In yet another escalation of terrorist violence in Iraq, a massive car bomb killed one of the country’s most prominent Shiite religious leaders and some 100 others in the holy city of Najaf Aug. 29. It was the deadliest attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, brother of the slain cleric and a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, blamed the U.S. occupation for the attack, saying, “The occupation forces that have occupied the country by force are responsible for security and for all the blood spilled in Najaf and Baghdad and Mosul and throughout Iraq.”

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis marched in an Aug. 31 funeral procession for Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim. Hakim, 64, headed the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a group he founded in 1982 while exiled in Iran.

His brother told the crowd, “We will follow Hakim’s ideas: unity in Iraq between Shiite, Sunnis, and Kurds; or a democratic country without dictatorship; and a country not under occupation.”

From all reports the U.S. occupation is increasingly isolated from the Iraqi people, who are suffering daily violence and a continuing lack of electricity, water, and jobs.

Simon Serfaty, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, whose board members include people like Zbigniew Brzezinski, William Cohen, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, told Agence France Press, “Things are going rotten, we are seeing a degradation for which there appears to be no remedy. American military power seems to unable to keep up with events in a country where everything is out of control.”

Attacks have increased against U.S. and British troops in southern Iraq, a largely Shiite region, putting an end to U.S. claims that unrest is restricted to remnants of Saddam Hussein supporters north of Baghdad. On Sept. 1, two U.S. soldiers were killed when a bomb went off beside their convoy in southern Iraq.

The number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq is now close to 300, with more than half killed since President Bush announced the end of major combat, May 1.

The number of those wounded, well over 1,000, is close to triple that of the 1991 Gulf War. The total increased more than 35 percent in August, when an average of almost 10 troops a day were injured. Last weekend, 14 were wounded, according to official reports. The Pentagon is announcing injuries only when attacks kill one or more troops. As a result many injuries are unreported.

On Capitol Hill, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are voicing concern over the mounting, but not fully disclosed, occupation price tag.

“I think members of Congress have a responsibility to the people of this country to ask the hard questions about how much it’s going to cost, and how it’s going to be paid for,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “This is just like Vietnam. It’s being paid for by deficit spending that we ultimately have to face and pay.”

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee, criticized the administration for “not being very up front about how much is going to be needed,” but said U.S. taxpayers should expect to shoulder the burden.

A new nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report requested by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and released Sept. 2 says the Pentagon cannot sustain its occupation of Iraq beyond next March without pulling in additional forces from other branches of the military and reserves or from other countries, or somehow rapidly expanding the Army, at a cost of tens of billions.

The Bush administration’s options are all problematic. Send more U.S. troops? That is unpopular domestically, and the U.S. military is overextended. Put an “Iraqi face” on the occupation while retaining U.S. control? That is difficult to accomplish, and Iraqis who are seen as providing a cover for the U.S. may become discredited or even killed. Get other countries to contribute funds but hold on to primary U.S. control? That is also difficult, as other countries have their own economic and political interests. Get UN authorization for other countries to send troops but hold on to real U.S. control? This is a tricky maneuver and some top administration officials such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are dead-set against any kind of UN authority in Iraq.

Nevertheless, as its unilateral foreign policy seemed to spin further toward disaster, the White House leaked to the press its decision to pursue the UN option, continuing to insist that any international forces be kept under U.S. command.

The author can be reached at


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more. Previously she taught English as a second language and did a variety of other jobs to pay the bills. She has lived in six states, and is all about motherhood, art, nature and apple pie.