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Uprising is a mirage in Iraq’s deserts

by Tricky Dick Saturday, Mar. 29, 2003 at 4:45 AM

Southern Iraq is rising against the coalition forces and not against -- as US forces would want the world to believe -- Saddam Hussein’s regime.

From The Indian Express (India)

Friday, March 28, 2003




Uprising is a mirage in Iraq’s deserts


UMM QASR, MARCH 27: Southern Iraq is rising against the coalition forces and not against -- as US forces would want the world to believe -- Saddam Hussein’s regime. In Umm Qasr, this correspondent was surrounded by hundreds of Iraqi men chanting songs praising Saddam. ‘‘We will give our blood as sacrifice for you, Saddam,’’ they sang.

Southern Iraq is Shia territory and hence was considered by US planners as a region where Saddam’s army would surrender easily. It was key to the American strategy -- that the Iraqi resistance in the region would collapse under the weight of the hi-tech war machinery ‘‘within two or three days’’. But that has not happened. Even in Umm Qasr, the only urban centre in Iraq under nominal control of coalition forces, British troops deployed to secure access for humanitarian aid appeared cagey.

In Safwan, which broadly falls in the Umm Qasr jurisdiction, Colonel Steve Holmes, who is in charge of the security, said: ‘‘We are watching the situation closely. Some people are stirring up the pot. When Saddam is gone they will root for someone else.’’

The fact that Iraqi civilians have taken up arms to fight coalition forces was enough of an indication that the coalition forces have, perhaps, miscalculated that Iraqis would welcome them as a liberating force. The reality is that the Iraqis see the coalition forces as an occupying force. ‘‘Amriki, Britaania, go back,’’ slogans pierced through the stillness of desert air. Hundreds of Iraqi men converged around us, danced and shouted, ‘‘No, No Bush, Saddam good good.’’

US planners are not being able to wish away the reality of farmers shooting down Apache helicopters and the prospect of large-scale civilian participation in Iraqi resistance. The grim situation has manifested in the decision of the coalition forces to redesignate the one-million strong Basra as a legitimate military target.

The Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society delegates who accompanied the first-aid consignment to southern Iraq were shocked by the vitriolic reception they received. Even as the Iraqis fought for food aid, they unleashed abuses at Kuwaitis, Americans and British. Hani Al Jassef, spokesperson for Red Crescent Society, Kuwait, tried hard to play down the scene. ‘‘I am not talking about Saddam. I am talking about my people... Maybe they are singing songs in praise of Saddam right now, but I didn’t hear them. All I can tell you is that we brought aid,’’ he said.

When asked whether he was surprised by the Iraqi hostility, he said: ‘‘Do you mean what they are doing to us right now? Of course.’’ Al Jassef changed tack and said, ‘‘I am not surprised actually. Bombs are dropping everywhere. They are scared. They are telling my group, my team members that they need electricity, water, food, shelter.’’

The coalition top brass now hope that support for Saddam in Southern Iraq is just a reaction to the popular perception that the coalition forces are occupying in nature. ‘‘I think today’s events reflect that. If the allies, the coalition forces, go to Baghdad now and topple Saddam’s regime rapidly, then the country will quieten down quickly,’’ said Richard Watson, a journalist with BBC’s Newsnight programme. But if the war drags on for couple of weeks more, then the mood in Iraq might become more nasty for the coalition forces. ‘‘It (the situation in Iraq) has the feel of a crisis. It’s on the cusp now...’’ Watson felt.

And that ‘‘occupying’’ image is something that the coalition commanders are striving to alter.

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