Friday, April 09, 2004

How resolute will the Salvadorans be in Iraq?

I was just about to sit down and write my last post before taking off for a couple of weeks, feeling very pensive on this Good Friday. I wanted to predict how the worst was yet in store for Salvadorans stationed in Najaf, where the Americans seemed to be resolutely avoiding taking on al-Sadr's militia until after the weekend's religious holiday had ended. Just yesterday, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, head of the coalition forces, announced the beginning of Operation Resolute Sword to destroy al-Sadr´s militia, saying that they were committed to "powerful, deliberate, very robust military operations until the job is done."

But then I went to Juan Cole's site, and found the following report from a friend of his who'd managed to speak to someone in Najaf:

"I called my friend in Najaf today Thursday . . . Private internet doesn´t work. Messages bounce. There are though some institutional connections working, like hospitals and other.

He told me there is a lot of fighting going on, mainly between the Mahdi army and Salvadorans, all the time. 4-5 Salvadorans are said to be killed. My friend has been videotaping fighting, bullets and clashes close to him.

Four taxi cars with civilians were blown up with lots of dead and injured, women and children including. Americans blame Mehdi army for casualties but they reject responibility for the assaults. My friend says this had happened close to a place called Al Bahar. He also says . . . civilians, pedestrians, on their way to Karbala religious festivities were attacked and killed or injured.

American helicopters are circling above Najaf perpetually. The Mahdi army are said to have ca 200-400 fighters in Najaf central city. There has been 3 huge explosions, maybe SCUD he said (he remembered when Saddam hauled in a couple of SCUDs when oppressing the Shia uprising following Gulf War 1) and people say it might be missiles, which was denied by US military, blaming the Mahdi army."

There are no papers here today, and I couldn't find much about this fighting in a quick perusal of the usual internet news sources, but I'm sure that will soon change.

So when Salvadorans return to the daily grind on Monday, what kind of reaction can we expect?

Although we're getting into uncharted territory here --i.e., Salvadorans casualties in a foreign war-- I am quite sure that both the outgoing and incoming ARENA governments will "stay the course," as long as the U.S. does the same. Over the past 15 years, the ARENA government has been the most steadfast ally of the U.S. in the hemisphere. And now Tony Saca will have quite a bit of breathing room as he starts his presidency June 1 with an unprecedented electoral mandate.

I'm not even sure the Bush administration even needs to threaten this government with punitive measures, which we will recall they did wantonly to drum up international backing for the war. The ARENA leadership sees its fate as inextricably tied to that of the U.S. government, in both economic and political terms: whether it's the dollarized economy, subletting the Comalapa airport for regional drug interdiction efforts, or being the principal cheerleader of CAFTA in the region. Most importantly, ARENA's outdated anti-communist ideology fits well with the "you're with us, or you're against us" posturing of the Bush administration's war on terror.

But if last week's press coverage is any indication, and if soldiers continue to get shipped back to El Salvador in coffins, Salvador's participation in the Iraq war may provide yet another reason for citizens here to feel unduly martyred by the policies of the elite cabal running this country in its own self-interest.

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