Wednesday, May 26, 2004

War crimes precipitate an "Islamic mini-state"

The AP reports of "blowback" in Fallujah:

With U.S. Marines gone and central government authority virtually nonexistent, Fallujah resembles an Islamic mini-state - anyone caught selling alcohol is flogged and paraded in the city. Men are encouraged to grow beards and barbers are warned against giving "Western" hair cuts.

"After all the blood that was shed, and the lives that were lost, we shall only accept God's law in Fallujah," said cleric Abdul-Qader al-Aloussi, offering a glimpse of what a future Iraq may look like as the U.S.-led occupation draws to a close. "We must capitalize on our victory over the Americans and implement Islamic sharia laws."

The departure of the Marines under an agreement that ended the three-week siege last month has enabled hard-line Islamic leaders to assert their power in this once-restive city 30 miles west of Baghdad.

Some were active in defending the city against the Marines and have profited by a perception - both here and elsewhere in Iraq - that the mujahedeen, or Islamic holy warriors, defeated a superpower.

Under the agreement, the Marines handed security in the city to a new Fallujah Brigade made up largely of local residents and commanded by officers of Saddam Hussein's former army.

With the departure of the Marines, the position of the U.S.-appointed civil administration has been weakened in favor of the clerics and the mujahedeen who resisted the U.S. occupation. That is a pattern that could be repeated elsewhere in Iraq after the occupation ends June 30, unless other legitimate leaders come forward to replace those tainted by association with the occupation.
This story illustrates well the lessons of Fallujah: the more the US "gets tough" in Iraq and clamps down on "insurgents," the more it risks alienating the rest of the population. Hence, the paradox of American power.

Many think the battle for Iraqi hearts and minds was lost with the torture scandal. It's more likely that the war crimes committed in Fallujah drove the last nail into the coffin of the occupation's legitimacy.