*The US Army has launched Operation Sidewinder, storming 20 towns in the Sunni Arab center of Iraq and making dozens of arrests, in a quest to stop sabotage and attacks on US troops. The problem with this sort of operation is that it assumes that resistance to occupation is a zero sum game. There is a pie; it is a particular size; there is only one pie. So if you cut the pie in two and eat half of it, there will be half as much pie. But resistance is not a zero sum game, as Gaza and the West Bank show. Given Sharon’s brutal tactics (which have included deliberately firing rockets into civilian apartment buildings), the pie of resistance should be completely gone by now. But some attempts to stamp out resistance can increase it, by enlarging the recruitment pool of resisters. The Sunni Arabs north, east and west of Baghdad from all accounts hate the US and hate US troops being there. This hatred is the key recruiting tool for the resistance, and it is not lessened by US troops storming towns. I wish Operation Sidewinder well; maybe it will work, militarily. Politically, I don’t think it addresses the real problems, of winning hearts and minds.
*The Najaf religious authority, headed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has condemned body searches of Iraqi women carried out by male Coalition troops. The fatwa says that this frisking of women does “not respect the Sharia (Islamic religious law) nor Iraqi traditions and social values.” Such sentiments in part lay behind the conflict in Majar al-Kabir last week between outraged townspeople and British troops, leading to the deaths of six British soldier and at least three of the town’s young men.
*The Sadr Movement continues to be a real contender for political and religious authority among pious Shiites in Iraq, and is getting monetary contributions in large numbers, according to Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post. He discusses in some detail its organization in populous East Baghdad. Shadid is among the best of the Western reporters now in Iraq, in part because he is an Arabist. This simple fact brings into stark question the American journalistic conviction that good reporters should be ignorant of local culture lest they become biased. Of course, this principle applies only to the global South. No major American newspaper would employ a reporter in Paris who did not know French.
*Sometimes you see a news report and it just looks odd, tipping you that something important is going on. Asharq al-Awsat has an item today that Paul Bremer, US Proconsul of Iraq, has dissolved the Pharmacists’ Union and the Veterinarians’ Union, writing letters to their presidents telling them they have no further authority because their organizations are no longer needed. The deputy head of the Arab Pharmacists’ Union, Tahir al-Shakhshir, rejected the decree and said the American civil administration of Iraq had no authority to issue it because the union is an Arab League institution. The deputy head of the Arab Veterinarians’ Union, As’ad Abu Raghib, expressed similar sentiments and said that the union might pick up and move to Amman, Jordan, to continue its work among Iraqi veterinarians. What is going on here? Is the notoriously anti-union philosophy of the US Republican party being imposed on Iraq? Or is this an assault on pan-Arabist, Arab League institutions, aimed at removing any possible source of opposition to the Americanization of Iraq? Or is this move part of de-Baathification? (If the latter, why not just remove the high officers of the unions? Or just make union membership voluntary?)
Note that the organizations may be correct that the US administration has no right to issue such decrees. The Fourth Geneva Convention governing the actions of occupation authorities in militarily occupied territories generally discourages any actions that alter the character or legal status of the occupied territories. International lawyers should be asked to comment on the import of these dissolutions for an article like Section III, Art. 53: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.” Would dissolving a union fall under this rubric? Tony Blair’s counsel is said to have expressed worries to him back last March that a bilateral Anglo-American administration of Iraq with no UN sanction would necessarily entail violations of the Fourth Geneva convention. I don’t personally have any answers here. I’m raising the questions. The news item struck me as odd.