THE DEADLIEST DAY

There was hardly anything left of the helicopter shot down by Iraqi insurgents on Sunday, in which 15 were killed and 21 seriously wounded: the thing seems to have disintegrated even quicker than the administration’s case for starting this war in the first place. Piling pathos atop tragedy, the occupants were on their way back to the states for a little r&r. It was the deadliest day of the most disastrous week so far in the history of the occupation. What sickens me is that this record is bound to be broken sooner rather than later.

The intensity of what is now a full-fledged guerrilla war has ratcheted up, 6 months after George W. Bush declared “victory.” But who and what are we fighting?

The conventional wisdom, reiterated in endless news stories, has it that the insurgents are an unholy combination of Ba’athist “remnants” and Islamist suicide bomber types vaguely affiliated with Al Qaeda. This is a very convenient formulation for the War Party, which is spared the necessity of creating a new hate object for propaganda purposes: they’re even putting out the story that Saddam is personally directing the insurgents.

As usual, the reality is far more complex. The list of known insurgent groups, numbering some three dozen, is far too long to record here: what’s important to know is that they represent far more ideological variety than is ever acknowledged by U.S. government officials.

As the biggest and formerly the only legal political grouping in the country, the Ba’ath party was bound to become a locus of armed opposition. However, even the Ba’athist designation can be misleading. Not only are some groups heterogeneous, consisting of former Republican Guards and religious fighters, but there are also the non-Saddamist nationalist groups, such as the National Iraqi Commando Front (a.k.a. National Fedayeen Front), the National Front for the Liberation of Iraq, and the Iraqi Resistance Brigades.

Significantly, there are secular groups that are also anti-Ba’athist: the al-Anbar Armed Brigades of Iraq’s Revolutionaries, the Nasserists, the Unification Front for the Liberation of Iraq, and the leftist General Secretariat for the Liberation of Democratic Iraq. And this hardly exhausts the list of armed groups springing up like Myrmidons throughout Iraq. As analyst Michael Jansen puts it, there are also:

“Informal groupings of regime loyalists, former soldiers and nationalist and patriotic Iraqis who do not want Saddam Hussein to return but are angered by the US failure to restore security and essential utilities and services.”

As Dr. Ahmed S. Hashim, a professor at the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, avers: “Many of the individuals who say that they are fighting the U.S. presence for patriotic or nationalistic reasons have expressed no desire to see the return of the previous system.” Professor Hashim then goes on to cite the public pronouncements of one such insurgent group on the occasion of a recent communiqué from Saddam:

“Yesterday, through their media outlets, the tyrant and his henchmen announced from the holes in which they are stuck that he is the one behind the resistance and that the men carrying out this resistance are loyal and linked to him. The one behind the mass graves and executions wants to employ the struggle of our people who reject the occupation, hegemony, and guardianship to his own benefit and the benefit of his regime.”

One would think that Al Qaeda, if it was behind the suicide bombings, would want to take credit. Yet the sinister motives and affiliations of the resistance are nowhere evidenced in their public pronouncements: Instead, we have seemingly ordinary Iraqis who don’t support Saddam and don’t want to be occupied by a foreign power. One resistance fighter told the Boston Globe:

“‘We don’t need Saddam, and we don’t need Americans,’ said Mohamed, who spoke on the condition that only his last name be published. ‘We need a Muslim to lead us to peace.'”

Earlier evaluations of the resistance emphasized its potential to metastasize into a national revolt, one that could conceivably approach the revolution of 1920 in its scope, but noted that it was not yet at that point. Today, however, in terms of sophistication and coordination, the level of the attacks on occupation forces has skyrocketed. The experts agree that, if the U.S. is to have any hope of crushing the insurgency before it gets out of hand, we need more troops in Iraq – a course that is militarily problematic and politically impossible.

The problem of achieving the stated U.S. goal – to “Iraqi-ize” the security structure and pave the way for an American exit – is that no regime installed by the Anglo-American invaders is going to have any legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqis. Whatever illusions the “liberated” peoples of Iraq had in the beginning have long since dissipated: a recent survey shows only 15 percent consider themselves “liberated,” down from 43 percent at war’s end.

The poll numbers aren’t much better on the home front, where the War Party is fast losing hearts and minds. For the first time a majority of Americans – 51 percent – disapproves of the President’s Iraq policy. This represents a tremendous upsurge of antiwar sentiment, when you consider that, in April, 70 percent said the war was worth fighting: that number has since plummeted to 54 percent. Meanwhile, 62 percent now say the level of casualties is unacceptable.

The rationale for this war is that it is supposedly the “central front” of the war on terrorism, and this administration’s attempt to characterize the Iraqi resistance as an alliance of neo-Ba’athists and the Baghdad branch office of Al Qaeda is part and parcel of that argument. But the inability to see reality other than through an ideological filter is what got us into this unwinnable conflict in the first place. Such a disability, as long as it goes uncorrected, can only lead to an American defeat. But not before many more are killed, on both sides.

First the neocons told us that the Iraqi people would rise up at the first sign of U.S. military support: we could pretty much leave it up to Ahmed Chalabi’s boys, as long as we gave them air cover and as few as 5,000-50,000 American troops.

When that didn’t pan out, they said it would be a “cakewalk” anyway: there was no mention of the postwar conflict, which has since proved far more serious and costly than the token resistance put up by the Republican Guards.

Now the same people who were wrong at every turn are telling us that all the signs of disaster in Iraq are really the insignia of success. The “real” news – the “good” news about all the wonders being worked by the billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars gushing into the country – is being suppressed by a hostile media, which insistently focuses on irrelevant minor details, like the downing of a U.S. helicopter and the loss of 15 American lives.

This administration still has not leveled with the American people about the length of our commitment, and the details of an exit strategy have yet to emerge. In a speech at Georgetown University, deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz emphasized the Iraqi-ization process, claiming 85 casualties in the ranks of the pro-occupation Iraqi forces, but did not give any timetable for U.S. withdrawal. His boss, appearing on “Meet the Press” today [Sunday], also refused to be pinned down, implying if not endorsing an open-ended commitment.

Karl Rove is said to be the peacenik in the Republican camp, whose marching orders for Team Bush reportedly boil down to “no war in ’04.” But short of what even supposedly “antiwar” candidate Howard Dean would consider a precipitate withdrawal – one such as Camille Paglia and I can only dream of – Rove may have no choice. There is, however, a way out for the President, if he and his advisors decide to save the Republican party from complete disaster.

The last fallback position of the interventionists – when disabused of any notions of Iraqi WMDs, mythical links to 9/11, and alleged connections to the anthrax letters – is that the invasion and military occupation of Iraq is justified in the name of imposing “democracy” at gunpoint. Well, then, let them do so as soon as possible. Time is not on our side. As the insurgency takes on truly national dimensions, the possibility of holding a free election becomes less likely, which is why we must hold elections immediately.

Oh, but there’s no Constitution, no legal framework, nothing has been approved by the Governing Council. Well, then, don’t just stand there dithering: do something! The solution is to reactivate the pre-Ba’athist legal framework that emerged along with the Iraqi nation in the 1932 “Declaration of the Kingdom of Iraq,” which first served notice to the world that Iraq was no longer part of the British Empire. It is still in effect.

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Iraq guarantees free elections, minority rights, “freedom of conscience,” and even property rights, and would satisfy Muslims as it makes Islam the state religion. Shorn of its monarchical provisions, it would do in a pinch. I especially like Article 30, Section 9, which prohibits membership in the national legislature to anyone “who is a lunatic or an idiot.” If only our own Founding Fathers had thought of it!

Another alternative is to resurrect the 1958 Constitution. In any case, the leadership produced by the elections would have to deal with the question of the U.S. occupation. Regardless of the outcome, there would be no doubt as to the legitimacy of the Iraqi government. Tim Russert may not be able to get a straight answer out of Rumsfeld as to how long the occupation will go on, but a freely elected Prime Minister of Iraq just might have more luck.

However, this window of opportunity is rapidly closing. With each passing day, the Iraqi resistance gets bolder and more destructive – and the possibility of getting them to lay down their arms and enter politics fades. The announcement that elections to a National Assembly were being held would pose a political challenge to the armed resistance, and strike at the rationale for its very existence. This would do more to damp down the violence than any military action.

We are told that a U.S. withdrawal is impossible because that would rapidly lead to civil war between contending factions in Iraq. But a civil war is precisely what is being prepared by the Americans, as they tout their plan to arm and train an Iraqi military force under their direction. Without elections, “Iraqi-ization” is doomed to failure.

The deadliest day, a tragic and bloody Sunday, underscores the stark reality: this is a no-win war. Do we have to wait for some Beirut-sized catastrophe before this administration makes like Ronald Reagan and gets out while the going is good? Exit, with honor – or involuntarily exit, much later, and at much greater cost. That is the choice before us.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Before I get letters about how Sunday was not the deadliest day of the war – and was, instead, the second deadliest day – let me launch a preemptive strike by pointing out that I meant the deadliest day of the war since George W. Bush declared “victory” in May.

I note, with grim satisfaction, that the story of Israeli foreknowledge of 9/11 is breaking through the media blockade, this time in the Scottish Sunday Herald. Just in time for my forthcoming book, The Terror Enigma: 9/11 and the Israeli Connection, due out in a couple of weeks.

Read more by Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].