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?

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?

3. America's image and Israel's are indistinguishable. Americans may not realize it, but by condoning Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, they have made their own country's ethical reputation in the Middle East inseparable from Israel's. Arabs take Israel's treatment of its Arab subjects, the Palestinians, as an indication of America's attitude toward Arabs in general. If the American occupation of Iraq turns out to be like the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it will be a thing of barbed wire, bypass roads, curfews, checkpoints, shutdowns, and expropriation of land and natural resources. Perhaps the American occupation will be nothing like that, but how can Iraqis not worry? After all, Israel is, in this part of the world, America's best friend.

4. Humanitarian aid may not be available for Iraq as it was for Afghanistan. After its victory in Afghanistan, the United States, then still enjoying international support for its war on terrorism, off-loaded much of the burden of civilian recovery onto allies like Germany. In post-war Iraq, however, Germany and the other candidates for a humanitarian relief coalition may not be welcome even if they are available, given their early opposition to the war. Yet the United States, which ranks last in foreign aid among the developed countries, may not be willing to shoulder alone the burden of putting the prostrate nation back on its feet and cleaning up the mountains of rubble left by all those spectacular American explosions. If you were an Iraqi, even one who despised Saddam Hussein, how optimistic would you be about your economic future?

5. America's commander-in-chief is a Bush. The father-son relationship counts for a great deal in Arab culture. Think of all the Arab names beginning abu (father of) or ibn (son of). But when Iraqis rose up in rebellion against Saddam Hussein after what looked at first like his crushing defeat in the first Gulf War, Abu Bush stood by and watched while the dictator recovered, rallied his forces, and drowned his opponents in their own blood. How certain can prospective Iraqi allies be today that Ibn Bush will not do the same if they revolt against a Saddam Hussein who then turns out not to be defeated after all?

The older Bush's betrayal of the Kurds and the Shiites is a matter that the younger Bush has passed over in discreet silence, but how can it not be on Iraqi minds? When the bombs stop dropping and the guns fall silent, will the Iraqis know for sure who has won? If you were an Iraqi, would you not make it your business to lie low as long as possible?

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