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Saturday, April 28, 2007



(CHICAGO)(April 29, 2007) The car bombings in Karbala come faster than I can write about them. Two weeks ago, 32 people were killed in Karbala. Before I could write about the peaceful city of Karbala having been transformed into a war zone, Saturday (yesterday) a new car bombing killed 56 more people and damaged the Imam Abbas mosque.

Karbala was an open and friendly place the first time I arrived there. If you go to and click on Executive Director you will see a picture of me with two boys in front of the Mosque of Hussein, in the large city square. []

People were open, friendly, and safe.

Since then, the city has become a killing field.

Karbala is not far from Najaf, and both cities are historic centers of Shia Islam scholarship.

We arrived in Karbala in April, 2003 in the midst of 1 million pilgrims. And yet the pilgrims and the city were orderly and safe.

It is hard to believe now, but during our first trip to Karbala the greatest danger was the potential for a traffic accident, not violent confrontation. My Iraqi assistant, a Shiite, and I could travel safely virtually anywhere. Today, no one is safe, anywhere.

There was hope, then, that people could live in harmony, freedom and peace. Today we have lost count of the bloodbaths.

It is possible to be a vehement opponent of the invasion of Iraq, as I was and am, and still acknowledge that in the aftermath of Saddam’s fall a general peace descended across Iraq. I experienced it. The peace was short-lived but real.

Unfortunately, the United States was totally unprepared for peace. The Pentagon was reading its own Paul Wolfowitz-inspired comic books (“Macho Man”) and claiming we could be down to 50,000 troops in country in September, 2003.

But U. S. troops had no strategy for maintaining the peace, and no strategy for engaging the people of Iraq. As I made clear in Part One of this series, “force protection” was the mantra that destroyed the mission.

Commanders were unwilling to expose their men and women to danger, and ended up exposing them to even worse calamities in the long run.

We also forget that Iraq was, by Middle East standards, a very liberal country, if not the most liberal nation. Women were liberated in appearance, education and employment. Tolerance for various lifestyles existed. Entertainment was varied.

And Rummy, Donald Rumsfeld, had gone to Baghdad in 1983 during that open era.

If only we had grasped the initiative then, and co-opted Saddam and undermined Iraq with free trade instead of sanctions, there might be a semblance of democracy in the Middle East today.

To quote the poet Robert Frost, we took the road less traveled,” to war, and “it has made all the difference.” A disaster.

Saddam would never have yielded to freedom, but our efforts to encourage economic freedom and social freedom would have created the underpinnings to destabilize his regime.

Unfortunately, when the current President Bush took office, his advisers got the cart before the horse. They wanted to impose military freedom on Iraq, believing that social and economic freedom would follow. Recent history seems to indicate the opposite process take place: In Korea decades ago, and today in China, economic freedom eventually leads, however slowly, to social freedom, and these will do more to ultimately free China from its current dictatorship than any foreign provocation. An American invasion is not needed.

But in Karbala in 2003 I knew there were no plans.

Americans were timorous. They were quick to create “compounds” for their “security,” that ended up segregating them from the very Iraqi people who were the only ones that could ensure America’s security. We should have extended an open hand; we kept our fists fixated on “force protection” and ignored the very people we had come to liberate.

Those happy kids in my picture on line (see above) may be teenagers now. I pray they are not insurgents, but no one can know.

As the weeks lengthened to months in 2003, Karbala became safer and remained peaceful. U. S. forces gradually withdraw, and south of Hilla the bulk of the remaining troops were multinational soldiers in a very quiet holding pattern.

Then, in late 2003 the power vacuum in Iraq gradually empowered the Sunni insurgency on one hand, and our efforts to impose democracy empowered the Shiites on the other hand. The result: a toxic combination that has led to yesterday’s chaos.

And Karbala? For over a thousand years the city has survived and endured. Today it is in the midst of a revolutionary war that swallowed up the Baghdad Spring of 2003.

NEXT: Return to Iraq: Part Three: Finally an Ambassador Who Speaks Arabic.

Chicago-based Internet journalist, broadcaster and media critic Andy Martin is the Executive Editor and publisher of © Copyright by Andy Martin 2007. Martin covers regional, national and world politics with forty years of personal experience. He is America's most respected independent foreign policy analyst. Andy has been traveling to the Middle East since 1970; he became involved with the study of revolutionary warfare under Professor Bernard Fall during the mid 1960’s, and later became a founder of the Revolutionary War Research Center, a consortium in Washington and New York.

Columns also posted at and Comments? E-mail: Media contact: (866) 706-2639. Web sites:;


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