Nir Rosen. In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq.

AuthorGupta, Arun K.
PositionFiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq - Insurgent Iraq: Al Zarqawi and the New Generation - The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World - Book review

Nir Rosen. In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. Washington, DC: Free Press. 2006, 264 pages. Hardcover, no price indicated.

Loretta Napoleoni . Insurgent Iraq: Al Zarqawi and the New Generation. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press, 2005, 281 pages. Paper $13.95.

Thomas E. Ricks. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2006, 482 pages. Hardcover $ 27.95.

Gabriel Kolko. The Age of War." The United States Confronts the World. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006, 199 pages. Paper $19.95.

WHEN HISTORY LOOKS BACK on the Iraq War, the greatest tragedy might have been the inability of Sunni and Shia groups to unite early on against the U.S. occupation. If the tactically adept Sunni Arab resistance, based mainly in western Iraq, had been able to combine forces with religious Shia groups in the South that are anti-imperialist but lack military training, then the occupation might have become untenable.

The Achilles heel of the U.S. war is its supply lines. Patrick Lang, a military analyst, recently wrote an article titled, "The vulnerable Line of Supply to US Troops in Iraq" in which he noted, "All but a small amount of our soldiers' supplies ... pass through the Shiite-dominated south of Iraq." (Christian Science Monitor, July 26, 2006) The roads have remained largely unmolested but a tenacious insurgency could turn them into a "shooting gallery" more than 400 miles long. Other supply routes--such as through northern or western Iraq--are far more dangerous and lack the needed storage infrastructure while aerial transport is incapable of sating the gargantuan appetite for supplies.

This is not just an abstract fear. At one point in April 2004, as noted by Thomas Ricks (2006), U.S. commanders were so worried about their supply lines that they ordered the Green Zone to go on food rationing and "thought they'd have to evacuate Baghdad"(346).

The failure to forge a national resistance has allowed the U.S. military to sustain the occupation and simultaneously helped plunge Iraq into a civil war. While the U.S. occupation, obviously, benefits from the discord so do some actively fighting the U.S. presence.

Internecine warfare in Iraq is a theme central to two recent works on the Iraq War--the first, by Nit Rosen and the second, by Loretta Napoleoni.

Born of an Iranian father and speaking Iraqi-accented Arabic Rosen was able to blend into Iraqi society better than any other American reporter. He arrived in Baghdad days after it fell on April 9, 2003. The orthodox history states that it was U.S. decisions during this period--not to stop looting, to delay forming an Iraqi government, to disband Iraqi security forces and to engage in wholesale "de-baathification"--that created the insurgency.

This is only half the story, however. Iraqis were not just objects to be acted upon, but actors in their own right. Rosen's reporting from the mosque, street and marketplace illuminates the forces unleashed after the toppling of Iraq's regime. All "that remained was the mosque. Old authorities were destroyed and angry young clerics replaced them, arrogating to themselves the power to represent, to mobilize, and to govern" (4).

While it was Sunni Arabs who first picked up the gun, it was Shia clerics who denounced the occupation the harshest and demanded an Islamic state. It was not just Moqtada al-Sadr, the scion of the revered Sadr family. Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who is currently trying to form a breakaway oil-rich region in the south that he and his party would control, took an oppositional stance at first: "There are no more excuses for the U.S. presence, and it is not accepted by the Iraqi people" (6).

Another, Sheikh Muhammad al-Yaqubi (later a self-anointed Ayatollah), held a conference during April 2003 in Najaf for the founding of his Fudala party. There he announced "We are at war with the West ... represented by American imperialism" (26). While Yaqubi is a follower of Sadr's martyred father, Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, his movement has clashed politically with Sadrists in the South and he opposes Hakim's push for a nine-province autonomous region in southern Iraq, underlining the complex politics of the new Iraq.

As for Moqtada al-Sadr, he capitalized on his father's "network of mosques and social services" (20), which gave him a leg up in the post-war chaos, looting and collapse of social services. Rosen notes his fondness for street slang, unusual for a Shia clergy, that was a mark of his broad appeal, underestimated by both the United States and Shia establishment: "No other leader in Iraq had such a personal...

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