Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Studies in Chaos Theory

Nir Rosen's book In the Belly of the Green Bird is a gripping and gritty account of the American occupaiton of Iraq, from mostly an Iraqi perspective. Rosen, who speaks Iraqi-accented Arabic, worked in Iraq as a free-lance journalist from April, 2003, soon after the invasion, to early 2005. He observed and mixed with Iraqis, interviewed insurgents as well as accompanying US army units on raids, heard and collected sermons at the major mosques in Iraq. His main tale is about how the occupation forces blew it, time after time, locale after locale. They turned the population's initial ambivalence into extreme hostility; they enabled various groups to plunge into violent, escalating conflict over the succession to power. The reasons were the same that Thomas Ricks finds in his closer study of the US operations themselves Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq: A confusion of goals, lack of security in the months following the invasion, lack of interest in the Iraqis and their welfare, cultural and linguistic ignorance, heavy handed, misinformed and frightened responses to agitation.

By the time Rosen left Iraq in 2005, nearly every Iraqi was certain that the US was encouraging violence to "divide and rule" and perpetuate its stay in Iraq. Noam Chomsky & Gilbert Achcar in their forthcoming Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy make the same argument on the basis of a fine grained looked at various moves by US officials, like Paul Bremer, that played off one Iraqi faction against another in the allocation of power.

Rosen's and the other books have takeaways that certainly belie the neo-conservatives' dream of the New Middle East and the competence of their agents.
  • A conventional army, staffed by uneducated kids and commanded by callous officers, is not the best instrument for the policing and administration that a successful "liberation" requires. On the other, as seen in the recent Israel war against Hezbollah, the use of the conventional army for policing blunts its fighting skills.
  • Almost all the Arab Iraqis Rosen met were virulently anti-Semitc and anti-Israel. They understood and demonstrated against the occupation as part of a Zionist or Jewish plot to dominate the world.
  • The insurgencies in Iraq have deep religious inspiration. Most insurgents see themselves in a dramatic struggle of the faithful against injustice and evil.
    • The Iraqi Shiites saw their struggle against the occupation as a recreation of the foundational story of Shiism -- the fight and martyrdom of Hussain against the wicked Yazid. This was the same story in which the Ayatollah Khomenei in the late 1970s, cast the Iranian people in its struggle against the Shah.
    • Some Iraqi Sunni insurgents and the foreign jihadists see themselves recreating the struggle of Muhammed and his companions against the infidels and Jewish tribes.
  • Rosen makes brilliant use of mosque sermons that he and his friends recorded as indicators of political trends among the Iraqis. Collection and analysis of sermons was an idea that some political and information scientists repeated proposed to the US Defense Department, only to be rejected each time.


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