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[casi] No kharabba at the end of the tunnel

Jul 19, 2003


No kharabba at the end of the tunnel

By Pepe Escobar

ABU DHABI - Wolfowitz of Arabia, the Pentagon's number two and the man who
sold the war on Iraq to George W Bush, stepped out of a C-17 cargo plane
after a 12-hour flight from Washington to Baghdad to, in his own words,
collect "first-hand evidence of what it means for the Iraqi people to be
liberated from decades of brutal repression".

Had he taken a proper tour of Baghdad he would have found evidence of a
"classic guerrilla-type campaign" - in the words of new US Central Command
chief General John Abizaid, who was forced to face reality and change the
official tack on "uncoordinated attacks by remnants of the Ba'ath regime".

Support for Abizaid's position came from none other than the specter of
Saddam Hussein - still invisible but very vocal despite a "massive manhunt"
and a US$25 million bounty on his head. In a new audio tape obtained by
al-Arabiya TV in Baghdad and broadcast hours before Paul Wolfowitz landed in
Iraq, the speaker purporting to be Saddam marks the 35th anniversary of the
Ba'ath Party's seizure of power by saying that Iraq is under "an
administration of occupation and evil". And yes, there is a guerrilla war
going on, which Saddam wants to turn into a jihad.

Wolfowitz met with the American proconsul in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and Lt Gen
Ricardo Sanchez, the senior US commander of the roughly 145,000 American
troops on the ground. Wolfowitz had nothing new to say because Bremer had
already stated on the record the Pentagon's judgement on Iraq: "The timing
of how long the coalition stays here is now in the hands of the Iraqi
people." Well, not really - as the US Army had just announced that the 3rd
Infantry Division would stay indefinitely.

Had he been to Fallujah, Wolfowitz would have heard cries of "There's no God
but Allah, and Bush is the enemy of God." In Fallujah there are now between
four and eight attacks every week on US patrols and positions. In the Sunni
belt, there have been attacks against Iraqi engineers - deemed to be
"collaborators" - and against oil pipelines and liquid natural gas plants.
The guerrillas' master plan is to prevent any possible normalization of the
American occupation.

Aggressive American raids to pre-empt guerrilla attacks, arrest suspects and
seize arms, ammunition and cash have been met with tremendous hostility by
Iraqis. The anger has been compounded with the announcement of the number of
civilian victims of the war: between 6,055 and 7,706, according to the
pacifist Anglo-American NGO Iraq Body Count , based on reports by a dozen
independent research projects spread all over the country.

A group called the Iraqi Liberation Army, in a statement addressed to UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said it will "resist any military intervention
and under any cover from the UN or the Security Council, NATO, or Islamic
and Arab countries". Moreover, different sources in the Arab world tell of
widespread Iraqi discontent with the recently-nominated 25-member "governing
council" which will theoretically rule for one year, but under strict
surveillance by Bremer.

UN sources confirmed to Asia Times Online that according to a document
subject to bitter negotiations with Bremer, and which will not be released
in the near future, the governing council has the power to appoint ministers
and diplomatic representatives, to vote on the budget and to form a
committee of 8 to 10 judges who will be charged of writing the future Iraqi
constitution. But Bremer still maintains the right to veto.

Saddam's regime has not been replaced with a smooth transition to
democracy - as Washington promised the world. Chaos is still the norm. Even
with Bremer's council up and running, the whole mindset, from an American
perspective, is still high on military alertness and low on reconstruction
activity. Pragmatic businessmen in Abu Dhabi agree that the much-vaunted
battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people cannot be won.

Subject to daily distress, most Iraqis are not allowed the luxury of even
bothering with the political process. Their real, pressing problem is the
absence of kharabba - electricity. With temperatures reaching 50 degrees
Celsius and non-stop power cuts, tempers couldn't be hotter. Bremer said
that before the war slightly more than half of Iraq's electricity needs were
assured. It's not true: there was no substantial lack of power in Saddam's
Iraq. Nowadays production is around 3,100MW, which covers less than half of
the country's needs. It may be argued whether American bombing spared Iraq's
infrastructure this time, but the fact is that high-tension lines south of
Baghdad were hit by bombing. At the end of April, the lucrative contract for
reconstruction and renovation of Iraq's electricity grid was awarded to the
Bush-connected Bechtel Corporation. But nothing has happened so far.

Baghdad South's power plant was conceived to generate 350MW. Slightly before
Saddam's fall it hardly generated 200. Today it generates not more than
165MW. Some high-tension lines have been attacked by the so-called Ali
Baba - who can be regarded as anything between authentic Iraqi resistance or
Kalashnikov-equipped bandits in search of copper to be resold in the black
market. The fact remains that the Americans simply cannot patrol all of
Iraq's 17,000 kilometers of high-tension lines. US estimates are that three
years are necessary to restore the electricity grid. Kharabba, not jihad,
may be the US's nemesis in Iraq.

Iraqis complain that there's no distribution of food rations, no creation of
jobs, no reconstruction. Practically everybody is convinced that the US cut
off the power to "punish Iraq". Iraqis are living under the impression of
being governed by a colonizing power that does not need to consult them and
does not need to inform them. For many, the lack of kharabba is much more
important than corpses being recovered from Saddam's mass graves.

As the Americans retreat into siege mode, they are cutting themselves
entirely off from a populace that was not hostile when they arrived as
glorious invaders. The US arguably lost this war in the first days after the
"fall" of Baghdad on April 9. Those days of widespread looting in April are
deeply ingrained in Iraqi minds. There would be a lot more respect for a
victor able to preserve the riches of a conquered country. And now the talk
in the Iraqi street is still of those days in June when there was no
electricty but oil exports had resumed.

The US military show in Iraq costs almost $4 billion a month. The US
military show in Afghanistan costs almost $1 billion a month. There's been
an anti-American jihad going on in Afghanistan for almost a year now. And
there's been an anti-American jihad going on in Iraq since even before
Saddam's self-proclaimed starting date of July 27. As things stand, there
seems to be no kharabba at the end of the tunnel.

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