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[casi] The Twin Towers and the Tower of Babel #1

Sep 10, 2003

The Twin Towers and the Tower of Babel
Part 1: Sleeping with the enemy
By Pepe Escobar

PARIS - Two years after September 11, 2001, the Washington neo-conservative
dream of a rainbow of democracy shining from Israel to Afghanistan and
traversing Iraq has vanished into thin air. From Kabul to Baghdad, the
vision is being wiped out by the truth of hard facts. 1) The American army
does not have the resources to play by itself the role of global sheriff. 2)
America is not prepared for or interested in nation-building. 3) Military
"victories", like Afghanistan and Iraq, mean nothing when they are not
complemented by moral and political legitimacy. The lack of legitimacy
creates a political void, immediately exploited by radical Islam.

Tribal Afghanistan is a Taliban-infested ungovernable chaos trespassed by an
anti-American jihad. Iraq is an ungovernable chaos bordering on civil war
and trespassed by an anti-American jihad. The Israeli-Palestinian roadmap
has been ripped apart. Al-Qaeda, a mutant virus, continues to strike from
east Africa to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Osama bin Laden and his
deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri remain on the loose in the Pakistan-Afghan tribal
areas. Taliban leader Mullah Omar leads the Afghan jihad from his hideout in
the mountains north of Kandahar. And Saddam Hussein, after losing yet
another war, has exploded a time bomb in the face of the Pentagon by
financing a great deal of the Iraqi resistance - a magnet now attracting
people from all over the Arab world.

Al-Qaeda is "celebrating" September 11 in its own sinister way, via a new
audiotape broadcast on al-Arabiyya satellite television on September 3. A
spokesman who identified himself as Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Najdi announced,
"There will be new attacks inside and outside [the US] which would make
America forget the attacks of September 11." But the spokesman denied that
al-Qaeda was involved in the car bombing that killed Ayatollah Muhammad Baqi
r al-Hakim and another 125 people in front of Imam Ali's Shrine in Najaf in
Iraq last month.

According to the al-Qaeda version, the US and Israel orchestrated the
bombing because they feared the ayatollah's connections with Iran, and also
to provoke trouble between Sunnis and Shi'ites and turn the Shi'ites against
Wahhabi-dominated al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda's objective, according to the
spokesman, remains "to fight the Americans and kill them everywhere on earth
and drive them out of Palestine, the Arabian peninsula and Iraq". Of course,
the tape has not failed to remind everyone that bin Laden and Mullah Omar
are alive and in jihad mode in Afghanistan.

The latest developments have proved once again that American conservatives'
pocket futurology is dead and buried. There has been no "end of history".
There has been no "death of ideology". Instead of these pre-Galilean
platitudes to which all would have been forced to submit, now it's
Medievalism all over again - with clashing sectarian apocalyptic visions
(born-again Christian fundamentalists against radical Islamists),
Inquisition tribunals (Guantanamo) and the horrors of war (Afghanistan,
Iraq, Palestine).

It's Medievalism - but mixed with the epitome of modernity. As John Gray, a
professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics argues in
his latest book (Al-Qaeda and what it means to be modern, London, Faber &
Faber), al-Qaeda is a by-product of globalization: "Its most distinctive
feature - projecting a privatized form of organized violence worldwide - was
impossible in the past." Gray goes to great lengths to stress that on
September 11, al-Qaeda "destroyed the West's ruling myth". And he sharply
demonstrates how "like communism and Nazism, radical Islam is modern. Though
it claims to be anti-Western, it is shaped as much by Western ideology as by
Islamic traditions. Like Marxists and neo-liberals, radical Islamists see
history as a prelude to a new world. All are convinced they can remake the
human condition. If there is a uniquely modern myth, this is it."

Just as the US re-invented and financed jihad in the early 1980s to combat
the "evil" Soviet empire in Afghanistan - and so contributed to the
emergence of this modern myth - by invading Iraq the US has opened up a new
Pandora's box, facilitating the alliance of Wahhabi, Afghan-Arab jihadis
with secular, Ba'athist operatives: "the deadliest of combinations"
according to European intelligence experts. The White House and the Pentagon
won't admit that Iraq is not tribal Afghanistan - and that the rule of
anarchy everywhere around Kabul cannot prevail in a country that George W
Bush wants to portray as the window of his democracy export program to the
Middle East. If the Iraqi adventure fails, it's the end of the American
pretense of fashioning the new world order, and it's the death knell for the
unilateralist neo-conservatives who have held the world hostage since
September 11.

As Asia Times Online has argued (Why the lessons of Vietnam do matter - Aug
20), Iraq is already a Vietnam in the sense that the most powerful army in
the world is again facing a popular war of national liberation - with no
exit strategy. It's a popular war in the sense that the resistance is
multi-faceted, composed by dozens of groups - left, center, religious,
non-religious, Shi'ite, Sunni, Kurd. It's a simultaneously nationalist,
Ba'athist and Islamist resistance. And like in Palestine, the resistance
exists as a direct consequence of the occupation - and not, as Israeli and
American spin would have it, because of "Islamic terrorists". To top it all,
the absolute key question in Iraq is not the fact that the Sunni triangle
(Baghdad-Ramadi-Tikrit) is engaged in a guerrilla war. If the Shi'ites also
go for it in the next few weeks, then one will be witnessing the end of the
neo-conservatives' fantasy.

Outside Iraq - not only in the Arab world but also in Europe, Asia and Latin
America - there's a pervasive cynical perception according to which the
Islamist scarecrow is an enemy made by US intelligence: invisible and
virtual, thus eternal. And very convenient as well, compared to the old
Soviet "evil empire". Franco-Palestinian writer and former peace negotiator
Ilan Halevi, in his book Face a la Guerre - Lettre from Ramallah (Paris,
Actes Sud) argues that one must distinguish Islamism in general from "the
international network created by the American secret services more than two
decades ago, essentially with anti-Soviet purposes, and which we are now
told it has staged a mutiny". The real tragedy is that hidden by the
Islamist scarecrow, one finds as hostages no less than the hundreds of
millions of people living in the Arab and Muslim world.

Two years after September 11 - and after the neo-conservatives have
squandered all the capital of sympathy that poured towards America from all
corners of the globe - cynicism towards the American "official" version of
events is also pervasive. From Rio to Rome and from Sydney to Saigon, many
started viewing "Islamic terror" as too convenient a scarecrow, so pliable
to the image Washington neo-conservatives want to project. This led to the
widespread suspicion that the boys at spy headquarters in Langley have let
it live and prosper during the 1990s to better illustrate the necessity of a
new never-ending war. It's important to remember that in the beginning of
the Bush administration the top candidate for enemy number 1 in a new Cold
War was China - until the Islamic terrorism scarecrow came, literally, out
of the sky.

Another impregnable perception is widely shared all over the world: the
American adventure in Iraq was not about weapons of mass destruction (which
simply have refused to show up); but, as British analyst Tariq Ali, author
of The Clash of Fundamentalisms puts it, "capturing an oil-producing country
with a regime that was very hostile to Israel, which was giving money to the
Palestinians". It was also a display of "theatrical militarism", a concept
coined by French historian Emmanuel Todd and already analyzed by Asia Times
Online (Theatrical militarism - Dec 4, 2002).

In the eyes of most of the Iraqi population, as well as most of the Arab and
Muslim world, the Bush adventure has not "liberated" Iraq, but replaced a
cruel dictatorship - which successive US governments encouraged and
supported until it went out of line - with a neocolonial regime headed by a
proconsul with absolute powers.

European intelligence experts have noted how Bush's recent messages have
been in fact designed to address the "liberated" Iraqi people, with the same
tone "you are either with us or against us". This means "accept our
occupation on our terms, or else". But as the Iraqi resistance stiffens -
and the secular "remnants of Saddam's regime" and radical Islam have finally
found a common goal - Washington has been forced to concede that it must
change its tactics. The alliance of what Iraqis are calling "the Saddam
network" with radical Islam is betting on a "Lebanonization" of Iraq.

The Bush administration for its part is now saying that it will leave the
country - or considerably reduce its military deployment - after the first
democratic elections, promised by proconsul L Paul Bremer for Spring 2004.
The deadly message seems to have hit home: the latest attacks have smashed
any channel of communication that might benefit American plans and
simultaneously demonstrated the powerlessness of the occupying force. But as
far as the American-appointed governing council is concerned, for the moment
the verdict is still open. It may be the first step towards really
representative government - although all major decisions are ultimately
taken by Bremer. Or it may represent the beginning of communal
fragmentation - opening the doors for a civil war.

Whatever the spin, George W Bush's decision of asking the United Nations to
issue a mandate for a multinational stabilizing force in Iraq is viewed in
the corridors of the European Union as concrete proof that the arrogance and
incompetence of the neo-conservatives led them to a quagmire. Diplomats warn
that Bush, as he appeals for help, will try simultaneously to dictate his
conditions to the UN. So "old Europe" - France and Germany, plus Russia - is
caught in a dilemma: how to help this American adventure that has been
condemned from the beginning? An EU diplomat sums it all up, "We cannot
allow Iraq to sink into horror and abjection just because we want to punish
George W Bush. But at the same time we cannot just bow our heads and march
into this mess the Americans themselves created, and now want to get rid

The EU, meeting in Riva del Garda, Italy, this past weekend, remains deeply
divided. Great Britain and Spain support Washington's proposal to the UN,
France, Germany and the Scandinavians are against it. As Anna Lindh, the
Swedish foreign minister puts it, "You cannot have a situation where the US
remains in control over what happens in Iraq and at the same time others
have to move in and take care of security and reconstruction."

UN blue helmets - which in fact are little else than mercenaries - may
eventually be offered the honor of trying to clean up the mess. So in the
corridors of the European Union inevitably there's great sadness about what
is ultimately the UN's irrelevancy and lack of independence: "The fact is
the UN simply cannot do anything against the will of the US. The maximum the
UN can aspire to is to clean up the empire's mess," says another diplomat.
Most Iraqis - who, let's not forget, are among the most well-educated people
in the Arab world after the Palestinians - share exactly the same view.
As Tariq Ali stresses, "For the US, the main thing in Iraq is to push
through the privatization of Iraq's oil, to achieve the liberalization of
the Iraqi economy and to get the big US corporations in there. They are not
too concerned as to how the country will be run. We are witnessing
imperialism in the epoch of neo-liberal economics and the 'Washington
consensus'. Why rebuild hospitals and recreate the state health service in
Iraq when you are dismantling it in your own countries?"

It's all there in Executive Order 13315, signed by Bush on August 28 and
conceived to "expand the scope of the national emergency declared in
Executive Order 13303 of May 22". By "blocking property of the former Iraqi
regime, its senior officials and their family members, and taking certain
other actions", the Executive Order in fact places Iraq's state assets under
total control of the US Treasury. It is by all means the
institutionalization of the looting of Iraq, under the banner of "Iraqi
reconstruction". Without any Iraqi being consulted, the Executive Order
implies that what benefits the Iraqi people benefits the US. With this
Executive Order duly signed, the Bush administration shouldn't have any
problems if it is forced to hand over a little control of Iraq to the UN.

If somebody should take the fall for most of the current, ghastly chaos in
Iraq, one has to look no further than American proconsul L Paul Bremer. On
May 23, as Bush issued his first Executive Order seizing control of Iraq's
assets, Bremer for his part signed a decree which simply dismantled the huge
Iraqi army - with more than 400,000 officers and soldiers. Furious with this
decision, a great deal of them subsequently fell or are falling right in the
lap of the Iraqi resistance movement. The decision was of course made in
Washington, possibly by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself. The
official spin was that it should signal the end of the former government.
Instead, it bolstered the resistance. European intelligence analysts comment
that this may have been perversely what the Pentagon had in mind: to force
the elusive nexus between the "remnants of Saddam's regime" and Islamists
related to al-Qaeda.

As Asia Times Online has described (The plot thickens - Aug 23) , the Iraqi
resistance works as myriad cells operated by former soldiers of Saddam's
army, each of them responding to a higher official with good military
training. All obey to a Central Command, a sort of clandestine joint chiefs
of staff. Crossing Iraqi information with European intelligence information,
it's possible to determine that the bulk of this "invisible" army is
composed by at least three different groups - all of them autonomous in
military as well in financial terms:

a.. The Iraqi mujahideen. Composed of non-members of the Ba'ath Party, plus
jihadis who have combat experience in Afghanistan and Chechnya and who come
from different Muslim countries. Practically everybody has guerrilla
training. This group may have up to 7,000 fighters.

a.. Al-Ansar (the Partisans). These are the famous "remnants of the Ba'ath
Party" the Pentagon is so fond of talking about . All the leaders have been
personally chosen by Saddam. They are spread out all over Iraq. No
manuscript messages, no radio, no satphone: the cells communicate only
through oral messages.

a.. Al-Muhajirun (the Emigrants) . These are a few members of the Iraqi
elite, plus Ba'ath Party officials, especially military strategists. They
are the hard core of the new Iraqi regime Saddam dreams of - if and when the
Americans leave.

Ali Hasan al-Majid, the notorious Chemical Ali, recently arrested, was in
theory the general director of the Saddam resistance, or what the Iraqis
themselves are calling the "Saddam network". Former vice president Taha
Yassin Ramadan, captured in Mosul on August 19, was the head of al-Ansar.
But Izzat Ibrahim, the former commander-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forcers,
and leader of the mujahideen, is still on the loose. Ibrahim was the main
enforcer of the Islamization of Iraqi society for these past 10 years. He is
the absolute key connection between the regime and prominent Islamists in
the wider Arab world. If he is arrested, this would be the closest that the
Pentagon will get to finding a link between Saddam's regime and al-Qaeda.

At least 100,000 former members of the Iraqi security services, especially
the Mukhabarat, all of them unemployed, are roaming the Sunni triangle.
Mohammed Khtair al-Dulami, head of the branch specialized on explosives,
poisoning and other special operations, has not been arrested yet. Former
Mukhabarat agents are acting as go-betweens for resistance fighters
interested in buying loads of weapons from all sorts of dealers operating in
the black market.

In a startling development, Washington was forced to swallow its own
propaganda and start recruiting hundreds of real "remnants of Saddam's
regime" - the feared Mukhabarat - to try to at least to identify the more
than 40 different groups that compose the resistance. Members of the
American-appointed interim governing council could not be but furious. This
is not only a sensational case of sleeping with the enemy, but it also
painfully highlights how the Americans simply have no access to ground

The Mukhabarat was one of the four branches - the best organized and the
most feared - of Saddam's security services. It was specialized in foreign
relations. The Pentagon is particularly interested in working with agents
familiar with Syria and Iran - also as an additional way to continue to
demonize both countries. The Mukhabarat was officially dissolved by Bremer
in early summer, as well as the ministries of information and defense. They
are back - paid in dollars, and chasing Iraqis again. When Iraqis knew about
it, is was one more nail in the coffin of the discredited American
democratic "vision".

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