The world’s only superpower has just had a bad week in Iraq. Such a week is likely to be repeated, as resistance to its continuing occupation of that country continues.

The United States is still a long way from withdrawing from Iraq despite its cost in lives, for reasons US President George W. Bush described a few days ago as “vital.” Just what is so vital that it should be worth the lives of an increasing number of American men and women he did not explain. But anyone who’s followed events in Iraq since last year should be able to tell.

On November 2, eighteen US soldiers died in Iraq, including 16 killed when Iraqi guerillas shot down a giant Chinook helicopter loaded with troops south of the town of Fallujah near the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

The deaths were the most suffered by US forces in a single day since March 23rd, three days after the US invasion. Followed by other, though smaller scale attacks, the deaths brought to at least 250 the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq.

The attack on the helicopter, probably with the use of the rocket- propelled grenades favored by Iraqi resistance fighters, came in the context of a steady escalation in the number of attacks on US troops from a previous four to an average of 20 a day.

While the United States insists that those fighting them are “pro-Saddam terrorists,” including remnants of the Ba’ath Party and Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards, there is evidence that most of the fighters involved are both Shi’a and Sunni Islamists, as well as nationalists united in the goal of expelling the US invaders.

The Arab TV network Al Jazeera quotes an Iraqi political scientist who has examined the backgrounds of resistance fighters killed in combat with US troops. Salman Al-Jumali has concluded from his studies that “the vast majority (of the fighters) are Islamists,” and that “Saddam loyalists” are not significantly involved in the resistance.
Also among the dead, Al-Jumali told Al Jazeera, were Iraqis of Turkish descent and Iraqi Christians.

Although the Islamists—those fighting for an Islamic state as well as those who regard the US presence as an offense against Islam—are in the majority, no particular group seems to be dominant. There are dozens of resistance groups, but hardly any planning or coordination among them.

But while “there are many differences between the different groups, even between different Islamist resistance forces, the unifying cause for the struggle is the (US) occupation,” said Al-Jumali, who predicts that “unless the Americans leave,” there will be “a huge wave of resistance” that will increase US daily casualties into the 20s.

US withdrawal is a huge “if,” however, which US President George W. Bush has vowed will not happen. The US, said Bush, has a “vital” mission in Iraq. How vital is indicated by the stakes involved, for which the United States invaded last March. Among them: the second largest oil reserves in the world, vast oil resources still largely unexploited, money to be made by such Bush crony corporations as Bechtel and Halliburton—and most of all, a military presence in the entire Middle East to assure US control over its politics as well as oil.

These are what define how “vital” Iraq is to the US, not finding and destroying the Weapons of Mass Destruction it knew from the beginning Iraq no longer had, and not the “democracy” that it claims only US power could establish.

The US government does make a lot of noise about “progress” in “rebuilding Iraq,” but six months after the invasion, much of Iraq including its major cities is still in ruins.

Although the US Congress has approved US$87 billion in supposed aid “for Iraq,” about $65 billion is actually for military expenditures in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, with only some $18 billion actually for “rebuilding” the Iraqi economy and government. Even part of that amount, however, is meant to rebuild and retrain police and other security forces so they can assume “more responsibility” over security and counter-resistance operations in the classic US tactic of using locals as cannon fodder against their own people. Naturally US corporations and agencies will do the training, which means they will be getting back the money the US is supposed to be spending “for” Iraq.

The focus is dictated by Bush’s political agenda. Anxious to prevent the escalation of the US casualties that can cost him the US election in 2004, Bush has ordered the acceleration of the deployment of even poorly trained Iraqi security forces into the front lines of the US anti-resistance campaign. Disguised as part of the lie of “Iraqification,” the new tactic is actually meant to put Iraqi lives rather than US lives at risk, foreign lives being expendable because their families don’t vote in US elections.

But despite the high-tech weaponry; the billions of dollars the US is prepared to spend to secure Iraq for Bush, US Vice President Dick Cheney and their crony corporations; indiscriminate raids on private dwellings; the arrest and detention of anyone even remotely suspected of resisting the occupation; and the vile tactics of using locals against their own people—some US analysts insist that the Iraqi war is unwinnable.

Ray McGovern, who served the Central Intelligence Agency for 27 years, for example argues that the US, in the first place, seriously miscalculated how many troops were really needed to hold Iraq. The number might very well be in the several hundred thousands, says McGovern. Although the US does seem to realize that now, it does not even have that number of troops to commit in Iraq.

In addition, the US does not exactly know who it is fighting. Bush has said that it’s terrorists and foreigners (the only foreigners allowed to interfere in Iraq are Americans, not Arabs who have lived in the region for generations or anyone else), but US Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been forced to admit that the US doesn’t know exactly who these “terrorists and foreigners” are.

McGovern sees other factors that lead to the conclusion that the Iraqi war is as unwinnable for the US as the Vietnam War was 28 years ago. One is the apparent support among the Iraqi citizenry for the resistance, which is indispensable for any guerilla movement, as proven in Vietnam– and, much earlier, in China. In both countries the guerillas won over vastly superior forces because of the support of the people.

Another is the fact that weapons are readily available in Iraq.

“Imperial Rome was able to work its will on other states, but for the most part Rome had a corner on the weapons. None of the subjugated peoples had rockets, mortars, or missiles—and long lines were rare at guerilla recruiting stations,” says McGovern.

This is not the case for the US empire today. Among those currently in the “long lines at guerilla recruiting stations” are most likely the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s 350,000 strong army, as well as Muslims from countries surrounding Iraq. Those 350,000 are not only a huge source of guerilla fighters, but also of trainers of other guerillas, given their background in the use of weapons.

On the other hand, tens of thousands of Muslims from other countries of the Middle East, who before the US attack on Iraq already thought the US to be, according to a Gallup poll, “ruthless, aggressive, arrogant, easily provoked (into violence) and biased (against Muslims)” stand ready to fight for Islam against the US invaders.

Could McGovern and like-minded analysts be right? Can the 20th and 21st century’s Scourge of God—the mightiest military power the world has ever seen, the leveler of entire societies, the destroyer of worlds—be defeated by other men and women ultimately armed only with the will to defeat them?

Vietnam proved it possible. In 1975, in that small country in Southeast Asia, a determined people who had no air force and no tanks forced the same superpower to withdraw, though not without taking huge casualties.

The US withdrawal did not lead to civil war, but ended the war US intervention had prolonged for twenty years. It did not lead to Vietnam’s decline, but to its reconstruction. Vietnam today is the third largest exporter of rice in the world, among others, whereas it was a net importer of rice during the US occupation. The Vietnamese did not need the US—which destroyed even more of it than it did Iraq—to rebuild their country and to make of it what they will. Neither do the Iraqis need the United States today to rise from the ashes of the destruction the US has wreaked upon Iraq.

If McGovern is right, and the Iraqi war is indeed unwinnable for the US, it is only a matter of time before the Iraqi resistance drives the US out. When that happens it will send a signal to all of humanity that for all its rapacity, violence and power, the United States is not the master of the world.

(Today/, November 8, 2003)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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