, what factors in the Arab Iraqi character lie behind Sunni opposition to a democratic Iraq, and why can't American politicians, military personnel and members of the media seem to understand them?


Nothing is more humiliating to a man than to be the subject of another man's authority. — Arab proverb


We hadn't considered it, those of us who supported the war. After all, it made no sense, it was unreasonable. And yet, the moment I spoke to that woman at the art gallery, I knew: even as they were being liberating from Saddam, Iraqis felt shamed by the fact that they couldn't do the job themselves. "If only you'd given us more time, we would have risen up and overthrown him," a waiter at the Orient Palace lectured me a couple of days later. "It's terrible, when I think of it," a student at Baghdad University said. "A foreign army has to come across the world to free us from Saddam — who are we, then?" This sense of indignity, of loss of "face," explained the ungracious gratitude many Iraqis evinced toward the U.S. — the "Thanks America, now go home" syndrome. How naïve we were to believe that they would greet our troops with flowers, as Dick Cheney so famously and wrongly predicted. As the Center for Strategic and International Studies explained in a report on Iraq's reconstruction, "the United States should expect continuing resentment and disaffection even if the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts seem to be making positive, incremental improvements to the country according to quantifiable measures. In other words, the occupation will not be judged by the sum of its consequences, but rather qua occupation."


In retrospect, it seems obvious. No one likes being beholden to another for his freedom. The Iraqis consider it incomprehensible that a people with a glorious Sumerian and Babylonian heritage and a country with rich natural resources had to rely on foreigners for rescue. "No wonder civilization began here," said a teacher at the Shabandar café. "We have everything — food, water, oil, minerals." This pride, however, has its negatives. Since Iraq today isn't in much of a position to fulfill its potential, its people often project their sense of superiority outward — most notably on the United States — which only reinforces their sense of national disgrace.


December 14, 2004, 3:50 p.m.

America the Omnipotent

Many Iraqis overestimated U.S. capabilities.


France may see us as a barely-restrainable "hyperpower"; the Iraqis — at least in the beginning of the "occupation" — saw us as simply omnipotent. The ease with which our armies overran their country reinforced that idea, as did America's chest-thumping over its technological know-how. As a result, many Iraqis developed a warped view of U.S. competence and intentions. Since America was all-powerful, they reasoned, we couldn't make mistakes or act incompetently: such blunders must really be part of some Bush Administration master strategy.


Take, for example, the looting and fires that wracked Baghdad immediately after Saddam's fall. Where we might blame a catastrophic lack of Pentagon foresight, numerous Iraqis contended that America encouraged the looting in order to demonstrate the Iraqi people's inability to govern themselves. Approaching the status of an urban legend was the story of GIs who broke open the National Museum and invited passersby to help themselves to priceless antiquities. A cab driver swore to me that he had witnessed American soldiers exhorting crowds to ransack government buildings with hearty cries of, "Go on, people, take what you want!"


I heard similar stories about Americans urging the pillage of expensive homes in Karada — although in my perambulations through the neighborhood, I saw no evidence of such damage. But that is incidental: the real point of these stories isn't truth, but rather the comfort they provide Iraqi people in shifting the blame for acts of criminal vandalism from themselves to devious Uncle Sam.


The overestimation of U.S. capabilities also distorted Iraqi notions of what to expect from our country. Since America was omnipotent, why couldn't it gin up the electrical grid, restore peace and tranquility, and provide employment to everyone — today? Here again, the U.S. was victim both of Iraqi projections and its own high-tech wizardry. Try to explain to an Iraqi housewife the difficulties of repairing an electrical system decades out of date and beset by saboteurs, and she'd cock a skeptical eyebrow. This from a nation with weapons so smart they can look up a target's address in the Baghdad yellow pages? No, the only reason America dropped the quality-of-life ball was that Bush wanted to keep Iraq downtrodden and dependent.


Not every Iraqi thought this way, of course. Still, I encountered these sentiments often enough to recognize that they pervade the nation's self-image and compensate for another, equally unrealistic, but even more debilitating characteristic: severe feelings of defeat and impotence. As Raphael Patai wrote in his classic, and controversial, 1974 book, The Arab Mind, "The encounter with the West produced a disturbing inferiority complex in the Arab mind which in itself makes it more difficult to shake off the shackles of stagnation."


A good illustration of Patai's observation was the conversation I had with Ahmed, the piano player at Fifties. Possessed of a superb knowledge of the American songbook, Ahmed would play, at my request, medleys of Sinatra songs, accompanying himself in a reedy, but serviceable, voice. One night, however, he ventured beyond "Angel Eyes" and "A Quarter to Three" to give me the low-down on the Iraq situation. "The only reason America invaded was to steal our national resources," he confided, during a break from his ivory-tickling. Ahmed's proof?

America didn't actually have to invade Iraq in order to topple Saddam, he noted; all it really had to do was beam down special radiation from super-secret satellites orbiting overhead, which would scramble Baath Party communications and enable "the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam." Why hadn't they overthrown him before? "Saddam wasn't in power just by himself, you know — he had very powerful backers." And who were these backers? "The Jews," Ahmed replied. You see, Jews not only supported Saddam, the pianist maintained, but also manipulated him into attacking Iran in order to "keep the Arabs down and — "

At this point, I requested he play "Send in the Clowns," and escaped to my room.


It is tempting to discount Ahmed's analysis as typical of the anti-Semitism one finds with tedious regularity in Iraq. But it reveals many of the demons that lie beneath the surface of the Iraqi national character: historical grievances, conspiratorial thinking, and a kind of bi-polar superiority-inferiority dynamic. Moreover, his comments point to another, equally troubling impulse that confuses Western observers and informs the nature of the Iraqi "insurgency": an unwillingness to take the blame for Saddam.


As dissident Iraqi intellectual Kanan Makiya wrote in The Monument, his 1991 book about art and culture in Iraq, "The question of responsibility has to be posed completely differently in a state ruled by fear than it would in an ordinary state, because on the whole the populace does not feel itself responsible for the actions of its rulers, even when it knows that momentous life and death decisions are taken in its name."


Iraqis refuse to accept that their society allowed a monster like Saddam to take power. Instead, they see him as an aberration, as if he were a maniacal gunman who suddenly burst into their homes, seized their families, and terrorized their neighbors, until the police finally stormed in and captured the lunatic. Now, standing amidst the ruins caused by the raid, they say to their rescuers, "It wasn't our fault this madman got in here. Thanks for getting rid of him — now, how soon are you going to repair our house?" They overlook that from 1968 to 1980, Iraq lived happily under the control of the Nazi-inspired Baath Party, while reaping the benefits of an oil-rich economy. (How many times did I hear how wonderful Baghdad was in the 1970s?) Not until Saddam seized complete control of the nation in 1979 and launched the war on Iran — and then on the Kurds, and then on Kuwait, and then on the Shia — did they realize they belonged to a madman. But by then it was too late.


At the same time, though, there are many Iraqis who, like my Baquba lawyer, don't care why American troops are in their country, only that they are here — and so must pay for that offense in lost and shattered lives. The shame that many Iraqis feel is not enough to compel them to take up arms against the Coalition — if that were the case, the volume of weaponry in Baghdad alone would make the U.S. presence untenable. (The Shia, in particular, must have enormous secret depots of small-arms ordinance just to shoot into the air to celebrate marriages.)


Rather, there is another, more combustible aspect in the Iraqi personality, something that seeks healing for the wound of humiliation in violence and bloodletting. To find it, I traveled to the Sunni Triangle itself.


December 15, 2004, 8:58 a.m.

The Oppressive Occupier?

This wasn’t how the liberation was supposed to go.


Violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect. — Franz Fanon


Nam, nam, Saddam! (Yes, yes, Saddam!)

— An Iraqi boy, Fallujah, January, 2004


One beautiful late winter morning, I found myself standing on a street corner in downtown Fallujah, surrounded by a crowd of Iraqi men, each person shoving forward to express an identical sentiment: hatred for the United States of America.


"America bad, worse than Saddam. They must leave our country at once!" one man growled.


"American soldiers no good. Life was better under Saddam!" said another.


"We have no gas, no electricity, no security. When Saddam was president, everything was fine, life was good."


"Saddam was a good man. We hate President Bush! We hate America!"


The conversation didn't start this way. At first, I approached two men on the corner and we engaged in a reasonable, relatively balanced critique of the U.S. presence near their city. Gradually, though, as more people joined the group, the volume of the voices rose. Each accusation against America spawned another, harsher, castigation. Newcomers entering the discussion added even more severe views, until the entire encounter took on a radical tone. It was a phenomenon I noticed several times over there, especially in the Sunni Triangle. In heated conversation, there was a rush toward the extremes: the more vehement and violent the view, the more likely it would emerge as the consensus of a group.


Not that I was particularly alarmed this morning. Anticipating a flood of anti-American invective in this ancient smugglers den thirty-five miles west of Baghdad, I identified myself as a Yugoslavian journalist, gambling on Iraqi ignorance of southeast Europe to see the deception through. It worked. No one challenged me, or asked for any documents; in fact, nearly everyone was exceedingly polite, if agitated. Perhaps the residents didn't care where a reporter was from, just as long as he gave an ear to their complaints.


"The people here are angry," observed Dhia, as we drove away, passing a broken-down amusement park near Fallujah's souk. I nodded, resisting a temptation to ask him what he felt about America: the last thing I needed was to be alienated from my own driver in the heart of the Sunni Triangle.


I met Dhia in the fall when I asked the Armenian desk clerk at the Orient Palace to recommend someone to take me to the holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf. A gentle, slightly effeminate man with a soft smile and feathery voice, the twenty-nine-year-old dressed in neat slacks and polo shirts, had a good command of English, and drove his own BMW. In our travels throughout southern Iraq, he proved a good and trustworthy companion. When I returned to Iraq that winter, I contacted him, asking if he could take me to the towns of the Sunni Triangle. "No problem, Mister Steve — with me, you will be safe," Dhia promised.


And so, under his watchful eye, I assessed the intensity of anti-American sentiment. In Ramadi, a bustling market town of around 450,000 people, I conversed with a man preparing for the Friday lunch rush at an outdoor café. "America should leave now, not tomorrow," he declared, chopping lamb into little kebob squares. "Iraq is not safe because they are here. Americans shoot anyone, they break into homes and steal money." At a tea stand, a studious-looking young man shook his head. "At first we welcomed America. Then the soldiers began killing people." Another crowd gathered, everyone eager to tell the inquisitive Yugoslav why they despise the U.S.: no electricity, no gas; GIs break into houses, arrest people, and "touch" women. Life was better under Saddam. I asked nine small boys gawking at me if the former dictator was a "good man." All nine said yes.


One can perhaps understand why. Although totaling around 15 percent of Iraq's Arab population, the Sunnis have dominated Iraq since the mid-sixteenth century, when the Ottoman Empire used the sect as a bulwark against the Shia-influenced Persians to the east. In the twentieth century, the British and Iraq's British-controlled monarchy continued the policy of favoring the Sunnis and their well-developed administrative skills. Under Saddam, a Sunni himself, the religious sect reached the apogee of its power, thriving under a system of patronage and government benefits that awarded them top positions in all aspects of Iraqi life. In 2003, the American war machine ended their reign; suddenly, the jobs, pensions, and prestige the Sunnis used to lord over the Kurds and Shia were gone.


On a Ramadi street corner, I found a graying old man wearing a tattered brown sweater struggling to serve a small knot of men gathered around his portable tea stand. "I was a teacher, in my retirement," he related when the rush subsided and he had a moment to talk. "I received a nice pension from the government. When the Americans came at first I was happy — no more Saddam! Then they cut my pension. Later, they gave me $30 a month, then raised it to $60. But how can I live on that much? I had to come out of retirement. Meanwhile, there is no gas, no electricity, no salaries for the people. When Saddam was in power, we had all this. My life was fine. Now look at me. I have to sell tea to support my family."


En route to Khaldiya, we encountered a parked m-1 Abrams tank, its barrel aimed at windshield level at oncoming traffic. Dhia, however, would not enter the town itself. "They kill foreigners there," he murmured, reminding me that a few days previously, an IED killed three GIs in the area. Instead, we stopped at a roadside vegetable stand for an earful of anti-U.S. vituperation. At one point, a young man motioned toward three Bradleys lumbering down the road. "There go the Ali Baba," he spat. I noticed that Iraqis either sped up or slowed down to distance themselves from the convoy; one car actually drove off the road. No one wanted to be near a potential target of an IED or a rocket-propelled grenade.


It was painful to see America the object of so much hatred and fear, the very image of an oppressive occupier. It was worse when we found ourselves behind a trio of Humvees. Dhia crept several car lengths behind the rear vehicle, and I looked at the GI manning the roof-mounted m60 machine gun (Where was he from? What city? Where did his parents live?), reflecting on the isolation of these young men out here, how the Iraqis shun and avoid them, even as they face the threat that a roadside pile of debris will erupt into fire and shrapnel. This was not how the liberation was supposed to go.


December 16, 2004, 8:38 a.m.

Rage Against the Foreigner

Dishonor propelled the Sunni insurgency.


In Fallujah, Dhia and I visit the headquarters of the Islamic Political Party of Iraq.

There, I asked a Sunni cleric seated on his diwan, or long couch, why he thought his Shia brethren had proven more cooperative with the U.S. He offered a mirthless smile. "The Shia think America liberated them from Saddam. But America did not come to liberate, they came for oil. America must leave immediately." But without the presence of U.S. troops, wouldn't Iraq slide into terrorist violence? "Let the soldiers leave, peace will come," the cleric replied, fingering his prayer beads. "They are the terrorists who kill the Iraqi people."


He has a point. Heavily-armed American soldiers, untrained for the kind of constabulary work that urban combat demands, are guilty of killing Iraqi civilians. In April, 2003, for example, 82nd Airborne troops in Fallujah shot and killed eighteen, apparently unarmed Iraqis; in September, 2003, troops mistakenly killed eight policemen just west of the city. In every town through the Sunni Triangle, similar incidents have taken place. (The military claims it does not keep statistics on civilian deaths.) Moreover, the day-to-day aspects of the American presence are infuriating: roadblocks, bridge closings, curfews. House searches can be brutal: doors kicked in, furniture overturned, rooms ransacked, whole families rousted. In the Sunni Triangle, American troops truly are an occupier.


Over the next couple of weeks, Dhia and I crisscrossed the area, popping out of his car in towns west of Baghdad, as well as in Samarra, Baquba, and Tikrit (hometown of Uncle Saddam) to the north, to interview tea sellers, waiters, students, clerics, and unemployed Baathist-supporting thugs. Again and again, I heard the same litany of complaints about U.S soldiers — civilian casualties, thefts from houses, vague accusations that "they touch women." The charges sounded serious — a number of them were no doubt true. But could they all be true? Had each of these Iraqis actually seen or experienced such abuses, or were they simply repeating rumors?


In Fallujah one afternoon, I chatted with three guys at a corner tea stand who swore that, just the day before, they saw a U.S. soldier shoot a woman dead in the street. A week earlier, they continued, another GI killed a man and his son who were working as night guards in a garage. My heart sinking, I asked for directions to the scene of the woman's murder, and within minutes, Dhia and I were at the vacant street corner, where, by good fortune, a policeman was walking by. No, the men in the teahouse were wrong, the cop explained to my relief. The woman's slayer was a local man whose father had been murdered by her son. "Revenge," he shrugged. "She was Kurdish," he added, as if that explained something.


With his intelligent eyes, ruddy complexion, and barber-shop-quartet moustache, the officer struck me as a decent fellow able to separate fact from rumor when it came to reports of American crimes. I asked him about the father and son killed at the garage.


"Oh, yes," his jaw clenching, "that was done by an American soldier."

"What happened to the soldier?"


"Nothing! Nothing ever happens to the soldiers who kill us."

"Does it happen a lot?"


The policeman's face turned crimson. "Americans have killed thousands of Iraqis since they came here. Do you hear me? Thousands! They killed my brother's thirteen-year-old son, his only son!" I had struck a nerve: faster and faster spilled the man's words, a kind of reverse-image of the pro-American Shia cab driver I had met in Baghdad three months earlier. "The Americans hate the Sunnis and insha'allah, we hate them. Believe me, this is why the people kill the soldiers! We were kings when Saddam was president — now what? Nothing! Life is so expensive, there are no jobs — especially for Sunnis! This is what George Bush brings us! Nothing! Saddam's shoes are better than George Bush!" Trembling with rage, he thrust a finger in my face. "In Fallujah, there are 135 mosques! This is a Muslim city. It is forbidden for Americans to be here. The people of Fallujah say, 'You must leave!' Especially to the American soldiers, for they are all Zionists! And they are here with fighters from other Arab countries, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia. All here with Zionist America to steal from Iraq!"


Just when I feared the policeman might explode, his feverish anger seemed to break, and he blinked and looked at Dhia and me as if noticing us for the first time. Then he invited us for lunch. It was the Iraqi temperament all over again. The policeman began reasonably enough, accusing the GIs of civilian deaths. But Arab anger is a volatile force, one that easily "sweeps over the dam of self-control and in an astonishingly short period of time transforms the entire personality," as Patai writes. From denouncing U.S. soldiers, it was a short step for the cop to declare his support for Saddam, anger at the "infidel" and hatred for Zionists, the whole ascending scale of rage climaxing with his view of Iraq as the victim of a worldwide conspiracy. (Although, in fairness, his mention of the Arab fighters was a tantalizing reference to foreign jihadists operating in the Sunni Triangle.) Then, just as suddenly, he calmed down and seemed to emerge from his fury.


I felt sympathy for him, as I did for most of the Sunnis I spoke with. And yet, the same question kept nagging me: What do they want? What is the point of this "Resistance?" From Tikrit to Ramadi, whenever I asked people what they thought killing American troops would achieve, they voiced the hope that the bloodshed would drive the hated foreigner out of Iraq. When I suggested that perhaps an easier way to attain such an end would be to form a stable democratic government that would then ask the U.S. to leave — giving America no pretext to remain in the country — people looked at me with a blank expression.


Even more startling, at least for me, were the Sunni responses when I asked them what kind of government they envisioned if the U.S. suddenly did up and leave.


Nearly everyone declared their interest in a new Saddam ("Only more democratic," one Baquban qualified) or a reconstituted Baath Party. Never mind that neither of these alternatives was likely, given armed Kurds to the north, armed Shia to the south, and American interests in the country, not to mention Saddam's impending trial for war crimes. Nor did these Sunnis express the slightest misgivings about agitating for the return of a dictator who modeled himself after Stalin and a political party based on the National Socialists. They felt no responsibility for the crimes of the tyrant they wanted returned to power.


Rather, it was the idea of the resurrected "strong man" they liked. It acted like a comforting balm on their sense of "rage" — that blind, amoral, unforgiving thirst for vengeance that fed on its own indignation until it drove many to violence.


This vague, inchoate "rage against the foreigner" is nothing new in the Arab Middle East, of course. Especially in the aftermath of World War II, as David Pryce-Jones observes in his 1989 study of Arab culture, The Closed Circle. When Arab leaders began advocating nationalism, he writes, they "restricted themselves to the one-dimensional platform of evicting the Europeans," while at the same time refusing to "discuss what social and political institutions they might consider appropriate in the event of independence. One and all incited nationalism and then exploited it as the surest way of arousing the mob on their behalf, frightening the authorities, demoralizing the Europeans, and so levering themselves as their successors into the positions of supreme power holders. What would actually happen in the event of their seizing the state, they left undefined." Fifty years later, the situation is the same, only now anonymous ex-Saddmites seek to demoralize and evict the United States in their hopes of transforming a slice of Iraq into a miniature caliphate.


But this is not all that stokes the fires of Sunni hatred. Beneath Iraqi religious and political affiliations lies a complex web of family, clan, and tribal associations that knits the country together in a tradition-based social order. Whereas in Shia-dominated Iraq, religious leaders tend to command more respect than tribal sheikhs, in the Sunni Triangle, kinship groups like the Dulaym federation, the Shammar, the al-Jaburi, and Saddam's own tribe, al-Bu Nasir, have for centuries wielded considerable, if poorly-understood, power. Although the Ottomans, the British, and even the Baathists tried to circumscribe tribal authority, it has stubbornly persisted, especially in the form of behavioral codes derived from the earliest inhabitants of the desert. This "Bedouin substratum," as Patai terms it, affirms as its highest principles hospitality, courage, loyalty and, above all, honor — a concept which itself comprises virility, dignity, and martial valor. "All these different kinds of honor," Patai writes, "interlock to surround the Arab ego like a coat of armor."


And if this psychic chain-mail is breached? The Arab, he continues, "must defend his public image. Any injury done to a man's honor must be revenged, or else he becomes permanently dishonored," Pryce-Jones writes. "Shame is a living death, not to be endured, requiring that it be avenged." For my part, I discovered this cultural and psychological phenomenon throughout the Sunni Triangle. While conversing with dozens of residents, I felt much less the anger of a population that was "occupied," "oppressed," or "enslaved" than the self-loathing of a people in disgrace. After decades of imperious rule, the Sunni Baathists were crushed by America — shamed, humiliated, they felt they had lost something perhaps even more precious than jobs or political power: honor.


Dishonor. This, I came to understand, was a huge factor that propelled the Sunni insurgency and gave it such an air of pointless, self-destructive violence. It is also the reason, I believe, why non-Middle Eastern observers have such trouble understanding the nature of this conflict — particularly Americans, who have no real experience with those extended families called tribes. Nor do we feel any longer a visceral connection between honor and self-respect, or the necessity of the lex talionis ("an eye for an eye," or, as an Arab proverb has it, dam butlub dam, "blood demands blood") to avenge humiliation. But the militants in the Sunni Triangle do. In order to reclaim their personal, family and clan reputations, these Iraqis seek to kill American troops, for only American blood can redeem their honor. The roadside ambushes and barbaric immolations correspond to archaic tribal codes where self-respect is restored only through violence and loss of life.


No wonder the insurgents — and many other Iraqis as well — seem to dwell on the edge of a bottomless chasm of rage: the shame they experience from the American invasion eats away at them. No wonder, too, that the insurgents' movement seems so vague. In my travels through the Sunni Triangle and my time in Baghdad I never once saw any symbols, propaganda, or call letters (FLN, NLF, IRA, and so on) that might refer to an organized "liberation front." These "resistance" fighters — or, à la Moore, Iraqi "minutemen" — seemed to have no leaders, issue no communiqués, propound no programs, or even have a name. But why should they? Their primary interest is their own "honor." They may claim they are "patriots" fighting for Iraq — many are, in fact, soldiers and officers from the old Iraqi Army — but at heart they see themselves as tribal warriors engaged in the venerable tradition of honor killings against the biggest tribe of all: America.


By failing immediately to occupy and pacify the Sunni Triangle during the war, the U.S. allowed the affiliation between tribal groups and the Baath Party to reform and reassert itself. Gradually, a combination of embarrassment, humiliation, disgrace, and dishonor, fueled by a genuine diminution in the Sunnis' quality of life, compelled these Iraqis to seek revenge rather than political negotiation. Attacks on U.S. soldiers produced American counter-responses, killing Iraqi civilians and initiating further cycles of honor and revenge slayings. Gradually, the Sunni's tribal mentality drew the U.S. into a new kind of war: an unreasonable war fought not for familiar goals like territory, riches, or ideology, but for the irrational, intangible prizes of honor and self-respect.


December 17, 2004, 8:43 a.m.

The Wrong Words

Moral and linguistic clarity are crucial in this conflict.


We must also take action against our own Iraqi citizens who choose to collaborate with the enemy. . . . If someone you know is considering taking a job with the Americans, tell him that he is engaging in treason and encourage him to seek honest work instead. If he refuses, you must kill him as a warning to other weak-minded individuals.— Ted Rall


As long as we're here, we're the occupying power. It's a very ugly word, but its true.— Paul Bremer



Barely a week after my last visit to Fallujah, twenty-two policemen died when their station came under a fierce and organized assault by some seventy attackers. I have often wondered if my mustachioed friend with whom I lunched was among the fatalities, but I will never know. Nor will I ever know the identity of the assailants. Hearing about the attack in Baghdad, I surfed the internet for additional information. I found anti-war websites — among them, the indomitable Occupation Watch — that called the gunmen the "resistance." The London-based news service Reuters used the term "guerrillas"; another news source mentioned "insurgents." Returning to my room, I caught a BBC-TV newscaster who reported that the fighters were "insurgents, anti-Coalition forces, whatever you want to call them."


Of those three descriptions, the BBC's was the most accurate — if nothing else, the reporter captured the confusion over what to call the combatants who continue to kill American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Despite their VC-like stealth, are they really "guerillas"? Even though they appear to be rising up against a foreign "occupation," do they deserve the term "insurgents?" Although they, and others, claim they are "resisting" the Coalition, does that make them a "Resistance?"


This is not mere semantics. The terms the media use to report on Iraq profoundly affect how Americans perceive this conflict and, by extension, how much blood and treasure they are willing to sacrifice on behalf of the Iraqi people. To put it another way, the degree to which America's conception of this war remains unclear and misleading constitute victories to those who would rob the Iraqis of their future. Moral clarity is crucial in this conflict.


Unfortunately, America lost this clarity within weeks of the war's beginning. As soon as Saddam's statue fell in Firdousi Square, both pro- and anti-war camps accepted the notion that the U.S.-led Coalition was an "occupying" power. The term is accurate in a legal sense, of course, enshrined in international conventions and recognized by the U.N., but supporters of the war should have avoided and, when confronted with it, vigorously contested its use. For there is another way of viewing the situation. Once, in a Baghdad restaurant, I overhead some Westerners and Iraqis discussing the conflict — when the Westerners asked what they thought of the "occupation," one Iraqi retorted, "What 'occupation'? This is a liberation."


Words matter. By not sufficiently challenging the term "occupation," Coalition supporters ceded crucial rhetorical ground to opponents of the war, and in the process fell into a dialectical trap. Simply put, the epithet "occupation" has a negative connotation — for example, "occupied France." Conversely, anyone who objects to being occupied and chooses to "resist" has our sympathies. (How many movies have you seen where the resistance fighters are the villains?) On an emotional level, skillfully manipulated by the Coalition's enemies, the situation in Iraq quickly boiled down to an easily grasped, if erroneous, equation: the occupation is bad; the resistance is good.


Since the Coalition represented the negative pole, its motives, means, goals, and very presence were prejudged as suspect. In contrast, since the "Resistance" reflected the positive pole, it received automatic validation, if not the admiration and actual support of people all over the world. If one side suffered the burden of proof, the other enjoyed the benefit of the doubt. "America is occupying my country — of course I must resist," the Baquba lawyer had stated, a declaration that, in the minds of the anti-war crowd from Baghdad to Seattle, seems fair, legitimate, and admirable.


In 2004, the June issue of Harper's featured an article entitled "Beyond Fallujah: A Year with the Iraqi Resistance." In the July 1 edition of England's Guardian newspaper, Seumas Milne, a bitter opponent of Iraq's liberation, wrote, "It has become ever clearer that [the insurgents] are in fact a classic resistance movement with widespread support waging an increasingly successful guerrilla war against the occupying armies." "Iraqi Resistance Breaks Away From Zarqawi," announced the July 5, 2004, Washington Times. The word "guerrillas" is used even more frequently: "ABC Footage Shows Iraqi Guerillas With Hostage," announced the website for ABC News on April 10. "Iraqi Guerrillas Gun Down Four Americans," declared the AP on June 21. "Guerrillas Seize Six Foreign Hostages In Iraq," read the AP headline for a July 21 article.


Let's unpack these terms for a moment. What do we mean when we say the "Resistance?" Like the word "occupation," it is technically true: the people planting IEDs, piloting car bombs, and beheading foreign workers are "resisting" the Coalition. But like "occupation," "resistance" is not a neutral word. It conjures images of heroic struggles for national liberation: the French "Resistance," for example, or the Viet Cong or Algerian FLN. The same holds true with the word "guerrillas" — it, too, evokes heroic rebels, flaunting their independence in the face of impotent U.S. rage: Che, Fidel, Uncle Ho, Daniel Ortega, Sub-Commander Marcos.


But apply these concepts to Iraq and you misrepresent the situation. The conflict there is not a mid-twentieth century colonial uprising. The anti-government fedayeen are not Fanon's "wretched of the earth." The gunmen are not "indigenous peoples" fighting an anti-imperialistic conflict. To view them through a Marxist-Chomskyite-anti-capitalist-Hollywood template is an exercise in false moral clarity. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in October, 2003: "The great irony is that the Baathists and Arab dictators are opposing the U.S. in Iraq because — unlike many leftists — they understand exactly what this war is about. They understand that U.S. power is not being used in Iraq for oil, or imperialism, or to shore up a corrupt status quo, as it was in Vietnam and elsewhere in the Arab world during the cold war. They understand that this is the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the US has ever launched — a war of choice to install some democracy in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world."


And this doesn't include the hundreds of foreign jihadists operating in Iraq. Their car bombs and kidnappings and beheadings form part of the "Resistance," too. In February, Coalition authorities intercepted a letter they believed originated from Jordanian terror-master Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Writing to unknown associates, this murderer — the man probably responsible for bombing the Jordanian Embassy, and decapitating Nicholas Berg — complained that "America has no intention of leaving, no matter how many wounded nor how bloody it becomes." Worse, he noted, the U.S. intends to pull its forces back to bases, replacing soldiers with Iraqis who "are intimately linked to the people of this region." He went on to write: "How can we kill their cousins and sons and under what pretext, after the Americans start withdrawing? The Americans will continue to control from their bases, but the sons of this land will be the authority. This is the democracy, we will have no pretext."


Zarqawi clearly prefers that democracy fail in Iraq, thus forcing the U.S. to adopt a higher profile in the country — all to justify his terror campaigns. Campaigns specifically directed, he goes on to reveal, at Iraq's Shia population, in order to spark a sectarian war between the two Muslim groups: "The solution, and god only knows, is that we need to bring the Shia into the battle because it is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us."


So here, finally, we see in all their glory the anti-Coalition forces so admired by many on the left and in the media: ex-Baathists who kill American troops out of a sense of humiliation and dishonor, and foreign jihadists who wish to see the U.S. "occupiers" remain in the country in order to justify additional attacks against their fellow Muslims. What kind of "Resistance" is this? There is nothing romantic, Che Guavaresque, or progressive about the goals of these murderers: they are thugs, fighting for the most nihilistic of causes.


How, then, should we describe this war? What words and concepts define the situation more accurately? Since Iraq is now liberated, we might replace "occupation" with a word taken from the post-Civil War era: "reconstruction," as in, "the Coalition is reconstructing Iraq." We might then exchange the term "guerrilla fighters" for the more precise term "paramilitaries." Rather than noble warriors fighting to liberate their people, "paramilitaries" evoke images of anonymous right-wing killers terrorizing a populace in the name of a repressive regime — which is exactly what the fedayeen and jihadists are doing. Or we could simply dust off the venerable term "fascists." It was a good enough for the anti-Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. Why shouldn't we use it to describe similar enemies of freedom in Iraq?


I repeat — words matter. Terms like "paramilitaries," "death squads," and "fascists" clarify the nature of our enemy and underscore a fundamental point that the American media has inexcusably ignored: it is the Iraqi people who are under attack. They are the victims, their future is threatened, they are bleeding from wounds inflicted by pan-Arab Baathists and pan-Islamic jihadists. By calling these neo-fascists the "Resistance" the media reverses the relationship of assailant and defender and renders a terrible disservice to the millions of Iraqis who oppose, in ways large and small, these totalitarian forces. Hadeel gave her life resisting fascism. Yet to the Ted Ralls and Michael Moores of this world, she was a Quisling who deserved to die.


How did this happen? How did the media confuse the real forces of resistance — police officers, administrative workers, translators, truck drivers, judges, politicians and thousands of others — with men who plan car bombings, assassinate government officials, and rampage through religious shrines in their quest to reinstate tyranny? Part of the reason is the anti-American bent of the international media: many reporters will sacrifice anything — including journalistic integrity — to defame the U.S. effort in Iraq. Then there is the semantic problem of the word "occupation" and its pejorative connotation: in the rudimentary arithmetic of the media, anything that "resists" a negative must, by definition, be positive.


But there is another, more banal reason for the press' confusion we might consider. Reporters, like generals, are always fighting the last war. And in their need to fix upon a narrative, baby-boomer journalists returned to a decades-old script that pits indigenous Third World freedom fighters against aging imperialist powers. Iraq became Vietnam redux — Apocalypse Again — only with sand and kheffiyas instead of deltas and black pajamas. (Neoconservatives, of course, hoped the conflict would resemble World War II, with Baghdadis dancing in the streets, waving American flags, and strewing flowers on the liberators.) Or maybe — heaven help us — Gen-x reporters may have seen the conflict as a replay of Star Wars: after all, whenever the empire strikes back, we root for the rebels, right?


However it happened, today we suffer for our lack of clarity in this war. Unwilling to call our enemies fascists, afraid to condemn the brutal aspects of Iraqi and Arab culture, we have allowed the narrative to slip out of our control. Truth is made, not found, in Iraq. Gradually, in the war of ideas, the U.S. became the evil occupier, opposing the legitimate wishes of an indigenous "resistance." We forgot the lessons of Vietnam and the people whom our defeat abandoned to the Killing Fields, re-education camps, and desperate flotillas of boats: sometimes, the empire is on the side of right — and it is the rebels who deserve to be crushed.


— Steven Vincent is a freelance investigative journalist and art critic living in New York City. He is blogging about Iraq at www.redzoneblog.com.

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Guest Guest_tajer

Have a look to NT coverage.

My question is if the success of Iraqi goverment in capturing the senior leutanat of Al zarqawee and Aldoori would drew same attention? Alawee demostrated yesterday a list and photos of top senior officials in Saddami's loyalist gang and Alqaeda organization in Iraq..


Insurgents Kill Senior Official in Iraqi Police



Published: January 11, 2005

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Guest mustefser

Look to this.. Zarqawee is a top of REBEL !

Why such journalist affriad of using the right wording when it comes to Iraq!


Top Rebel in Iraq Says War With U.S. May Last for Years



Published: January 21, 2005



AGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 20 - The most wanted insurgent in Iraq acknowledged in an Internet audio message on Thursday that a top guerrilla leader had died in fighting in Falluja, but he vowed to continue waging holy war against the Americans.


In the 75-minute message, the militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, insisted that the holy war "could last months and years."


"In the fight against the arrogant American tyrant who carries the flag of the cross, we find that despite its military might, it is being crushed emotionally and morally," he said, according to a translation from Reuters. "Our battle with the enemy is a battle of streets and towns and has many tactical, defensive and offensive methods. Fierce wars are not decided in days or weeks."


The audio message, posted on a guerrilla Web site, could not be immediately authenticated.


In the message, Mr. Zarqawi said Omar Hadid, a leader of the Falluja resistance and one of the most wanted guerrillas in Iraq, had died in Falluja after helping to kill American troops. A prominent tribal leader from Anbar Province, which includes Falluja, said last week that he had heard that Mr. Hadid had been killed.


The Americans are offering a $25 million reward for the capture or killing of Mr. Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has pledged his loyalty to Osama bin Laden. Mr. Zarqawi's group, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, formerly known as One God and Jihad, is believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds here in ambushes, bombings and beheadings. An American military spokeswoman and a British security company said Thursday that a Briton and an Iraqi security guard were killed Wednesday in a roadside ambush north of Baghdad and that a Brazilian man working for one of South America's largest construction companies was kidnapped

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