Although US President George W. Bush gave the American people an optimistic assessment of the state of the US occupation of Iraq during his US radio address last week, his November 26 visit to Baghdad spoke more eloquently than ten speeches of the actual conditions there.

Bush flew to Iraq for Thanksgiving dinner with US troops under elaborate precautions to assure his safety. The trip was kept from journalists, most of whom were told he would be spending Thanksgiving with his family in his Texas ranch. Up to the last minute, only a handful of US officials in Iraq knew about the two and a half hour visit, during which Bush never left the safety of his security detail and the heavily fortified Baghdad International Airport.

There was no parade down main street, no ticker tape welcome for the “liberator of Iraq.” Instead he slunk into the capital of the country whose citizens Bush and his highest officials had told the American people only last March would be dancing in the streets once US troops took Baghdad. As he had slunk in, so did he slink out. Bush left Iraq within hours, security considerations allowing him only a brief Baghdad flyover in Air Force One.

Bush began his address before some 600 US soldiers at Baghdad Airport by thanking them for “sacrificing for our freedom and our peace,” and in effect told them that US military forces would remain in Iraq for sometime to come.

That was no surprise. It had been predicted by analysts and has been so announced by the Pentagon, despite the supposed “transfer of sovereignty” to Iraqis by the end of 2004.

But how the attack on Iraq, and continuing US presence there, is linked to the freedom and peace of Americans Bush did not, and didn’t have to say. If they’re at all like the families they left behind, most US soldiers believe the US invaded Iraq because it was responsible for the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, that the Saddam Hussein government had links with Al Qaida, and that it had weapons of mass destruction with which to threaten the United States.

Lost to the majority of Americans, thanks to the successful effort of their government and the compliant US media to keep them in the dark about why US troops are dying in Iraq, is the total absence of evidence about Iraqi involvement in September 11 and its possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Equally lost to them is that by attacking Iraq and continuing to occupy it the US was, and is, in flagrant violation of international law. Of no moment to most Americans either are the real goals of Bush and company in invading Iraq. Those goals are, in the short term, to secure control of Iraq’s vast oil resources. In the long term the goal is to maintain a sizeable military force in the Middle East towards eventually reshaping its societies.

What they have been made to believe, courtesy of a government committed to nothing less than total world dominance through the use of force, is that it’s not only for their freedom and peace that the US will use its military power. It is also for the sake of the benighted peoples, such as the Iraqis, upon whom the US intends to impose its own concept of the ideal society—“democratic” in the sense of compliant to US wishes, and “free” in the sense of uncomplaining about the exploitation of its natural resources.

While there is a sizeable peace and anti-imperialist movement in the United States, many Americans believe that their government is driven by the best motives. If US troops invaded Iraq, it was for the Iraqis, and it is still for the Iraqis that they’re dying everyday, which makes those resisting them neither patriots nor resistance fighters, but “thugs and assassins”. (In the same way did the United States label Macario Sakay, Miguel Malvar, Simeon Ola and other Filipino revolutionaries during the Philippine-American War “bandits.”)

Thus did Bush proclaim that “we did not charge hundreds of miles through the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.”

Thanks to massive US bombing from March to May this year, the US’ “bitter cost in casualties” –some 400 dead so far—compares very favorably indeed to an estimated 10,000 Iraqi civilian deaths and as many as 50,000 military dead. An additional 2,000 more Iraqis have been killed and 20,000 injured in the post-invasion period, when US troops have failed to protect—and on the contrary have often targeted—the civilian population.

By “band of thugs and assassins” Bush was of course not referring to the US’ own occupation troops among whose achievements is the shooting of women and children, but to the members of the Iraqi resistance to US occupation.

The US claims the resistance consists solely of Saddam Hussein loyalists. But it is more likely to include Iraqi nationalists opposed to US colonial rule, Islamists who want an Islamic state, and foreign fighters who see the US occupation of Iraq as part of a larger US plan to dominate the Middle East.

The Iraqi “band of thugs and assassins” has so far cost the United States some 185 casualties since “the end of major combat operations” last May, and dozens of dead among its allies.

Only hours after Bush left, the resistance attacked the US 101st Airborne Division base in Mosul, killing one US soldier. Three days later, on November 29, seven Spanish intelligence officers and two Japanese civilians were killed in separate ambushes. The attacks followed only by hours an optimistic assessment by the US military commander in Iraq that attacks against US troops and their allies had dropped in the last two weeks as a result of US air strikes on suspected centers of resistance.

Although belittling the resistance, but in desperation using its massive air power to strike blindly at guerillas who simply melt among the population at the first sign of any air strike, the United States has nevertheless been forced in Iraq into a state even worse than when it was bogged down in Vietnam in the 1970s.

US soldiers—who treat the Iraqis exactly like an army of occupation—are totally isolated from the population, and venture out only in force. Despite the sophistication of their equipment, when they do venture out of their fortified bases they are easy targets for guerillas who have the advantage of familiarity with the territory.

There is also increasing evidence that the guerillas are gaining the support of the population. In several instances, for example in one attack on a US military vehicle before Bush’s visit, the “dancing on the streets” US officials had claimed would greet US troops did occur—except that the Iraqis danced over the bodies of US troops.

The situation in Iraq—in which US troops don’t know where and when the guerillas will strike, and where “the most powerful man in the world” had not the power to venture an inch outside Baghdad Airport—is replicated worldwide and in the US itself.

Never before have Americans, US interests, and the US itself been under as grave a threat worldwide as today.

The latest State Department advisory to US citizens dated November 30, 2003, which expires April 21, 2004, re-emphasizes a warning that US citizens may be targeted by terrorists in almost any part of the globe and at any time.

“US citizens,” says the advisory, “are cautioned to maintain a high level of vigilance…” abroad. It warns that “we are seeing increasing indications that Al Qaeda is preparing to strike US interests abroad,” after striking in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Istanbul, Turkey over the last two months.

But the US is equally under threat at home, says the advisory. “We expect Al Qaida will strive for new attacks designed to be more devastating than the September 11 attack… and that (Al Qaida) will attempt a second catastrophic attack on the US.”

The advisory goes on to warn that every US citizen may be attacked, regardless of whether he is civilian or military, an ordinary citizen or a government official. The attack may occur anywhere US citizens congregate, whether clubs, restaurants, schools, hotels, resorts or beaches.

“Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to suicide operations, hijackings, bombings or kidnappings,” and may use conventional as well as non-conventional means, warns the advisory.

The US invasion of Iraq was supposed to be an anti-terrorist strike that would help assure US security because it would put an end to a regime the US claimed was linked to Al Qaida. On the contrary. Mounting evidence now shows that by striking at Iraq—the international equivalent of the innocent bystander in a street shoot-out—the US actually allowed the real culprits to get away and regroup.

The US invasion of Iraq also seems to have convinced Islamic extremists that the US is determined to destroy Islam, resulting in a more determined Al Qaida campaign against the United States, and therefore a world far more dangerous today for US citizens and the US than it was in March this year. No wonder Bush had to slink into and out of Baghdad.

(Today/, December 2, 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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