When the US starts
leveling the minarets of mosques, you know that things are getting desperate.
Marines in Fallujah claimed Monday that a "real nasty bunch" of insurgents was
attacking them, in the process using the minaret as a sniper's nest. By the
rules of military engagement, this made it a legitimate target. Yet according
to the inverted law of the symbolic, this operation (like so many before it)
was rather one of deferred suicide. Although the Marines may have blown away
a few gunmen and eliminated the immediate threat by demolishing the minaret,
in doing so they presented a rich symbolic gift to the Iraqi resistance. For
Iraqis and Muslims everywhere, televised images of the US toppling mosques only
reinforces their belief that America is on a religious crusade against them-
a realization that bolsters the ranks not only of the resistance, but of international
terrorist groups worldwide.
Forget about the gung-ho
military warnings about "pacifying"
the Iraqis and the arrogant assurances of what an "offensive"
will look like. To be sure, the formidable array of weapons in the American
arsenal guarantees that they could pulverize any Iraqi town, even heavily
fortified ones such as Fallujah and Najaf. If victory were as simple as this,
winning the war might be possible. In reality, however, heavy-handed military
solutions are not only counterproductive to American strategy – they're also
fast becoming irrelevant, as the war spreads far beyond Iraq's borders.
A Spreading Fear
As the Iraqi quagmire deepens, it also widens.
In the last week alone, there have been terrorist acts, gunfights, and thwarted
attacks in places as far-flung as Saudi
as well as Thailand,
and even Kosovo.
Yet the clear connection between American imperialism and conflict replication
has apparently been lost on the War Party and its cheerleaders. On Tuesday,
Fox News provided video footage of Marines
emptying round after round into the Fallujah resistance, alongside an idiotic
title: the "battle for Fallujah." This anachronism deviously implies equivalence
with the type of battle waged in the old days – the traditional march
across territory that characterized warfare for much of human history. In other
words, a war we've seen before and a war we can therefore win.
Yet this is no longer the case. With Fallujah, Najaf, and Sadr City, the US
has less interest in swallowing up choice real estate than in proving a point –
that symbolic murder (the four Fallujah contractors) will not be forgotten, that
resisters (like Al Sadr) will not go unpunished. By taking the bait and getting
involved in these miserable little conflicts, the US proved itself to be a
sucker for the symbolic and inscribed its own death warrant. For no matter if
the Marines kill every insurgent in Fallujah, no matter if they "pacify" the
place even by bulldozing it and paving it over completely, the battle won't have
been won. How could it be, when it's hardly yet begun?
When the retaliation comes, it will just as likely take place in the streets
of Rome or Riyadh as in some dusty, meaningless town in central Iraq. So much
for all the self-praise war apologists and military spokesmen have been making
regarding America's improved "asymmetric warfare" capabilities. The increasing
radicalization of the Muslim world can only mean that the asymmetry will be
taken to a global level, through more and more vicious acts of terrorism, and
the US will prove itself more and more incapable of restoring peace. They are in
the process not
only of making Iraq today's Vietnam, but in
making the entire world into the next Vietnam – whether they ask anyone's
permission or not.
The Middle East: Muted Attacks, and an Ominous Might-Have-Been
On April 21, a suicide
car bombing in Riyadh wreaked massive destruction on the headquarters of
the Saudi security forces, leaving 4 dead and 148 injured. According
to Reuters, "…a Saudi official said there was 'no doubt' the attack was
by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network." Al Qaeda has since denied
it, but the Saudi authorities aren't taking any chances. Since Sunday, they've
up the hunt for local al Qaeda leader Abdulaziz Issa Abdul-Mohsin al-Moqrin,
believed to be hiding in mountains outside the capital. On Tuesday, convoys
of security officers supported by helicopters headed into the hills to hunt
for him. The same day, an audiotape
was released, allegedly created by the al Qaeda leader, in which he vowed
to increase attacks on Americans in the kingdom.
The same evening, a murky
gun battle occurred far away in a Damascus neighborhood filled with foreign
embassies. While authorities have not said anything specific, there are few
doubts that the Syrian turbulence is part of the same spate of attacks witnessed
recently in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. And this has very troubling
"'…Syria is usually a very stable country,' Lebanese analyst Edmund Saab told
the Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya. 'It looks like the situation in Iraq is
not going to spare a single Arab country. If the threat of terrorism has reached
Syria, it will be difficult to stop it from getting to other places.'"
Far more sobering than these examples is what happened in Jordan last week –
or, more to the point, what almost happened.
According to the Jordanian government, Jordanian and Syrian terrorists
(including an 18 year-old) were planning an apocalyptic terrorist attack with
chemical weapons that would have left approximately 80,000 dead in Amman. Since
the plot, apparently overseen by high-ranking al Qaeda member Abu Mussab Al
Zarqawi, was foiled and nothing happened, the media made little of it, moving on
quickly to the next headline. But what if it had gone off, an attack almost 30
times bigger than 9/11 in terms of human casualties? It's almost beyond
contemplation. It's safe to say that winning the "Battle for Fallujah" would
suddenly have seemed very trivial indeed.
Thailand has been one of the Bush Administration's
stronger Asian allies over Iraq, and currently has 440 troops there. Their support
has been noted. One week ago, the South Korean embassy in Bangkok received a
telegram from a previously
unknown Islamic group – the "Yellow-Red Overseas Organization," which threatened
attacks against "…diplomatic compounds, airlines, and transportation systems
in South Korea, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Australia, Kuwait
and Pakistan," because of their support for America in Iraq. Last month, the
Australian embassy in Kuala
Lumpur was attacked, albeit with little damage. But the threat is clearly
More spectacularly, Thailand was hit on Tuesday with an insurrection from
Muslim guerrillas near the southern border with Malaysia. While Thai
Foreign Minister Surakiat Sathirathai claimed that the fighting "…was
nothing related to international terrorism and religious clashes," most reports
from the scene has stressed the Islamic apparel and writings found along with
the dead fighters. Is this a one-off incident involving "bandits," as the
government asserts, or is Thailand going the way of the
Philippines? One Thai analyst makes a
striking point: "…Mr Sunai Phasuk, an independent analyst, told AFP: 'When
they went in wielding only swords and small guns, it showed that the
perpetrators were prepared to die. That is very new for southern Thailand.'"
Other far more dangerous possible reactions to Iraq exist throughout Asia. FBI Director
Robert Mueller now warns about future terrorist attacks in China. There is
the case of Uzbekistan, the "source" of regional extremism according to a
recent RFE/RL report. Aside from the perennial fears about Chechnya
"pacified" Afghanistan, the most worrying possibility of all involves Pakistan,
where assassins have twice failed in their attempt to kill unpopular President
Pervez Musharraf. Portrayed by his opponents as being an American lackey and
un-Islamic, Musharraf nevertheless has been able to keep the lid on things,
which is essentially why the US likes him. And if he were to be suddenly
deposed? A nuclear-armed Pakistan turned fundamentalist overnight – now
there's a formula for the next world war.
England's Jolly Objectors
Far away, in merry old England, extremist Islamic
leaders have found plenty of new enthusiasts for the cause, in the offspring
of immigrants and other young people in the Muslim communities of London, Manchester
and elsewhere. Along with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq has become
a key recruiting tool for the would-be British jihadis. According to a recent
piece in the New
"…they say they would like to see Prime Minister Tony Blair dead or deposed
and an Islamic flag hanging outside No. 10 Downing Street. They swear allegiance
to Osama bin Laden and his goal of toppling Western democracies to establish an
Islamic superstate under Shariah law, like Afghanistan under the Taliban. They
call the Sept. 11 hijackers the 'Magnificent 19' and regard the Madrid train
bombings as a clever way to drive a wedge into Europe."
The leader of this bunch, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammad, warned the West about
the futility of its "war on terror," saying, "…it is foolish to fight people who
want death – that is what they are looking for."
While Britain has always been afflicted by a handful of oddballs, what's
worrying authorities now is the new popularity and activity radical groups are
enjoying. Says the Times:
"…Hundreds of young Muslim men are answering the call of militant groups
affiliated or aligned with Al Qaeda, intelligence and counterterrorism officials
in the region say.
Even more worrying, said a senior counterterrorism official, is that the
level of 'chatter' – communications among people suspected of terrorism and
their supporters – has markedly increased since Mr. bin Laden's warning to
Europe this month. The spike in chatter has given rise to acute worries that
planning for another strike in Europe is advanced.
'Iraq dramatically strengthened their recruitment efforts,' one
counterterrorism official said. He added that some mosques now display photos of
American soldiers fighting in Iraq alongside bloody scenes of bombed out Iraqi
Similar rhetoric has long come from the most vocal Islamic antagonist in
Britain, the hook-handed Sheikh Abu Hamza Al-Mazri.
The government is currently seeking to deport him, but the good
old fairness of Britain's judicial system means that Al-Mazri will likely
get taxpayer funds to help him prepare his appeal – set for next January. Until
then, the one-eyed firebrand is apparently free to orate at will about the
benefits of committing suicide attacks on one's "doorstep" and killing all
Israelis over the age of 15- among other things apparently required for Islamic
Unknown Commodities: Albania and Kosovo
Interestingly enough, according to Skopje's Dnevnik,
Al-Mazri would also like to take the fight to Albania: "…Al Qaida has its own
people in Albania and they will soon be ready to act," the newspaper quoted
him as saying on Monday. Despite its sizeable Muslim population, Albania has
stuck out for its fervent pro-Americanism. It was the first Balkan country to
offer troops for Iraq, and recently has offered to
Although Al-Mazri's Albanian connection has been clear only since the famous
January 2003 raid on his Finsbury Park mosque, Albanian Islamic elements
have been present for much longer in London. Not to mention that bin Laden has
historical connections with
Albania going back to the mid-1990's. Foreign radicals have since then been
able to exploit the country's porous borders and rural lawlessness to establish
foothold in this forgotten corner of southern Europe.
In 1999, NATO forcibly removed the Serbian government from neighboring
Kosovo. But the new rulers have done precious little since to secure the
province's borders. Since 1999, militants coming and going between Bosnia
north and Albania to the south have enjoyed unprecedented freedom of
movement, mostly through illegal wilderness border crossings. However, the
laxity of passport controls at the official crossings (something which itself
borders on the scandalous) means that would-be jihadis continue to have easy
access to Kosovo, or "Unmikistan," as one local mockingly dubbed it.
Though they haven't yet showed their hand, plenty of information exists to
suggest that foreign
mujahedin organizers are present in Kosovo. Even excluding whatever may come
of this, however, Kosovo is already another Iraqi battleground. The
freak shooting of American UNMIK police officers by a Jordanian cop is the
case in point. While UN sources repeatedly said that the gun battle was not
caused by a dispute over Iraq, this was only partially true. Their point was
merely that no conversation had occurred before the shooting broke out;
therefore, no dispute.
However that may be, the ultimate motivator behind the Jordanian's action
seems to have been anti-Americanism fueled by the Iraq war and US support for
Israel. According to one informed source, "This guy [the shooter] was a village
guy who had never even met an American, but only knew them from the terrible
things he heard on TV. So he had some anger inside him, and he got crazy. He
didn't even know the people he was shooting at, just that they were
Meanwhile, Back in Iraq…
Back in the place that started it all, Iraq, the
Bush Administration continues to flail. Satisfying its quixotic desire for a
transition of power by June 30 is already
producing strains: News that the hand-picked Iraqi
National Council may well dissolve amidst in-fighting, acrimony, and forced
retirements only shows that the US has little control over those few Iraqis
still willing to "play ball" with the occupiers. Yet even as they lose credibility
among their own people for coming up with an Israeli-colored
flag, the Council is trying to show some gumption by calling for no
less than full sovereignty come June 30 – a response to Colin
Powell's recent statement that Iraqi sovereignty would be of a "limited"
nature – to
say the least.
in towns where truces had been announced, though not
Bush delivers fulsome orations regarding his resolve to "…take whatever
action is necessary to secure Fallujah on behalf of the Iraqi people." Yet this
promise not only smacks of deceptive rhetoric – it's also irrelevant.
"Securing" Fallujah is impossible. Even if it were possible, such a tactic
would not help to create a peaceful and stable Iraq, let alone a peaceful and
terror-free world. Like typical occupiers, the Americans think that potential
resisters will be chastened by the example of their defeated kin. So far, they
haven't. Even worse for the Americans and the rest of the world too, those seeking
the glory of militant martyrdom elsewhere are equally unimpressed by the much-vaunted
displays of "shock and awe." Now that new legions of terrorists are prepared
to take the fight to Iraq's myriad other battlefields, the mightiest country
on earth can do little else but to keep inciting them. Will it take another
massive terrorist attack somewhere along the vast, undefended Western front
for people to realize that the Iraq invasion truly was the worst idea, ever?