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Death toll mounts in Iraq quagmire

by Susan Webb Saturday, Apr. 10, 2004 at 2:07 PM
pww@pww.org 212-924-2523 235 W 23st., NYC 10011

A series of confrontational actions by the U.S. occupation triggered armed uprisings throughout Iraq in the last week, costing the lives of dozens of Americans and well over 100 Iraqis.





A series of confrontational actions by the U.S. occupation triggered armed uprisings throughout Iraq in the last week, costing the lives of dozens of Americans and well over 100 Iraqis. Hundreds more were wounded. The casualties also included several from U.S. “coalition partner” countries.

In a three-day period, 15 Marines were killed and two dozen wounded, along with many Iraqis, in the majority Sunni areas of Fallujah and Ramadi. In one incident, the U.S. dropped a 500-pound, laser-guided bomb on a Fallujah mosque, killing as many as 40 people.

Meanwhile, a series of uprisings surged in Baghdad and majority Shiite cities and towns to the south. It marked a new turn in the Iraq crisis, since the U.S. occupation had regarded Iraq’s Shiite regions as peacefully tolerating the U.S. military presence. Shiites make up 60 percent of Iraq’s population, and were heavily oppressed under the Saddam Hussein regime.

Two recent actions by the U.S. occupation sparked this new, angry response.

Last week, Coalition Provisional Authority chief L. Paul Bremer ordered a 60-day closure of a newspaper published by a fundamentalist Shiite group led by Moktada al-Sadr.

The U.S. crackdown on al-Sadr, who has attracted support among young and impoverished Shiites, sent thousands of armed Iraqis into the streets of Baghdad and other cities in protest.

The U.S. responded with massive military force, sending tanks and combat vehicles into Sadr City, a Baghdad shantytown of some 2 million people. The fighting left eight Americans and several dozen Iraqis dead. The next day U.S. occupation officials announced a murder warrant against al-Sadr for the killing of a moderate cleric last year. They would not explain why they chose to announce the warrant at this time.

In the days following, armed uprisings have continued throughout the country, adding casualties daily.

Juan Cole, a scholar of Middle Eastern history and religion at the University of Michigan who follows Iraq developments closely, comments in his weblog that, while “there is little doubt that [the U.S.] can prevail eventually in a military sense … it is clear that urban crowds are supporting the uprising in some numbers.”

Iraqi Communist Party spokesperson Salam Ali told the World that al-Sadr has strong support in Sadr City, named for al-Sadr’s father, a prestigious cleric who was assassinated at the behest of Saddam Hussein.

In mid-March, the Marines launched an offensive in the so-called “Sunni Triangle,” moving troops into populated centers, along with private guns-for-hire working under Pentagon contracts. The Marines had been brought in to replace an Army division, which had pulled back to the outskirts of Fallujah and other towns. Marine commander Major Gen. James Mattis declared, “For those who want to fight, for the foreign fighters and foreign regime people, they’ll regret it. We’re going to handle them very roughly.”

Fallujah residents bitterly showed Guardian reporter Jonathan Steele homes that had been ransacked and littered by U.S. Marines during daily and nightly raids. “The U.S. is indirectly supporting the resistance by targeting innocent people,” Shaban Rajab, a taxi-driver, told Steele.

Then, on March 31, four U.S. private “security” forces were ambushed in Fallujah, their bodies mutilated, burned and hung from a bridge. The gruesome actions were widely denounced by Iraqis of all faiths and political leanings.

The U.S. military responded by sending in tanks and armored vehicles, with warplanes firing overhead. In just one day of the U.S. offensive, doctors said 36 Iraqis were killed and dozens were wounded, including women and children. Four houses were destroyed by airstrikes.

ICP spokeperson Salam Ali described the U.S. response as “collective punishment.” Similar tactics, prohibited by international law, have been used by the Israeli army to repress Palestinian resistance to occupation.

“The U.S. campaign for the hearts and minds of Iraqis has been a miserable failure,” Ali said.

Freelance journalist David Enders, who returned from Iraq in January after several months there, noted “a higher level of desperation” among the Iraqi people, especially the poor and dispossessed. The economy hasn’t gotten much better, and, for those who had any savings, those are starting to run out, he told the World.

Saddam Hussein gave out months’ worth of ration coupons in advance, he noted. Now the coupons are gone and inflation is skyrocketing. “People are giving up, they are just fed up,” Enders said.

Stephen Zunes, a University of San Francisco political science professor who focuses on the Middle East, told the World, “My guess is Sadr’s militias can do a few things to make things uncomfortable” for the U.S. But if the crisis drags on, Zunes believes moderate Shiite clerics may call for a massive non-cooperation movement against the occupation, similar to the movement that toppled the Shah of Iran. That would pose the biggest challenge to the U.S. occupation, he said.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.



Originally published by the People’s Weekly World









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