Will the Real Foreign Fighters in Iraq Please Stand Up?


My vote for the Strange Statement of the Week Award goes to Brigadier General Mark Hertling, deputy commander of the First Armored Division of the U.S. Army, stationed in Iraq. The general told reporters that the coordinated bombings in Baghdad on Oct. 27 were the work of "foreign fighters."

In his Oct. 28 press conference, President Bush, too, blamed "foreign terrorists" for the devastating suicide bombings in Baghdad.

It's as if both the Brigadier General and President Bush were favorite sons of Tikrit, raised on date palms and memories of the ancient era of ruler Haroon al-Rashid, a golden age. The general, especially, should get the award for the sheer audacity and haughty self-indulgence as a foreign fighter in Iraq blaming other foreign fighters for the violence there.

We must navigate this slippery ground if we wish to end the military, moral and political violence that defines so many aspects of Iraq today. The Americans in Iraq, like the Israelis in Gaza, want the world to believe that evil people who hate goodness, democracy and freedom are waging a campaign against them, which must be stamped out with force. In this view, evil emanates unilaterally from twisted minds and manifests itself in the form of terror attacks such as we witness in Iraq.

The rest of the world is not buying this line, because it is the sort of lying that our parents taught us to resist, and the sort of political and moral terror that the United Nations Charter was designed to negate. The rest of the world takes a more complete and accurate view of the violence in Palestine-Israel and Iraq. It notes that occupation, resistance, and assorted degrees of terror (by sovereign states and non-state groups) occur in a linear manner: Occupation breeds resistance. This subsequently and predictably becomes a cycle of violence that engulfs occupier, occupied, innocent bystanders and other interested third parties who join the fray.

Indeed, the reality in Iraq is more nuanced than Bush administration versions, less simplistic, and goes something like this: Saddam Hussein ran an evil and terrible regime that caused the Iraqi people great suffering. The world is delighted that he is gone. His removal by the unilateral force of Anglo-American arms has generated a different kind of suffering for many Iraqis, including security concerns, infrastructural problems, political uncertainties and tensions and humiliations that are inherent in foreign occupations and the sort of social engineering the United States is trying to achieve in re-creating Iraq.

The Anglo-American assault has also generated new concerns among other people in the region who fear the consequences of a simplistic American formula for changing regimes and remaking societies largely in their own image.

Washington arrogantly portrays the choice in Iraq as either the evil of Saddam Hussein or the promise of security of Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator of Iraq. This, too, the world is not buying. The reality is not so black and white, regardless of how comfortable the White House is with such simple-mindedness. This paint-and-think-by-numbers approach to the world has unraveled before the realities on the ground.

Most of the people in the Middle East and throughout the world today reject the American attempt to blame small groups of terrorists for the violence in Iraq without considering the wider context of the terror. I would guess that most of the world sincerely condemns the terror, delights in the Iraqi people's liberation from the terrible former regime, and sees the end of the violence coming through a speedy, orderly Anglo-American exit from Iraq, and a resumption of Iraqi sovereignty, as per the wishes of the Iraqis themselves.

In other words, the problem in Iraq is both the "foreign terrorists" who bomb innocent civilians and foreign occupiers, and also the "foreign fighters" from the United States, United Kingdom, Poland, Spain and other distant and alien lands who perpetuate the distortions and stresses that are inherent in the regime-change phenomenon. The record is increasingly clear: three American-driven regime changes in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq have given the world three twisted and violent lands.

Political terror and the terror of bombs have now come together in the lands where America and Israel have sought and made regime changes. Paul Bremer and Osama bin Laden clearly are not synonymous or morally equivalent. They operate according to very different goals, stimuli, and values. But the consequences of their policies end up being very similar -- especially when viewed through the eyes of innocent civilians dying on the streets of their own cities, whether in New York or Baghdad.

Rami Khouri is a political scientist and executive editor of the Daily
Star newspaper in Beirut, Lebanon.

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