A six-mile-long concrete blast wall cleaving off Sadr City -- the Shia mega-slum of 2.5 million people that pours out of eastern Baghdad -- from the rest of the city might seem like a tragic testament to the failures of the American mission in Iraq five years going, but not to Michael Gordon and his official sources. They always see a silver lining to whatever happens in Iraq (unless, of course, an Iranian hand can be detected helping the insurgency).
Iraqis resisted the constructing of the new wall in their neighborhood, which looks exactly like the walls that surround the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank. The neighborhood militias fired thousands of rounds (sometimes using powerful .50 caliber guns), at the American soldiers and the private contractors while they erected the enormous, hideously ugly concrete edifice. Now residents are forced to walk for miles just to leave their neighborhood or go to the market and queue up for hours to pass through humiliating checkpoints. People threw ropes around some of the concrete slabs, tied them to cars or trucks, and tried to pull them down, only to face merciless attacks from American Apache helicopter gun-ships. American forces cleared out a large buffer zone on either side of the wall by using armored bulldozers to knock down dozens of homes and small businesses. The Iraqis used IEDs, snipers, small arms fire, and even a few suicide bombers to try to halt construction on the project. Only the lavish application of American firepower along the path of the wall made it possible. Hundreds of Iraqis were killed or displaced in the process, but American officials labeled them "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "militants" so they were open game.
Michael Gordon sees this latest U.S. military operation in Sadr City as a terrific success. Someone should ask him if he would feel this way if a foreign occupation force slammed a similar wall through the middle of his own neighborhood.
Concrete blast walls that sometimes extend 25-feet into the ground to prevent the digging of tunnels have a powerful cultural resonance in the Arab world. No one can look at them without thinking immediately about the Palestinians languishing behind similar walls in Gaza and in the West Bank. The checkpoints, where people must produce official papers, have their photos taken or pupils examined, and perhaps be routinely arrested, have been a mainstay of Palestinian life for over 40 years. Now the Americans have brought this unfortunate innovation to the heart of Baghdad.
The Americans cannot win the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people or spread "liberty" and "freedom" as George W. Bush always proclaims, by replicating Israeli occupation tactics in Iraq. Apache helicopters, D-9 armored bulldozers, and prefabricated concrete slabs have powerful symbolic connotations in that part of the world. These kinds of heavy-handed occupation tactics enable U.S. forces to "win" every battle while they lose the wider war.
The U.S.-backed Shia government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is far more unpopular today than it has ever been. The heavy-handed American tactics in Sadr City have eroded the political support of the people they have been "liberating" for over 5 years now. The U.S. cannot "win" in Iraq while it pursues policies that undermine the legitimacy of the Maliki government in the eyes of the Iraqi people. Building the wall has won Maliki and his American benefactors no new friends in Iraq. In fact, it has made the long-term American goal in Iraq -- the "winning" we hear John McCain talk so much about -- even less attainable than it was before.
Michael Gordon's above-the-fold "news analysis" in today's New York Times, "An Iraqi Success, So Far," (co-written not with Judith Miller but with Alissa Rubin), is a rehashing of tired arguments for "staying the course" in Iraq that we have heard from Bush mouthpieces for years now. Gordon claims that the Sadr City operation along with the recent Basra attacks resulted in Maliki being "strengthened politically." But Gordon bases that assertion on no real analysis of the attitudes of Iraqis, just on the rosy statements his official sources feed him.
Once again, Michael Gordon sees a nefarious Iranian hand directing what would otherwise be happy-go-lucky Shia militias in Iraq. He cites his official sources -- the only ones he knows exist -- to assert that "Mahdi Army and Iranian-backed commanders were sneaking out of Sadr City and perhaps even Iraq." Earlier in the piece, on the front page, Gordon asserts that Sadr City has been "a conduit for what American commanders say are Iranian-supplied arms, including explosively formed penetrators, a particularly lethal type of roadside bomb." So Gordon's stenography continues to lay the blame for America's troubles in Iraq on Tehran's doorstep. He continues to plant seeds for a possible U.S. attack on Iran at some point. I wish it were all that simple, Mike.