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What are the Iraqis fighting for?

The Iraqi resistance to the coalition forces now invading their country and bombing their cities (against the loud protestations of much of the rest of the world) isn't surprising. America hasn't been the most trustworthy of powers in the Middle East — nor George Bush its most trustworthy of leaders. As bad as Saddam is, Iraqis don't yet have much real assurance their next overseers will be better.

That's a problem. It doesn't seem likely that many Iraqi soldiers are fighting to defend Saddam — they're fighting to defend themselves, and possibly some greater principle they believe in. The coalition strategy seems to be to take Baghdad as quickly as possible, capture (or kill) Saddam, and declare victory and start rebuilding. But if the rest of Iraq isn't fighting for Saddam, it's not clear they'll stop resisting just because he's been removed. To the extent that Saddam's removal is inevitable, you could even argue that an Iraqi civil war, against its new regime, has already begun.

Hopefully the appeal of humanitarian aid and funds for rebuilding will bring the country together quickly. But Saddam isn't the enemy here; the enemy is the distrust of the Iraqi people, and America's costly failure to demonstrate its true intentions toward them.

Update (Mar. 28): From an article in the Washington Post today:

The longer the ruling Baath Party and irregular paramilitary units hold out, they said, the more damage the war is likely to inflict on Iraq and the more complex will be the problems the U.S. administration has pledged to fix.

Most worrisome to one senior State Department official is the potential that Iraqis opposed to a U.S. takeover will wage guerrilla warfare after President Saddam Hussein falls.

Let's hope not.

March 25, 2003 12:03 PM

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Copyright ©2001-2003 Matt Pfeffer


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