A colonial occupation will never work in Iraq

March 14, 2003

SANA’A, YEMEN – The Yanks’ war plan sounds solid enough on paper.

Capture land in Iraq quickly. Use it to set up bases for further attacks. Bomb Saddam’s palaces and cut command centres from the rest of the country to quicken the government’s collapse.

Then make a seamless transition to military occupation. Don’t get caught in ugly street fighting. Deliver food. Get Iraqis involved with a new economic plan. Unfurl the flag of democracy.

A post-war Iraq should then become as well adjusted as Germany and Japan after the Allies pummeled and rebuilt those two countries. Now the best part. The way will finally be clear for peace in the occupied territories. It all seems so appealing. Let’s get pizza and ice-cream, watch Friends and catch the rest on the late news. Actually, it’s like a Star Trek episode where the prime directive gets tossed out the window. Powerful captains and starships run amok in galaxies that aren’t their own.

Explore. Offer light in darkness if you can. But the prime directive says to always let other worlds, lost as they may seem, find their own way. Never write their history. Otherwise, your interference will eventually return and hit you between the eyes like a nasty boomerang. Captain George W. Bush and his commanders don’t seem to see it coming.

Waiting for Saddam to sit up straight isn’t the answer either. But here are some things to ponder about the Yanks’ plan.

First, Iraq is neither Germany nor Japan. Muslim-Arabs will always value preserving the past more than working towards any kind of economic miracle. More so, because since its early days as ancient Babylon, Iraq has been a fiercely nationalistic land. An office colleague of mine, Mohammed Abbas, an Iraqi journalist for 30 years and former chief editor of the Baghdad Observer, put it well when telling me modern Iraq is in fact “xenophobic about being occupied.”

This is because it endured British occupation through part of the 20th century. Abbas remembers well his father’s stories about the ongoing resistance of everyday Iraqis after the Brits moved in, apparently as liberators, after the First World War.

“People who lived through the British occupation won’t forget that. They still hate them,” he said.

So, this enterprising American invasion hits very sensitive territory for Arabs. Canada, for example, threw off British colonialism in 1867, a full 100 years before the Brits left former South Yemen.

Folks here simply believe war on Iraq is less about disarming Saddam than it is an attempt to reshape this region’s geopolitical map once and for all.

That’s not to say the Yanks are just after oil or long-term occupation per se. But check out a map. To acquire an extremely strategic hub of influence in this region, all they need is a western-friendly regime in Baghdad.

This is why Captain Bush thinks — rightly or wrongly — that a subdued Iraq will bring peace to the occupied territories.

The whole thing, notes Abbas, is hardly a new idea. “I remember reading in the ’70s in Time and Newsweek about how Americans were trying to figure out how to control the warm-water region,” he says.

What is relatively new — and timely — is that Iraq is run by a delusional madman that even most Arabs don’t like. In addition, the attacks of 9/11 and the resulting war on terror have opened a new window of opportunity. As the song goes, it’s now or never.

Still, the quagmire remains. Many Iraqis may not fight to defend Saddam, but you can bet they’ll fight over the long haul to defend their sovereignty. You think you’ve seen suicide bombings up to now?

That won’t happen if Arabs accept the Yanks as friends instead of new forms of former colonial masters. From what I see at this end, however, that’s not the case.

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March 14, 2003 • Posted in ,
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