56-year-old Chamis Sami al-Abid, a tomato, squash and cucumber farmer, construction machinery and beverage importer, owner of a shipping company, and the richest man in the small city of Faludja on the Euphrates River, has many good reasons to look forward to the arrival of American soldiers.
The small commercial empire he and his two brothers once took over from their father - about 100 employees, many millions of dollars in annual sales, two subsidiaries, one in Amman and the other in Dubai - suffered for years under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. "Baghdad caused us nothing but trouble," says Abid. "We were just waiting for the end of Saddam."
Now Faludja has been liberated for the past three months, 13,000 US soldiers are camped on the grounds of a former Iraqi army base a few kilometers north of the city, the cadres of the formerly ruling Baath party have been driven away, corrupt officials have been sent home, and all trade restrictions have been lifted. Nevertheless, Abid sits in his city villa and waits bitterly for the first of the nightly US patrols.
"Just as the heat begins to let up, the first tank comes roaring along the street. The entire house vibrates. And this continues hourly until five in the morning." He says that Ahmed Husseini, the son of a neighbor, protested at the garden gate in early June. "The Americans simply shot him. These people don't know what they're doing."
Abid is a graduate of the University of Baghdad, and holds a doctorate in economics. He has travelled throughout Europe and the United States, and his English is good. But he is puzzled as to how the Americans have even managed to alienate such Iraqis as himself. He says: "The problem with the Americans is that they have no respect for us."
The mood in the US army camp on the outskirts of the city is no less dismal. "They told us that the fastest way home went through Baghdad," complains First Sergeant Anthony Joseph of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. "We captured the city, and now we're still sitting here."
First Sergeant Joseph is actually a press officer, and his job is to make sure that the image he projects of Camp "Dreamland" is as rosy as possible. But he isn't terribly interested in that. Like his fellow soldiers, he wants to go home.
The situation in the city became too dangerous for his fellow soldiers. With the exception of nightly patrols, the Americans have withdrawn their military presence from this notorious hotbed for resistance fighters 50 kilometers outside Baghdad. They hope that local police officers will be able to maintain order during the day. But there are far too few of them.
Now heat and inaction have paralyzed the GIs at Camp Dreamland. "All I know," says Sergeant Terry Gillmore, "is that morale has gone down; we just hang around and somehow we make it."
Once again, Faludja is listening to such anti-American voices as that of Chalil Daham al-Subeir. Al-Subeir, a sheikh from an influential tribe, has been mourning the death of his son Leith for the past three weeks. He is convinced that the Americans killed him. Since his son's death, he spends every evening sitting on the bank of the Euphrates with some of his most trusted friends, searching for ways to revenge his child. "America," he says, "is poisoning our morals and killing our sons."
Today, says Sheikh Subeir, he would not hesitate for an instant before taking back the deposed dictator, and his men enthusiastically jump up from their chairs. The sheikh tells them to quiet down and calls for his son Mustafa. A seven-year-old boy emerges from the crowd. His father places a hand on Mustafa's head and pulls his son toward him. Then he says, in a voice filled with hate: "I would have this child slaughtered for Saddam!"
Officially, the war ended on May 1, but American soldiers in Iraq are still dying every day. They are ambushed, ripped apart by rocket-launched grenades, picked off by snipers, cut to pieces by mines, or simply shot in the head from behind, like a GI who was in the wrong place at the wrong time - in front of Baghdad University.
The soldiers have a name for these enemies who are so difficult to detect: the "Ali Babas," named after the thieves from the "Thousand and One Nights." From their perspective, they have become moving targets during this post-war war and period of no peace, and this depressing situation could continue for a long time. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has just announced that he will probably send additional troops, most likely reservists from the National Guard, to help the 148,000 soldiers already in Iraq destroy the resistance.
134 US soldiers were killed during the six-week war. 90 have already lost their lives during the twelve-week "peace." Deaths are a daily occurrence, and the murders seem to be increasing instead of decreasing. The occupying power cannot decide whether this is a rebellion against foreign dominance or the work of remnants of the old regime, elite troops of the Republican Guard and the Fedajin Saddam, people who would have no future in a new Iraq.
It's probably a combination of the two, as well as Al Qaeda-inspired terrorists flowing into Iraq from neighboring countries, and common criminals whom Saddam promptly released from the prisons just before the war began. Now they are hunting US soldiers and are supposedly being paid a bounty of 5,000 dollars a head. Their headquarters lie in the central Iraqi "Sunni Triangle" surrounding Baghdad.
These irregulars travel in smaller groups or cells of about 50 men apiece. They communicate with one another with red and green signal rockets, gunshots or whistles, anything to avoid using mobile telephones. They have mortars, anti-tank weapons and SA-7 anti-aircraft rockets. They are organized regionally, and there are signs that something akin to nationwide coordination already exists.
Is this already an Iraqi guerilla force? Is America, in the wake of its unmatched military success, failing during the current occupation period, which is becoming more and more swamp-like?
A war of words has erupted in America, a war surrounding words like "guerilla" and "swamp," words used to conjure up nightmarish images of Vietnam. Last week General John Abizaid, the new Chief of Central Command in charge of all military operations in Iraq, surprisingly admitted that the Americans are facing "classic guerilla-type warfare." It is precisely this historically loaded choice of words that the Pentagon and the White House had thus far taken great pains to avoid.
The victory over Saddam is considered groundbreaking, because it was based on a bold military strategy and because the war ended more quickly and with fewer losses than had been feared. Since then, however, doubts surrounding this victory have become steadily more insistent. The Americans are experiencing how the Blitzkrieg of yesterday is transforming itself into an eternity.
Instead of dying under a hail of bombs, Saddam is still at large and is apparently making his voice heard periodically from wherever he is in hiding. Instead of jubilation over liberation from a dictatorship, a power vacuum has developed. Instead of the quick introduction of democracy in Iraq and the establishment of a model for the entire Middle East, self-government, free elections and a liberal constitution will only become reality after a considerable delay. Instead of pulling out its occupying army by the end of this year, Washington now expects to remain in Iraq for two to three years.
Everything is more difficult, everything takes longer, the superpower's optimism is dissipating quickly, the US government is being forced to legitimize its actions, and Bush' popularity has declined dramatically for the first time since September 11, 2001. According to a "Newsweek" survey, Bush' approval rating has dropped 21 points to its current level of 53 percent, which is about where it was before the attacks on New York and Washington.
Of course, Iraq is still a long way from becoming another Vietnam, at least at this point. Nevertheless, the "L word" ("L" for "Lie") is weighing heavily on the President. Bush is accused of having used false information as justification of the need for war. Of all people, Bush, who so inimitably separates good and evil, manipulated his own country and the world with a grand gesture of truth, all to justify a war that he wanted to wage quickly and under his own terms.
Last week, George W. Bush and his guest Tony Blair attempted to remind the sceptics of the overriding purpose of the war - regime change. The United States had had at its disposal "clear and compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein" represented "a threat to security and peace," said the President.
In referring to the information obtained by his intelligence services, the British prime minister, who received thundering applause in Congress for his fiery justification of the war against Iraq, insisted that "the truth will say that this intelligence was good intelligence. There's no doubt in my mind." But Blair has also become more cautious: "Even if there were no weapons of mass destruction, we removed the tyrant from Iraq."
Soon afterwards, the prime minister was faced with a new crisis: Last Friday, former British UN weapons inspector David Kelly, who had allegedly exposed the falsification of evidence to the media, was found dead.
In America, the wave of patriotism that gripped the country after the terrorist attacks and carried it through two wars gradually seems to be subsiding. When asked whether it was politicians or members of the intelligence community who manipulated the truth, many US citizens now point to the Pentagon and the White House. It was no coincidence that Vice President Dick Cheney made frequent trips to CIA headquarters in Langley before the war, so as to arm himself with the right arguments, nor is his current genteel reticence a coincidence. Rumsfeld, for his part, created a small department at the Pentagon to review CIA analyses he considered overly cautious, and to promptly produce the desired outcome.
For the first time since September 11, 2001, the opposition is making itself heard with open criticism of the president. Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy is at the head of the pack, claiming that Bush' post-war policies "are built on a quicksand of false assumptions, and the result has been chaos for the Iraqi people, and continuing mortal danger for our troops." At the same time, he has urged that the United States move for a UN resolution under which NATO would be asked to assume responsibility for reconstruction in Iraq. The Democratic presidential candidates are also weighing in. "In some respects, this administration has a problem with the truth," said John Edwards, the boyish senator from North Carolina. His colleague from Florida, Bob Graham, has taken this a step further, claiming that the manipulation of the evidence of Saddam's intentions constitutes a sufficiently serious crime to justify impeachment proceedings - just as an apparent lie served as the basis for impeachment proceedings against Bush' predecessor Bill Clinton. Meanwhile, a new television commercial uses a play on the words "leader" and "misleader" to impress upon viewers the idea of Bush the leader, a man who misled his people and the world.
Unlike the case of Tony Blair in England, however, the debate surrounding the legitimacy of the war has yet to undermine the authority of the US president. The alleged weapons of mass destruction do not carry the same significance for the Americans as for the British. In the mind of the American public, the war against Iraq is, for the most part, a second strike in the collective retribution for the attacks of September 11, 2001. For this reason, the daily death toll among US soldiers in Baghdad, Najaf and Faludja is still a greater cause for concern with the American people - as well as the fact that the chaos in Baghdad simply refuses to go away.
Every day, the Americans hand out street maps of the Iraqi capital, on which dangerous neighborhoods are marked in black. So far, the danger zones have not become smaller. Gunfire can also be heard there during the day, and the gunshot wound victims being treated in hospitals still outnumber the victims of traffic accidents. Thick smoke still hangs over some parts of the city, where arson is just as much a part of the daily routine as muggings and car theft. Baghdad's residents who, for the most part, stoically endured even the hail of US bombs, now complain about how unsafe life has become.
There are still daily power failures, a problem partly attributable to attacks on power plants and transformers. However, because there are too few specialists among the 2,000 civilian employees reporting to the 61-year-old American administrator, Paul Bremer, the US military is forced to send out its soldiers to maintain the power supply.
And they're barely able to muddle their way through.
Until recently, the Americans were still talking about Iraq's reconstruction being financed by its immense future oil revenues. But those revenues will be a long time in coming. Although the US civil administration has now been able to sell the first oil pumped after the war, it still has to import gasoline from neighboring countries to avert constant bottlenecks.
The mistrust is mutual. As the Iraqis protest ever more vocally, the occupiers retreat behind their protective walls and into their fortresses whenever possible. Their priority, as the new supreme commander Abizaid has also confirmed, is the hunt for Saddam Hussein.
To that end, special forces of the US army have once again combed through the bomb crater in the upper-class Baghdad neighborhood of Mansur left by remote-controlled precision weapons on April 7. Seventeen truckloads of debris from the apartment building in which Saddam was supposedly hiding were brought to the military airport. From there, the debris was flown to the United States, where scientists will examine it for traces of DNA, using the same methods used to identify victims of the World Trade Center attack.
35 of the 52 protagonists from the Saddam nomenclature the Pentagon had pictured on playing cards have now been captured. The most prominent figure is Abd al-Hamid Hamud, the dictator's security advisor and secretary, who had just returned from Syria with a forged passport and Belorussian identification papers. Could this indicate that Saddam and his trusted circle are really in exile there?
Each new capture raises hopes that it will provide new information on the escape routes of Saddam and his sons. The search for the three men lies in the hands of Task Force 20, a secret military unit whose existence the Pentagon has now officially acknowledged. Its arsenal includes spy satellites, reconnaissance aircraft, and drones armed with Hellfire rockets.
The special unit was deployed again on July 9. Shortly before sunrise, tanks and soldiers surrounded an isolated farm northwest of Baghdad. It belongs to a cousin of Saddam, and locals had seen "many new cars" parked there. Intercepted telephone calls supported the assumption that Saddam and his entourage could have taken refuge there.
Apache helicopers circled over the property while speedboats idled nearby in the Tigris. But the house the soldiers stormed was abandoned. There was fresh bread in the kitchen, and sweat-drenched men's clothing suggested a hasty departure. False documents and pieces of paper with satellite telephone numbers were seized, while a machine gun, antitank rockets and explosives were found in the garden.
By now the Americans believe it is possible that Saddam had already planned his escape underground and the guerilla war prior to his defeat. "Newsweek" has cited an Iraqi secret service document, which allegedly contains the command "to take appropriate action against the American-British-Zionist coalition after the fall of the Iraqi leadership." This included eleven steps, from looting and arson to acts of sabotage against power plants and the murder of mullahs - in short, anything that contributes to chaos.
The as yet unsuccessful hunt for Saddam is fast becoming a myth of the deposed dictator no one is able to catch. Last Thursday, he apparently delivered his third taped message, in which he derides the Iraqi National Council, established last week at the instruction of US administrator Bremer. As long as Saddam remains at large, the guerilla movement will remain active.
Career diplomat Bremer is attempting to fill the power vacuum by making drastic decisions. The 25 members of the National Council closely reflect the ethnic and religious makeup of the country; 13 are Shiiites, who constitute 65 percent of the total population. Although the council is intended as an advisory body for Bremer, it took him by surprise by sending two emissaries to New York, who intend to lay claim to the representation of their country before the UN Security Council on Tuesday. Ahmed Chalabi, a third council member and former exile politician whose position is now severely compromised, refused to make the trip because the Americans were only willing to provide a military transport plane. He wanted an upholstered seat.
Bremer is making a considerable effort to win over unsuspicious portions of the old establishment. 250,000 soldiers of Saddam's army are still being paid a salary of between 50 and 150 dollars, and 1.3 million civil servants have also remained on the payroll. 70,000 police officers will soon be deployed to help bring about law and order, and to facilitate the occupying army's withdrawal from cities and villages. To date, however, not even half of these officers are performing their duties.
America's experience these days is paradoxical: Although it is a vastly superior superpower, its solo efforts have rather narrow limits. It can win wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and, in doing so, take revenge for September 11th. But the actual trophies, Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, remain elusive, diminish the victory, and inspire resistance.
The United States can claim that the UN and NATO have lost their significance, and it can even divide Europe into regions friendly and hostile to America, into a new and an old Europe, but their unilateralism quickly and drastically imposes limits. It is for this reason that, following the capture of Baghdad, a renaissance of international cooperation is taking place, a virtual rebirth of diplomacy.
In dealing with North Korea, America hides its cluelessness behind its request that China, in particular, do its best to exercise its influence over Kim Jong Il.
Multilateralism instead of unilateralism is also the order of the day in dealing with Iran. Russia and the European Union are pressuring the mullah regime to refrain from building nuclear weapons. In contrast, Washington's threats of making Iran or Syria the next targets of regime change have gradually subsided. And the "Road Map" for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis is a joint effort by the EU, the United Nations, Russia, and the United States. Now Washington is even asking for a Security Council resolution to send peacekeepers to Liberia.
The United States has overtaxed its own strength. During the current fiscal year, the Bush administration faces a deficit of 455 billion dollars, one third more than predicted. Stationing 148,000 troops in Iraq costs 3.9 billion dollars a month. Millions of Iraqis are more dependent than ever on the distribution of food and medical aid.
Just how much reconstruction is costing is concealed by a tangle of numbers that even the US Congress has found difficult to decipher. The occupying power still has about seven billion dollars for non-military purposes at its disposal. This includes one billion from development funds, 1.7 billion from frozen Iraqi assets in other countries, and 1.6 billion from oil business concluded before the war.
In the long term, oil will be the only means of refilling the official coffers of the new regime - 15 to 22 billion dollars a year, based on the current oil price, and provided two to three million barrels are drilled each day. But as long as the Iraqi oil industry is dominated by chaos, anarchy and sabotage, this will remain an illusion.
Under the Geneva Convention, the occupying power is responsible for all problems in the occupied country and, therefore, must pay the associated costs. Until now, the Bush administration has viewed other countries' efforts to have a say in the matter as meddling, regardless of whether these efforts have come from Europe or the United Nations. This is beginning to change. During the past few days, there has been talk of distributing the burdens associated with ongoing work in Iraq over the next four years. The 1991 Gulf War is inevitably being used as a model. At that time, Japan, Germany and the Gulf states assumed 52 of the 61 billion dollars in costs. It was the golden age of checkbook diplomacy.
The United Nations have scheduled a donor conference to finance reconstruction in the occupied Iraq for October. 50 interested countries have been invited, as well as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and independent aid organizations.
France, Great Britain and the US have agreed in principle to participating in an international Iraq fund. "As great as the differences of opinion on the war were, we do after all share a common interest in a stable, flourishing and open Iraq," said Chris Patten, the EU Commissioner for External Relations.
But now the Europeans are also insisting on what they were denied immediately after the war - a truly significant role for the United Nations in Iraq. This time the circumstances are more favorable. As the political, monetary and military fiasco in Iraq grows, the Bush administration, bent on attaining dominance, will be all the more forced to be willing to compromise.
In any event, an average of 20 armed assaults on US soldiers in Iraq every day are increasing pressure on Bremer to return more and more responsibility to the Iraqis themselves. He currently anticipates that Saddam's former subjects will be able to go to the polls and vote on a new constitution during the second half of 2004.
To one visitor to Iraq from Washington, things are clearly not moving quickly enough: Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, who was filled with optimism when promoting the war. His ultimate dream is of an imperial America, one that brings peace and freedom to the Middle East. But he too is now faced with Iraq's sobering reality: "I am here to gain a better understanding of what must be done during this period of transition," he says.
GERHARD SPÖRL, BERNHARD ZAND
Translated by Christopher Sultan