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Shock and awe, luck and flaw

There’s a saying that goes “an expectation is a premeditated resentment.” Quite a few of the reports we’ve been getting out of Iraq since the ground war began – and particularly in the last few days – have to do with Iraqi citizens and militia, heretofore believed to be champing at the bit to oust Saddam Hussein, vowing to fight to the last.

According to these reports, Fedayin loyalists are spearheading this resistance to coalition incursions. For the record, “Fedayin” is an Arabic term for “freedom fighters,” normally those involved in battle against politically or religiously repressive forces – it is not some distinguished, esoteric handle that Saddam Hussein has elected to apply to them. In this case, use of the term is obviously a misnomer.

According to one of the most recent accounts, 14 people were reported killed in a northern Baghdad neighborhood on Wednesday in a blast that Iraqi officials blamed on U.S. cruise missiles. Coverage of this incident was the most noteworthy piece of late run by Al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite news channel (which gained notoriety for its broadcasts of Osama bin Laden’s anti-U.S. caveside chats) and no doubt the agency’s crowning achievement, at least for this week. The footage was picked up and aired by U.S. news agencies, lending credence to the assertion by some that these news agencies are having a deleterious effect on the war effort – but that’s another story.

According to the Al-Jazeera report itself, survivors of the blast found it somewhat odd that this “attack” was not preceded by the usual anti-aircraft fire, sirens or ancillary explosions, lending credence to a further assertion that this incident was orchestrated by the Iraqi government in an attempt to gain international sympathy and to galvanize its citizenry, despite the fact that the U.S. military has acknowledged using precision-guided weapons to target Iraqi missiles and launchers placed within civilian residential areas.

Of course, there are few who doubt at this point that such action is beneath Saddam Hussein. Indeed, he has killed thousands of his own people, and the methodology has been implemented previously within this socio-political circle. There is, however, a growing perplexity on the part of Americans (if not the coalition leaders) as to why some Iraqis, who were expected to be “dancing in the streets” and welcoming coalition troops in the spirit of the liberation of Paris during World War II, are resisting the effort in numbers we are led to believe are quite substantial.

As Gerald M. Steinberg of the Jerusalem Post said in an article on Nov. 18, 2001, “Ten years ago, the U.S. committed a huge error, both political and moral, by stopping a few days short of deposing Saddam. As a result, the Iraqi people were forced to resign themselves to continued repression by one of the most violent regimes in the world.”

Indeed, this unfulfilled expectation, which Americans and Iraqis had every reason to harbor, led to resentment on the part of the latter group. How many Iraqi lives would have been saved had we taken Baghdad in 1991? How much less propaganda would the Iraqi people have had rammed down their collective throats had we done so? How accurate might be their assessment of our past action as betrayal, and how much more susceptible were they to their regime’s campaigns of misinformation because of it?

Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979. That represents 23-plus years of the Iraqi people living in a closed society – and most Americans have no frame of reference for what that means. I learned this lesson after working with people who had lived most of their lives behind the Iron Curtain. Social commentators other than myself have said that we in America are spoiled. That’s not necessarily a put-down, just an observation. In a society in which mass starvation is endemic, the American dumpster-diver is wealthy. In a closed, brutal regime, the individual’s thought-life is saturated with fear, apprehension and sinister notions to a degree we can barely imagine.

This – according to U.S. intelligence, Iraqi refugees and defectors from the highest levels – is what the people of Iraq have lived with for decades. They are, to the last, subject to the whims of a man who apparently lays awake at night thinking of perverse and agonizing ways in which to maim and murder, and who uses psychological warfare expertly against his own people. Like the cult leader or domestic abuser, despite his viciousness he has them convinced that they would be far worse off without him.

So, while even I admit to having experienced some fairly significant pangs of resentment with respect to the lack of Iraqi enthusiasm concerning the coalition’s efforts, I maintain that we don’t necessarily have a right to expect the average Iraqi citizen to welcome us like long-lost relations.

While we assess these rapidly unfolding events, we must maintain (or cultivate) discernment with respect to what we are seeing reported, who is reporting it, and what their motivations may be. At this point, we truly do not know precisely what percentage of Iraqis is against removing Saddam. If we fail to exercise discernment, we will discover that we have more in common with the citizens of Iraq than we realize – we’ll only know what we’re told.