BAGHDAD - Two American soldiers, strapped in bulletproof vests and wearing steel helmets, holding M-16 guns and sweating profusely, tried to sort out the huge traffic jam near Al-Mutanabi street in the center of Baghdad. In a heat of 45 degrees Celsius, with one hand ready to shoot the long gun slung from a shoulder, neither soldier had the strength left to wave the other arm to direct traffic. Instead they started shouting orders in English, based mainly on the terms "sh-t" and "f-king."
The Iraqi drivers ignored them. They have their own agenda, which does not include driving in an orderly fashion.
This little scene epitomized the American reality in Iraq: an attempt to hold onto a state that has gone out of control, without knowing exactly where it is going. "If the Americans get out now, they will leave behind the ruins of a civil war," says an Iraqi commentator. "If they stay too long, they will become daily targets and turn into the factor that unites all of Iraq against them."
The temporary Iraqi government is regarded by the Iraqis as a UFO. Nobody has any idea what its members, who have not get been recognized by a single Arab state, are doing. Meanwhile, the United States appears to be giving up on the idea of an international policing force, in the absence of anyone joining it.
The vision of the new Middle East seems in Baghdad like a fairy tale. "I'm not sure that promoting the political process between Israel and the Arabs is a goal listed in my instructions manual," says, politely, a senior American officer in Baghdad's civil administration. "It is difficult for me from here to see the connection between the two conflicts. On second thought, I am not sure that one should make a connection between Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian cause." He means one should not form a linkage or dependence between what will be defined as an American victory in Iraq, and this victory's effect on other regional disputes.
"I'm sure we'll win in the end," says the officer,"but it might be in a year or five years. Do you really want to link your timetable to ours?"
There is nothing new in this description. That is the heart of the problem.
Four months after the end of the war, there is no feeling of renewal in Iraq. When the American administration tries to define what would be considered a success in the period after Saddam and how to apply those definitions on the simmering ground; when the "Iraq problem" is breaking up into controlling the streets, Suni or Shi'ite "triangles," stopping highwaymen men on the main road between Iraq and Jordan and especially preventing terror - it is hard to know when that new Iraq will be formed, and even harder to envision the Israeli-Palestinian product that was meant to be born from this war.
The concept that one conflict in the Middle East affects another, and that a solution in one place becomes a comprehensive solution, is imaginary. Iraq is Iraq, and Palestine is Palestine. Taking care of both of them means one too many conflicts for the United States to cope with.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now