The Third Iraq War has begun. George Bush doesn’t know it. L. Paul Bremer, III, the American administrator in Baghdad, won’t admit it. And people in the Pentagon can’t quite believe it. But the Third War has begun.
Perhaps borrowing a page from Mafia Kingpin Lucky Luciano, who launched the apocryphal "Night of the Sicilian Vespers" in 1931, Moqtada Al-Sadr has launched the "Night of the Iraqi Vespers," with attacks across Iraq. But make no mistake: this is not a continuation of the 2003 war. This is a new war, with new "issues," new adversaries and dangerous new exposure for American interests in the Middle East. Just as Luciano sought to take control of organized crime in America, Al-Sadr is making a power play to humiliate America and to make himself the kingpin in Iraq.
Al-Sadr has gone so far as to pledge fealty to Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani, a kiss of Judas if ever there was one.
The peaceful Iraq we have known for the past 13 months is disappearing before our eyes and no one in Washington appears to know why, or much care to find out.
Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Bremer never saw it coming. Despite warnings before the March, 2003 war, and warnings since last April, when Saddam’s regime collapsed, no one wanted to believe a new uprising was possible. Unlike Saddam’s army, which literally melted into the night, Bush’s flatulent rhetoric today about "terrorists" and "freedom" will fall on hollow ears around the world.
America is really alone this time. Alone. I question whether even Great Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair will be able to carry British public opinion to support a Third War.
The fantasy "coalition" which was operating in Iraq could not survive a real war. Italians and Poles, Hondurans, Hungarians and Ukrainians did not sign up to fight a new war. They signed on to be "peacekeepers" in the "old war." Some peace.
It is questionable whether even the United States has sufficient boots on the ground to wage a successful defensive campaign. It is frightening to see Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld playing word games with his field commanders about whether they need or want reinforcements, as America’s position in Iraq crumbles. If the Generals in Iraq and at Central Command really don’t know they need help, they are incompetent and should be removed. Today.
Of course, before the last war the generals warned against precisely what is now happening in Iraq. They were ignored and humiliated by "Rummy" & Co. News photos Wednesday show marines carrying the bodies of dead marines. Bushies should ask Johnson Administration veterans what it’s like to campaign for reelection with such photos in the press and on TV.
Things could get worse. They probably will.
In a few days, Shiites will begin converging on Karbala for a major religious holiday. Last year, a million pilgrims came from all around the region. It was an awesome sight to see a million people packed into Karbala. [For a picture of Andy in Karbala last April, see andymartin.com, then "Why"] It was an impressive indication of what "freedom" meant for Shiites. America had freed Shiites to practice their religion openly.
If American forces try to prevent the million-man march this year, chaos could erupt. If we allow the assemblage, chaos could erupt.
Moqtada is hiding in Najaf. Bremer has never walked the streets of Najaf. I have. It is an ancient, crowded city.
Are we going to send in the AC-130 gunships, fresh from their exploits in Fallujah (where they cannot help but do more harm than good) over Najaf? Are we going to use Israeli tactics, and fire missiles into crowded Najaf alleys to kill "outlaw Moqtada?" Just how are we going to serve our "arrest warrant" on Mr. Al-Sadr?
Bushies criticized Clintonistas before the 9/11
Commission for making a "law enforcement" spectacle of anti-terrorism. But Bremer is now talking the Clinton talk, and acting more like the Dodge Safety Sheriff ("You’re in a whole lot of trouble") than the hairy-chested gunslinger he claimed to be a few months ago. Serving "warrants" is a job for sheriffs. Not soldiers.
Dick Cheney, of course, has not been heard from; maybe he is already in an "undisclosed location."
The reason we are in the Third Iraq war is because we have created a new set of opponents, and new reasons for resistance. Armored divisions could attack Saddam’s forces; conventional warfare could seize Baghdad, the first time. But how do we "take back the streets" this time? Who "owns the night" now? Should we start loading "bunker busters" on bombers? Obviously, none of the tactics that worked last time can even be used this time, because the "old enemy" has disappeared.
We were prepared to fight a conventional war in 2003, and won. We are still prepared for a conventional war. But we are facing a Viet-Cong insurgency, orchestrated not from "North Viet-Nam" but literally down the street from the Green Zone, America’s Emerald City in Baghdad.
The most frightening gap we confront is President Bush’s awareness of the dangers he is facing. It is chilling to read his remarks in Arkansas Tuesday, in which he claimed we face "terrorists" who are opposed to "freedom." How can we characterize people fighting in their own front yard as "terrorists," and people fighting for what they hope will end the occupation as opposing "freedom." Maybe Bush has hired Ariel Sharon’s speechwriter. It does appear that the president is increasingly out of touch with reality.
Bush has accomplished the impossible in one area: he actually has Sunnis and Shiites making nice again. Who’d a thunk it?
Bush is spending the next few days resting at his Texas ranch. He may be spending a lot more time there after next January if he does not wake up in the next few days.