Iraq : The lessons of an extended war

Brig Gen Jahangir Kabir, ndc, psc (Retd)

The first lesson of Iraq war was that men proved no match to machine. The last lesson cannot be drawn yet as Iraqis fight on in spite of overwhelming odds. In between lessons are many and mind-boggling. Modern war is multifaceted for soldiers and the killer machines for a satisfactory conclusion. Tanks, Humvees and fearsome helicopter gunships aren't enough on agitated people. Iraq is in the primitive grip of violence with no face, no front and no boundary to define, dangerously close to sectarian civil war. Worst still, between civil war and terrorism it defies a definition. Iraq war is an extension of American Middle East and antiterrorist policy which must be viewed in its totality. If homeless Palestinians are bedrock of troubles, much that number of Iraqis and Afghans have no government.

In search of terrorists following 9/11, Afghanistan has been occupied, then Iraq. Today the world is facing more terrorist related violence than when it started. Even the most ardent believers are failing to justify the means and methodology of counter-terrorist war. Americans applied occupation therapy that expired long before 21st century. Unhappy environment is breeding violence and terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere in spite of the presence of brutal forces.

Four years of punishment against terror following 9/11 has only spread the boundary, but defied success. London, Washington, Madrid, and New York- just about every western city is bracing for fortress defence. In this those fateful cities every young man is a suspect, if black or brown, even most friendly police on earth is ready to empty their magazine on slightest move. That's what happened to the young Brazilian in London in the aftermath of 7/7. One killing made many unnerved and if he is a Muslim, no matter practicing or non-practicing, he is further destined. When terrorists are striking more frequently and countries responding by converting hard-earned freedom into fortress defence, it is painfully observed that western liberalism is a casualty of the antiterrorist war. It is hazardous not to ask for more security, it is equally perilous to use guns on slightest suspicion that can only afflict the world with more questions than answers. How long the free world can gnaw at this vicious circle? Many years ago I was taught by the American counter-terrorist experts, that it is difficult to stop a man willing to die for killing. Politicians have been hidebound not to learn the lessons their schools were teaching.

Much needed windows of ventilation are shutting down. The problem is when things go wrong everybody is right. From New York to Bali - terror is spreading along with antiterrorist war. But the eye of the storm is in the Middle East. Sudden skyrocketing of oil prices to $ 69 a barrel speaks of apprehension and lack of confidence in the ongoing system. With guarded welcome Sharon's Gaza withdrawal is taken by many as a tactical move. In the volatile Middle East peace is more demanding than war. President Bush must be proactive about West Bank and Golan Heights for the Highway to a lasting peace before he leaves the White House. As long as Palestinians continue to be born homeless, Iraq and Afghanistan under occupation peace will be illusive. Die is caste for President Bush as a major player of contemporary history: hero or villain depends on the political manoeuvre still possible before Iraq plunges into a full-scale civil war.

When lives best part is at hand for work and pleasure why death for some is desirable to everything that world can offer? Of all the people why British citizens should kill themselves to bomb their own transport system? A serious and scholarly study can hope to suggest an answer and remedial measures. But contingencies of politics can't wait a dialogue when action deemed to have demanded by the public anger. President Bush responded with the invasion of Afghanistan, Patriot Act, and then Iraq; now Blair is investing the UK with his version of the Patriot Act. Arbitrary deportation without meeting justice will only generate hatred to the advantage of hate-sellers.

King Abdullah of Jordan had commented in the CNN that young Palestinians need a place and job to scale down from what is going on. An Arab by chemistry, a western by outlook and taste, understanding of Palestinians by this royal Bedouin is in his blood. Increasing numbers of Muslim youth in the western democracies are denied jobs and other facilities. It may not be racist or discriminatory behaviour but out of sheer apprehension, but nonetheless, damage is substantial. The restless young mind over prolonged frustration and humiliation of vagrant life is getting clouded into racial and religious contours. Young man today is born with 'work and enjoy' culture. If there is no work and pleasures for him, he is pulled towards perversion. Religion is providing red herring only; the real issue is apprehension, unemployment and humiliation.

The Aggrieved and the religionists are offering Jihad to sell vagrant status for vengeance here and heaven hereafter. What democracies have to offer? A decade ago I was visiting the 'golden-triangle'- back then, the world trade centre of drug was along Thai, Mayanmar and Laos borders. On inquiry for not destroying the poppy fields visible from the air, a Scandinavian UN official coolly explained, destruction of the hillman's livelihood without offering an alternative is counterproductive, will go as hostile act. In Bangladesh an illiterate villager will tell you not to beat your pet cat shutting all doors and windows, it might jump for your eyes. If war is to be won against terror, there is need for ventilation with the aggrieved communities and their youths.

Stringent measures may be a political quick fix for beleaguered Bush-Blair governments, but many jobs are outside the big sticks that they are raising. With approval rate falling to 34% in the USA it will be naive to presume that Iraq policy is still working. When the proven strategy of engagement is swapped by the fantasy of the clash of the civilisation blame game on a religion is raising the storm. Failure of the leaders to forcefully address the concomitant hot issues facilitated field days for the neo-cons and extremists on both sides of the artificial divide. The converts of 'the clash of the civilization' are gaining at the cost of the global peace and prosperity. But when Mayor Ken Livingstone of London suggests 'help police, respect Muslims and get out of Iraq' one still hopes, door is not shut really. What he coined for London goes for the troubled humanity. Only Livingstone(s) can hope for a turning back from the legacies of 9/11.

Muslim intellectuals must not fail to condemn despicable happenings of Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay. At the same time, they must not lose sight that it was never possible to know what was going on in the prisons of the despots in Iraq and elsewhere. The courage of conviction must prevail over the deliberate failure of judgement that has brought so much of miseries today. If there was functional democracy, Muslims, Christians and Jews at the most could have fussed over clash of interests, not on so-called civilisation. The blood is profusely flowing through the Euphrates, Tigris (Iraq) and Amur Darya, (Afghanistan) the holders of Potomac and Thames must do more to keep the rivers clean. They are facing an invisible enemy. But the ball is very much in their court.

Waves of distant tsunamis are felt on the shores of sleeping Bangladesh. It is difficult to presume 459 blasts all over the country on August 17, 2005 in half an hour time as wake up call rather than launching of trouble itself. If we aren't troubled already we are simply asking for bigger trouble. It is late for pre-emptive measures; what is needed is fire fighters zeal for quarantining the trouble and fighting it simultaneously. Violent activities for political change may not go infinitely ignored and unchallenged by international communities. Hurried departure of World Bank President Wolfwitz from Bangladesh with a stern message may be a last warning.

Like it or not, Bangladesh is face to face with a bitter truth.

The author is a free lancer.

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