Lost in Oz: The Shi'ite Has Hit the Fan in Iraq

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The late comedian Bill Hicks once said that the struggle in Iraq was never a war, because a war is when two armies are fighting.

Hicks said this in 1991, during the first Gulf War, but his statements could ultimately be true about the conflict in Iraq today -- one extremely-well funded army is using the best military technology in the world to fight a group of religious zealots whose best weapon is strapping explosives to themselves.  Also in war, there is a definite beginning and at least a probable end in planning.

In its defense, the Iraq "War" certainly has a beginning. This March will be the third anniversary of "The Coalition of the Willing" and its united armed forces storming into Southern Iraq and "taking charge." No doubt the red states will be flying their mini-flags high out the SUV windows this month. Go America!

My memories of the whole ordeal are bittersweet at best. In 2002, the news was plagued with the Bush administration pining for the United Nations' support of the invasion. There was also Bush's State of the Union in January 2003, where he outlined what a dangerous man Saddam Hussein was -- that the evil dictator and his forces were hiding weapons of mass destruction and possible nuclear armaments. If anybody didn't know what was coming next, then March must have been a big shock. On live television, Bush announced he was giving the go-ahead to military operations, and 15 minutes later images of buildings spouting flames in downtown Baghdad graced the networks. Enjoy the fireworks, America!

Weeks later the Saddam statue was "torn down" on Fox News, which ended up being a perfect metaphor for the end of violence in Iraq entirely -- the statue didn't come down. In May, when George Bush announced to fanfare on a well-distanced Naval ship that "major combat operations" had ended, he was far from correct. In fact, major combat operations had barely begun, with the biggest offensives to take place in Fallujah in 2004 and Tall 'Afar in 2005. There were also still major combat causalities to take place, as U.S. casualties reached 2,000 plus and Iraqi civilian casualties hit 100,000 in 2005. Mission accomplished! Go America!

What exactly were neoconservatives thinking when they took office in 2000? Did they think the U.S. could just drop a house on the Wicked Saddam of the Middle East, and the Iraqis/Munchkins would come out and dance around their liberators?

Now American soldiers, the unselfish men and women who are putting their lives on the line -- and making much less than the weapons manufacturers -- are lost in Oz, and the flying monkeys are getting angrier everyday. The yellow brick road has gone from Baghdad to Fallujah to Tall 'Afar and it's sure as hell not leading home, at least not in the near future. It may take, to quote Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, "six to eight, ten, twelve years." Way to narrow it down for our people in uniform, Mr. Secretary.

After three years, the state of things in Iraq can be summed up in two words -- much worse. As early as September, Time magazine reported fears amongst top military personnel stationed in Iraq about the possibility of all out civil war. Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims have lived in a state of hostility for years, but the U.S. occupation has only heightened these tensions. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is a strong "irritant" to Sunnis, according to Time, and the Constitution that was voted on in October strongly supports Shi'ite and Kurd populations, while Sunni areas are left in the cold. Many U.S. soldiers on the ground wonder, are they training Iraqi police officers for peacekeeping, or for future armed clashes?

This was all according to Time magazine in September. As of this writing, the violence has exploded like a roadside blast between Sunnis and Shi'ites following the bombing of a prominent Shi'ite mosque. Important Sunni groups have also left government talks, leaving us with three words to describe Iraq ' much, much worse.

In the documentary The Fog of War, former secretary of defense Robert McNamara described an example of the term that ultimately became the film's title. In the Vietnam War, U.S. forces thought the conflict was about communism and maintaining the mission of the Truman Doctrine. But the citizens in Vietnam, as McNamara later learned at a dinner with former Vietnamese leaders, viewed it as a civil war with two sides wanting to rule the government in different ways, and the U.S. only supported one. The same may end up being true for our Iraq conflict. In the fog of war, even the meanings of soldiers' missions vanish.

Senior military officials, politicians and even top ranking superiors in the Pentagon cannot successfully identify a clear plan for Iraq stability. The casualty list is growing, the American taxpayers' money is disappearing, and no one, not in Washington and not amongst the neoconservatives, sees an end in sight.

If this were actually a war, we would have already lost.

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Travis Irvine's picture
Columns on STR: 5

Travis Irvine is a stand-up comedian, independent filmmaker and unsuccessful politician. His campaign and comedy videos have been featured on The Jay Leno Show, PBS’s NewsHour, The Huffington Post and Funny Or Die. A recent graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism, he currently lives and performs in New York City.