Why the Iraqis May Resist the Peace

Seven reasons why Iraqis didn't welcome the troops at first--and why they'll be halting partners in a new Iraq

As the invasion of Iraq reaches its climax with the sieges of Baghdad and Basra, some have been surprised that Iraqi civilians have not welcomed our troops as liberators. American officials blame the restrained reaction on fear of the regime. But there are other factors as well, not discussed by the military pundits, that contribute to Iraqi ambivalence and may matter even more during the long occupation than during the short war.



1.

America's only great-power ally is Britain

. Britain is the former colonial ruler in Iraq. America succeeds Britain much like it succeeded France in Vietnam. The New Yorker quotes the March 6 Iraq Daily: "The U.S. Army Generals Dream of the British Vanished Empire." The language is clumsy, but the sentiment is revealing. In World War I, a war at least as vividly remembered in Iraq as the Civil War is remembered in the American south, Britain's siege of Baghdad cost uncounted thousands of Iraqi lives (as well as an astounding 33,000 British lives).

How many lives will America's siege of Baghdad cost? According to coalition sources, the first incursion may have cost 3,000 Iraqi lives. (About the same number that died in the World Trade Towers on 9/11; the tanks that led the incursion bore the flight numbers of the planes hijacked on that day.) Do the math: 3,000 deaths in a nation of 20 million is the equivalent of 42,000 deaths in a nation the size of the United States. How many more such "messages" will need to be sent before the war is won? Is the United States the British Empire redux, fighting its way to ascendancy with pure firepower? If so, then how should we expect the Iraqis to react?

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2. America's base of operations and closest Arab military ally is Kuwait. President Bush, evoking post-World War II Germany and Japan, has boasted that American occupiers leave behind "constitutions and parliaments." But in the first Gulf War, our announced purpose was the restoration of the Kuwaiti monarch. After ten years of intense American influence in Kuwait, what result do Iraqis see? Kuwait's ruling al-Sabah clan confers and revokes the powers of the country's paper parliament at its royal pleasure and without American objection.

American fondness for Arab monarchy makes President George W. Bush seem only too plausibly the political heir of Britain's King George V, whose government created a map of Arab monarchies after World War I. If you were an Iraqi, would monarchy in the Kuwaiti or Saudi manner not strike you as a likelier outcome than democracy after an Anglo-American victory? And would that prospect bring you cheering into the streets?

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Jack Miles
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