Saturday, August 21, 2004
The Bush campaign aired an ad where it mentioned that 2 free nations, Afghanistan and Iraq, are now competing in the Olympics. I personally liked the ad. It was emotional and true. Afghanistan is on its way to have unprecedented elections this coming October despite all the problems there. Iraq is walking slowly towards a better future despite all the fog we see everyday. Fifty years from today, Bush's name will still be in those two countries' history books as the US president who changed their future.
However, the Bush campaign got a very nasty response from a number of Iraq's rising football team members. One player said that Bush had no right to use Iraq to advertise himself. Another asked how Bush will meet his god after the crimes he had committed in Iraq. The team's coach said that there is no freedom in Iraq because there is still fighting around the stadium!
I can't believe how naive the Bush team can get. I don't blame them because it seems that they haven't read my posts. I mentioned before that I had to drop the wish that Iraq might become an Arab country with less unjustified hatred towards the US government and army. My only wish now is for Iraq to become the first relatively decent Arab country in the region.
I was shocked on April 9, 2003. My shock didn't come from the fallen Saddam statue or the fast march towards Baghdad as much as from how Iraqis received American troops. Those who tell you that Iraqis did not welcome US troops on April 9 were definitely on crack cocaine that day. I remember telling my dad "look, Iraqis with weapons are walking among US troops." At work, my colleagues started talking about how Iraqis were known for their betrayals and how Shias are not real Muslims. My housekeeper told me angrily that she saw an old Iraqi woman gently patting the chest of a US soldier.
In the midst of my excitement at the victorious reception, an alert calling itself "The Israel/Shia Syndrome" started flashing all over my mind. My biggest fear was that the US would catch the syndrome that Israel caught back in the early eighties when it invaded Lebanon to prevent Palestinian militants from hitting the northern Israeli towns. Yasser Arafat and his PLO guerilla were occupying south Lebanon and using it as a base to attack north Israel. The Christian and Shia citizens in this area were suffering so much from the Palestinian occupation and they both welcomed Israeli troops as they chased Palestinian militants out of their towns.
Alarmed from such a reception, Syria allowed Iranian agents to infiltrate Lebanon and recruit radical Shia Lebanese clerics who worked on turning the Shia population against Israel. Israel on its part did absolutely nothing to secure and protect this new found "Shia friendship" (ummm, do Kurds in Iraq ring a bell??!!!) and focused solely on its Christian allies. Fighting with PLO militants resulted in civilian casualties among Shias. Numerous roadblocks and harsh security checkpoints were constructed by the Israeli army in the south. The Shias started to think that they have substituted the Palestinian occupation with an Israeli one. Eventually, Shias turned against Israel and joined the "jihad" until this very day.
Nevertheless, the situation of the US in Iraq is less dangerous than Israel's in Lebanon. In Iraq, there is an awesome political process that the majority of Iraqis are willing to participate in. Iraq's senior clerics are against fighting US forces and a good majority of Iraqis think that such a thing is bad for Iraq's future. The US and the rest of the coalition do have great lovers in Iraq and the vast majority is not hostile as Muqtada Sadr or the Saddamist/Islamist cocktail in the Sunni triangle are. By citing Israel's case in Lebanon, I am just lamenting the loss of the US' honeymoon with Iraqis that blossomed on April 9, 2003.
So what went wrong? Why did this Iraqi player who used to pee on himself when he heard the name Uday Saddam utter such callous words against President Bush? The answer lies in the following reasons:
Widen the Gap: Just as Syria was alarmed at how the Shias of Lebanon received the invading Israeli troops, the Saddamists, Islamists, Iran, and Al Jazeera felt the same. As a matter of fact, the entire Arab population was in a state of shock and every roadside bomb that ripped an American soldier apart was greeted as an indication that the Iraqi people are finally "resisting US occupation". Since all the attacks on US troops were monopolized by Sunni Saddamists and Islamists, Shias were regarded as "traitors" and as people who wanted to use the Americans to rule all Iraq. Today, Muqtada Sadr is our new found hero.
Ever since US troops entered Baghdad, the great dividers worked frantically to create then widen the gap between the Iraqi people and US forces. They blew up everything from electricity power stations to the Red Cross just to show that the US brought more trouble and misery. The Saddamists/Islamists also did something that I consider very smart and cunning. They squashed themselves among peaceful demonstrators and then shot a bullet or two at the humvee ahead. Any poor American soldier had to react nervously and respond by shooting back. Civilians were killed, hearts and minds were lost, the gap widened, and Al Jazeera made sure that it widened even further.
Green Zone Red Zone: Due to the attacks on US forces, the army had to disengage itself from the local population and hide behind roadblocks that stiffened traffic in Baghdad. Instead of going around Baghdad and building more infrastructures, US forces were busy fighting insurgents. I have always said that it is impossible to build and fight at the same time. The poor American soldier didn't have time to show his goodwill to the Iraqi approaching him because he didn't know whether this man will hand him a flower or blow up in his face. I know there are good emotional stories and picture out there but these were not enough.
Upon his first visit to Baghdad, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman commented on how the US lead coalition was bunkered within the so-called Green Zone in central Baghdad while the rest of Iraq was called the Red Zone where the bad guys were, or to be more precise, where the bad guys wanted to spoil the party for the good guys. He mentioned how this differentiation of zones was so dangerous to winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Saddamists, Islamists, Iran, and Al Jazeera managed to even add colors to the gap.
US Avoidable Mistakes: I am sure we all know a number of those avoidable yet deadly mistakes, from disbanding the entire Iraqi army to allowing a poisonous useless one year old occupation. I could write an entire article on such mistakes but I believe it is over now. Allawi is already starting from scratch.
Now, am I prophesying doom and gloom? No. I believe that America will win indirectly. It will win when this Iraqi government paves the way for elections and when Iraq evolves into a decent country. I am not talking about a Denmark or even an India, but just a decent country. As a result, Bush should follow my steps and drop the quest for cultivating "hearts". His might come true in the coming years when Baghdad becomes another Dubai but not these days. If Bush is so insistent on picking up some hearts, he should really look at north Iraq. Well, that's for another post. Stay tuned.