More Milestones in Iraq

27 October 2005

More Milestones in Iraq

 By Gwynne Dyer

There’s not much industry in Iraq any more, but one industry is thriving: historical milestones. It came up with two new ones just last week: a brand new constitution, and the 2,000th American soldier to die in Iraq. But just as with the country’s other main product, turning points, Iraqi milestones are not quite as solid as they seem.

Take the constitution. It took an astonishingly long time to count and recount the votes until the results finally came out right, but ten days after the referendum on 15 October, the Iraqi authorities announced the glad news. Only two of the country’s eighteen provinces, Anbar and Salaheddin, had voted against the constitution by more than a two-thirds majority, so it had passed. If a third province had done the same, it would have failed — but miraculously, the third province that seemed certain to do so, didn’t.

Like the other two, the third province, Nineveh, has a Sunni Arab majority. Sunni Arabs are almost all hostile to the new, American-backed federal constitution, which they see as the gateway to civil war and artition. In Anbar, where practically everybody is Sunni Arab, 97 percent of the voters said no to the constitution. But in Nineveh, where 68 percent are Sunni Arabs, the vote-counters finally declared that only 55 percent of the voters had said no, which fell short of the two-thirds threshold to reject the constitution. How odd.

It is particularly odd because most of the other people in Nineveh province are Assyrian Christians, Shabaks, Yezidis and Turkmens who also strongly opposed the constitution, mainly because of its strong Islamic flavour. Only the Kurds in Nineveh, a mere 8 percent minority, supported it.

But in the end it hardly matters that the constitution probably had some unofficial help in getting ratified, because there is no longer an Iraqi state to be ruled by it. There are government ministers in Iraq, and even an army of sorts (though up to half its personnel are fictional, invented solely to justify their pay-cheques), but there is not a state.

In Iraq in 2005, each ministry is the private fief of the party that controls it, not an obedient branch of a central government. Most officials and soldiers are stealing all they can, for they know that their present jobs will not exist in a few years’ time. The kidnapping-for-ransom phenomenon has got so bad that the Iraqi middle class is emigrating en masse to Jordan. And through it all slip the fighters and bombers of the resistance, killing almost at will.

Which brings us to last week’s other milestone, the 2,000th American soldier to die in Iraq. For months this moment has been built up in the Western media as the time when the American public might at last mobilise against this lost war fought for the wrong reasons. But I listened carefully all day and I didn’t hear a single tectonic plate move.

There are three reasons for the silence. One is that most of the Americans who are dying in Iraq are poor people’s kids, and most poor people don’t know how to organise and network politically. If there is no draft (conscription) to threaten the lives of middle-class kids, there won’t be a big anti-war movement.

Two is that two thousand dead soldiers (and 15,000 injured soldiers, half of whom have lost a limb or their sight or their mind) is not really all that many in a country whose population is nearing 300 million. More than two thousand Americans will die on the roads this month. More than two thousand Americans will die of gunshot wounds this month without ever leaving the United States.

Three is that the so-called troubles of the Bush administration — indictments, investigations, and nasty rumours about various senior Republicans in the Congress or the White House — actually distract attention from the real disaster, which is not happening in Washington at all. The administration’s spin-doctors don’t mind. By all means, let us talk about the alleged but arcane iniquities of Karl Rove, and not about the brutal realities of Iraq.

Let’s talk about the reality anyway. The British Ministry of Defence paid some local academics to survey Iraqi public opinion some months ago without telling them who their client actually was. So the pollsters delivered a truthful report — which said that 45 percent of Iraqis support attacks against “coalition troops” (mostly Americans and British), and that fewer than one percent believed that foreign military involvement was helping to improve security in Iraq.

About 20 percent of Iraq’s population are Kurds who want independence and see the US occupation as their best chance of getting it. They will back almost anything America wants in Iraq. So to understand Arab opinion in Iraq, you have to subtract Kurdish opinion — and then you see that practically all Arabs in Iraq, both Shia and Sunni, and not just 82 percent of “Iraqis”, are “strongly opposed” to the presence of foreign troops. Almost two-thirds of Arab Iraqis, not just 45 percent of “Iraqis”, believe that attacks on occupation troops are justified.

The game is over. It’s time to go home. But you know they won’t.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 nd 4. (“Like…supported it”)