Stupidity has lost the ‘war’ in Iraq.
This discussion is not about the justification for invading Iraq – that ship has already sailed. This is about who is killing whom in Iraq and who is to blame.
The ‘war’ in Iraq is not a war (civil or otherwise) – it’s not organised enough. In a war you have an enemy and you can obliterate that enemy by all means possible. The US is capable of winning any ‘war’.
Unfortunately, this situation is far more complex and is not really a war as such.
Who is killing whom in Iraq? The vast majority of deaths are so called ‘Muslims’ killing fellow Muslims – mostly indiscriminately. (This is a fact conveniently overlooked by those Islamists who portray the Iraq situation as a Western war against Muslims).
There’s no such thing as ‘the Iraqi people’ as a single entity. They exist in many complex factions and groups, with many overlaps.
- Pro-Saddam secular Baathists
- Pro-Iranian theocrats (mostly Shia)
- Anti-Iranian theocrats (mostly Sunni)
- Al Qaeda ex-pats on assignment in Iraq
- Locals operatives running the Al Qaeda franchise
- Gangs calling themselves Al Qaeda, because it makes them feel important
- Secular robbers and kidnappers (operating on a commercial basis)
- Tribe members with ancient family feuds
- Anti-Saddam secular modernists
- Angry, dispossessed, hurt individuals full of hate and with nothing left to lose
The list goes on and on. (The vast majority of Iraqis, of course, just want peace and stability). This is why a ‘civil war’ would be easier to deal with; it would imply a degree of organisation – and therefore potential for negotiation and coordination – which does not exist today.
Whatever the motives and agenda which brought the US and its allies into Iraq, the following is true going forward. The ‘West’ would like to exit from a peaceful, prosperous, stable Iraq, with a functioning infrastructure and commitment to human rights, an Iraq that is not a problem or a threat to anyone in the region (eg Saudi Arabia, Israel), an Iraq from which the oil flows freely and to the benefit of the Iraqi people (as well as the West). That is what the vast majority of Iraqis would like to have as well, instead of this unbearable pain and suffering and grieving.
But the various factions (religious and criminal) know that if the West has its way, they will not be able to force their own agendas, so they have one strategy in common. If they can make the occupation of Iraq too painful for the Coalition to endure, then the foreign troops may be forced to leave and the Iraqi groups will be free to kill each other and terrorise the Iraqi people as they please. Hence the endless bombings and kidnappings.
In order to propagate this senseless violence, and keep the heat up, Al Qaeda and the religious factions have a very simple and effective strategy. They put out the message that the ‘West’ is in Iraq because it hates Islam and wants to kill and oppress Muslims. They create a twisted ideology that presents a moral case for killing foreign troops and workers – and suicide attacks are crafted into holy acts of martyrdom. To someone who is hindered by ignorance and illiteracy, and twisted by loss, poverty, grief and rage, it can be made into quite an attractive proposition.
It did not help that one of the US’s post-Saddam reconstruction strategies was to fire everyone who had any kind of ‘government’ job: central government, local administration, education, civil service, utilities, oil production, police, state-owned manufacturing etc. (In Iraq, all major industry was state-owned). The resulting 500,000 unemployed workers (and several million dependents), with no way to provide for their families in an increasingly violent and chaotic society, provide an ample source of suicide bombers.
It does not help that some US troops have a very twitchy trigger-finger, as they exist in a continuous state of fear that the next Iraqi coming towards them might be a suicide bomber.
But in order for the suicide bombing ideology to work it is necessary to completely dehumanise the Westerners, to present them as a unified, homogenous entity with a common intent: the destruction of Islam and the humiliation of Iraqis.
If you are a Westerner, if you live in the West, you know what a crass simplification and gross distortion this is. But if you don’t ‘know’ the West, you are susceptible to such brainwashing by people with their own sinister agendas, and all you have to go on is the evidence you are shown.
Those Muslims in Britain who buy into the idea that the situation in Iraq is part of a sinister, coordinated war ‘against Islam’ need to wake up. They have no excuse and should know that the West is generally economically motivated, rather than theologically motivated. Iraq was a secular country under Saddam, brewing beer in state-owned breweries and making war on its Islamic neighbours. British and American soldiers were sent to Bosnia to protect Muslims – how does that fit into their theory?
The Iraqi people themselves are critical to the outcome of the peace and reconstruction process. Without their help, the Coalition can never succeed. If they are alienated and uncooperative, full of pain and self-destructive rage, then the Coalition is doomed to fail. So, although it’s a clichéd phrase, it really is true: this ‘war’ is for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Iraqi people.
But this fragile process of stabilising Iraq by winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people has been sabotaged by a few acts of unspeakable stupidity.
Most prominent amongst these was the abuse in Abu Ghraib, which was a triple act of stupidity:
1. that the abuse took place,
2. that the abuse was photographed,
3. that the photos were released for the whole world to see.
I lived in America for five years, I go there often, I have many American friends. Those I spoke to were shocked by the pictures from Abu Ghraib. Whilst not denying their authenticity, my friend Sean was adamant: “We don’t do torture.”
Meaning, those individuals who are responsible for these acts were betraying American values and betraying their fellow service personnel. For every American solider killed in Iraq since the Abu Ghraib scandal, a portion of the blame lies with Specialist Charles Graner and Private Lynndie England and the others responsible. They have made this situation near-impossible to fix, made the cost in Coaliton lives unbearably high and further prolonged the suffering of the Iraqi people.
British forces had managed to avoid some of the mistakes being made (under intense pressure) by some American forces, and had managed not to be too trigger-happy when faced with possible danger, although misunderstandings can still happen.
Sue Townsend describes the dilemma of British troops beautifully and comically in ‘Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction’. Glenn, Adrian’s son, is a soldier serving in Iraq, and describes a frightening incident in a letter back to Adrian. Glenn was on patrol in Basra and gave an Iraqi child a boiled sweet. It got stuck in the boy’s windpipe, and he started choking to death. Glenn grabbed him by the ankles, hung him upside down and shook him vigorously to try to dislodge the sweet. Passers-by observed this and – not knowing anything about the sweet – a hostile crowd formed.
"I can't speak Iraqi and nobody seemed to understand what 'boiled sweet' meant, so I weren't too popular," wrote Glenn. So much for winning Iraqi 'hearts and minds'.
Misunderstandings and isolated incidents aside, there was a perception that British forces were ‘human’, compassionate, less trigger-happy and really did care about the Iraqi people. But that inconvenient (to Al Qaeda) truth was soon vapourised by the British ‘abuse’ photos published in the Daily Mirror.
Al Qaeda must have been laughing their socks off. The photos were a wonderful gift to them. They would have taken copies of those newspapers to every remote village, cave, valley and oasis and what do you think they said?
“See our brothers, how the Crusader infidels urinate on our beloved Muslim brothers in Iraq. Everything we told you is true. They hate Muslims and want to kill and humiliate them. Even their own newspapers show this! They are evil agents of Satan and it is our duty to fight against them, sacrificing our lives in defence of our people.”
Faced with the damning evidence of a British newspaper, the poor, semi-literate, uninformed and not media-savvy individuals being presented with these pictures will not have been able to conduct any informed and objective analysis of the photos – uniform not quite right, gun too shiny, equipment not regulation – and will have bought the whole story. ‘The ‘West’ really does hate Muslims. It really is our duty to lay down our lives in defence of our people.’
Once the photos were proven to be fake, do you think that Al Qaeda went back to every remote village, cave, valley and oasis and told everyone that there had been a mistake. Of course not. To this day there are people in the Islamic world (and probably a few ignorant, paranoid Muslims in Britain) who believe that those photos were real, that the West really is an evil force out to destroy Muslims and to this day British and American soldiers are being killed due, at least in part, to those photos.
Piers Morgan’s decision to publish those photos – whether real or fake, it doesn’t matter – was an act of greed, stupidity and treason. A private meeting with the Prime Minister would have been the honourable option, an expression of concern, a commitment to an investigation promised. No dirty laundry should be aired to a global public, at a time of war, placing our service personnel in impossible and deadly situations.
This was an act of utter stupidity. Even if the photos had been real, there was no justification (except 30 pieces of silver) for publishing them for the world to see, making the position of our troops in Iraq completely untenable.
Whilst Piers Morgan has walked away to pursue some kind of ‘celebrity’ Hollywood career ('America's Got Talent'), British and American soldiers are dying every week due, in part, to the publication of those photos. And the suffering of the Iraqi people will continue indefinitely.
“Against stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in vain.” Friedrich von Schiller