"War suits Baghdad"

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It’s like you’re in a packed car — or let’s say, under the circumstances, an armored Humvee — and you’re heading for the train tracks and the locomotive, that big, black, ugly thing is bearing down on you. All you have to do to see it is look out the front windshield. And here’s what you’re discussing: the bleak scenery, the gas station you left miles back, the gas gauge at quarter-empty, the lack of a good meal, the insufficiency of your brakes. And here’s the weird thing, as in any nightmare, you know what’s about to happen and you can’t turn back. You can only hope you’ll wake up.

Baghdad, immobile as it is, has always been that speeding train. I think the US military high command has known it from second one. It’s been chasing them out of their sleep for endless months. It’s the logical endpoint of “regime change” in Iraq. During the day, of course, you can always look the other way — you imagine friendly uprisings, or coup d’etats, or missile-assassins “decapitating” your enemy, or the tyrant fleeing into exile or shot by one of his generals, or something called “shock and awe” that will bring Baghdad to its psychological knees in a military nanosecond. But every time you go to sleep, there it is again, and in the meantime, you can’t take the far smaller city of Basra or even places that are little more than isolated towns along your route.

I mean the truth is, this would be a pretty damn good war, all in all, if you didn’t have to take that city. If they’d just come out and be slaughtered, or go away, or something. It goes without saying that you’ve got a high-tech plan with all sorts of “flexibility,” many modalities, for taking the City. You’re not going to be like the Germans in Stalingrad or the Israelis in Beirut. You’re going to grab it in a series of heli-hopping attacks on strong points or whatever. It’s brilliantly conceived, sure to succeed, a kind of ground “shock and awe” from which the enemy regime will crumble and the people will greet you with, well, maybe not flowers anymore but

So, your planes begin to bomb more desperately and indiscriminately, and you have a few more cups of coffee from that thermos and maybe a little speed because you’re in that Humvee and you’re getting closer to where you knew you probably were going all along, and you just don’t want to go to sleep tonight because you already know that, even if your plan works, this was where you never wanted to be.

Of course, the neocons, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest of the crew avoided this problem. Evidently, they just didn’t sleep for a decade — and then there was one man who evidently never even heard of the problem, or any other predictable problem of this war, who never had his sleep disturbed. That man, according to a piece in the Charlotte Observer, “Bush reportedly shielded from dire forecast” (found on the invaluable and recently expanded site), was the President and as everybody claims, he sleeps soundly indeed. That piece begins:

“President Bush’s aides did not forcefully present him with dissenting views from CIA and State and Defense Department officials who warned that U.S.-led forces could face stiff resistance in Iraq, according to three senior administration officials.

“Instead, Bush embraced predictions of top administration hawks, beginning with Vice President Dick Cheney, who predicted Iraqis would joyously greet coalition troops as liberators and that the entire conflict might be over in a matter of weeks, the officials said.

“Instead, Bush embraced predictions of top administration hawks, beginning with Vice President Dick Cheney, who predicted Iraqis would joyously greet coalition troops as liberators and that the entire conflict might be over in a matter of weeks, the officials said.

“Dissenting views ‘were not fully or energetically communicated to the president,’ said one top official, who, like the others, requested anonymity. ‘As a result, almost every assumption the plan’s based on looks to be wrong.'”

To read the rest of the Charlotte Observer piece click here

Three recent pieces, one more chilling than the next, give us a sense of what the taking of Baghdad might actually involve. Eric Margolis, the conservative columnist for the Toronto Sun offers a blistering review of the war so far and what’s to come. (It’s worth remembering that a significant group of conservatives, who have been willing to stare out that front windshield, think the neocons who have Washington by the throat are madmen.) Then Simon Jenkins of the British Times considers the history of urban warfare. Finally, Patrick Graham of the British Observer offers an unforgettable description of the state of the city and its environs — “War,” he writes, “suits Baghdad.” — that the Americans will very soon head for. (The Los Angeles Times also had a reasonably vivid piece on the subject of urban warfare today – Wars Take Some Nasty Turns on City Streets.) Tom

Once More into the swamp
Eric Margolis, Contributing Foreign Editor
The Toronto Sun
March 30, 2003

The opening weeks of the Second Oil War against Iraq – a.k.a. Operation Iraq Freedom – produced the advertised “shock and awe” all right, but it came in Washington rather than bombarded Baghdad.

The immediate uprisings against Great Satan Saddam, the quick, almost effortless “liberation” of Iraq, and the joyous reception by grateful Iraqis promised by the neo-conservatives who misled America into this increasingly ugly war have been exposed as a farrago of lies or distortions.

Iraqis, quite clearly, do not want to be “liberated” – even many who have long opposed Saddam’s brutal regime. To the contrary, the American-British invasion appears to have ignited genuine national resistance among 17 million Arab Iraqis, just as the 1941 German invasion of the USSR rallied Russians and Ukrainians behind Stalin’s hated regime.

To read more Margolis click here

Baghdad will be hard to conquer
By Simon Jenkins
The Times of London
March 28, 2003

An astonishing event is about to happen, writes Simon Jenkins. For the first time in modern history a city with the population of London is preparing to resist assault from a land army. The outcome of such a struggle is wholly imponderable. Cities hate soldiers. Sometimes they throw them kisses. More often they throw them grenades. Defiant cities are near impossible to conquer.

It is inconceivable that American and British forces will simply turn from Baghdad and go home. Since the death and destruction involved in an assault could be appalling, any humanitarian must fervently hope that the Iraqi authorities sue for peace or President Saddam Hussein suffers a putsch. At present there is little prospect of either.

To read more Jenkins click here

Bloodied but still unbowed, Baghdad prepares to fight
Patrick Graham in Baghdad
The Observer
March 30, 2003

When the bombs drop at night in Baghdad, Muthana Mohammed Saleh wakes up and sings into a microphone. His call of ‘Allah Akbar’ from the minaret of the mosque mingles with low booms around the city.

Muthana is far more reliable than the air raid sirens that sound either too early or much too late. We’ve timed Muthana, whose father’s mosque is around the corner from our hotel, and he has got it down to less than a minute from the first explosion. The bombing strategy appears to have changed in the last few days, giving Muthana a lot of practice.

With the symbolic targets destroyed early on and the liberation of the city not going as planned, the allied planners are working their way down the list. On Friday they knocked out three telecoms exchanges using bunker-busting missiles that made the ground shake in the surrounding area.

To read more Graham click here