America can lose the Iraqi war at home

This had happened in Vietnam. The US expeditionary war in the Vietnamese jungle showed that a war can be lost not on the battlefield but on the so-called home front. At that time, the anti-war wave in the USA became a crucial factor that forced Washington to think about ways of recalling the troops without excessive moral outlays.

It appears that the history is repeating itself. President Bush has officially announced the end of the Iraqi war on May 1, 2003. But the US troops have lost 454 men and officers there since then and 60% of the polled Americans say the war had been launched in vain. Unless the security situation in Iraq improves radically and quickly, the Pentagon strategists may have to ponder partial or even full withdrawal from the conquered but not defeated country.

They may be forced to do this not only by the fury of armed resistance in Iraq, but also by the growing rejection of the war in America.

The Congress is sitting on the time bomb of boxes with new photo and video testimony of abuse in the Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons. Should it make these documents public or classify them, at least for some time?

In the latter case, the information would certainly leak to the press and television anyway, compounding the current atmosphere of permanent disgust and shame in America.

But nobody knows what would happen if the horrible information is presented to the US public and the international community in toto. The world has been shaken by the death of Nick Berg, the American contractor who was captured and beheaded by an Islamic group, which in this way wanted to take revenge on the USA for the abuse and torture of the Iraqi detainees.

The medieval barbarity of the execution was highlighted by its presentation in the Internet. Just imagine what tornado of cruelty would hit the planet if the Internet showed in colour each of the 8,000 deaths of Iraqi men, women and children killed by the coalition troops, beheaded and torn into bits by American bombs. Most of them were as peaceful and innocent as Nick Berg was.

And what if the net also showed videotapes of tortures of Iraqi detainees?

The interesting thing is that such pictures would hardly shock many theoreticians and executors of the military operation in Iraq. In their opinion, which expresses the essence of the Iraqi war, the life of a white missionary who brings the good to the aborigines is invaluable, while the life of the aborigine is not worth the air he breathes.

A good example is the video dairy of an American woman who served in two prison camps in Iraq, shown by CBS on Wednesday. There are no torture on the video; the woman simply chatters merrily about the detainees dying like flies. "We've already had two prisoners die, but who cares? That's two less for me to worry about."

The US administration is being dangerously careless in underestimating the scale of the Americans' shock from these revelations and colour postcards from Iraqi prisons.

Something really unexpected and serious is happening. Instead of positively influencing Iraq and the Middle East as a whole by bringing Western norms of democracy, justice and freedom, the Iraqi war has had an adverse effect on the US troops, the Pentagon generals and US top quarters by distorting their notions of morals and human rights.

As a result, prominent US political scientists think the prison scandal may blow up President Bush's hopes for re-election. A relevant example is the recent poll held by the Pew Centre for the People and the Press. Immediately after the people learned about the tortures and abuse of Iraqi detainees by US troops, the president's rating plummeted to record low 44%, while the popularity of his adversary, Senator John Kerry (Dem.) is stable at 50%.

The position of the incumbent president is assessed as "apparently vulnerable." George Bush badly needs a positive change in the Iraqi situation, but the hopes for it are dying as the Abu Ghraib scandal is flaring up.

The US reputation in Iraq has changed dramatically. The liberator country has turned into an occupier and quickly slid to the role of a prison warden and executioner who tortures the people he had promised to liberate.

In this situation, plans of turning power in Iraq over to a transition government by June 30 sound irrational. No matter how hard the UN special envoy Lakhdar Brakhimi may try to choose technocrats for this government, the Iraqis will all the same view them as US puppets. And now that the USA is associated with the woman warden, Lindy R. England, who led an Iraqi detainee around on a dog leash, this label will deprive the transition cabinet members of all legitimacy and turn them into targets for Iraqi avengers.

I cannot imagine how a US general would command multinational forces into which the coalition forces would be transformed after June 30.

In a word, the Abu Ghraib scandal has pushed the scheme of restoring the political structures of Iraq into a grey, shifting zone. And Washington seems to be aware of this. No wonder that this week National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has been speedily sent for consultations to Moscow and Berlin, the capitals that are energetically discussing the idea of convening an international conference on Iraq.

Meanwhile, the US occupation troops are trying to avoid direct involvement in hostilities in such hot spots as Falluja and to transfer their peacekeeping functions there to Iraqis commanded by the generals trained under Saddam Hussein. They are even pondering the use of the troops of the rebel imam al-Sadr in Najaf. The US administration in Iraq has hinted that this formula of "Iraqisation" may be spread to other cities of the country.

It is not clear if this form of "Iraqisation" will succeed, as defeatist sentiments have reached the top US army quarters. A perfect example is the opinion of Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the US occupation authority in Baghdad and whose brother died in Vietnam: "Here I am, 30 years later, thinking we will win every fight and lose the war, because we don't understand the war we are in."

Vladimir Simonov, RIAN

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