FRESNO, CA -- If you can forget the giant sucking hole where our strategy ought to be, and the total hopelessness of it all, Iraq can be a real pleasure to watch just for the sheer coolness of the videos coming out lately. My favorite is the footage showing the bomb going off in the cafeteria of the Iraqi Parliament.
The set-up was classic comedy: a reporter from Al-Hurra, our billion-dollar try at translating Fox News into Arabic, was interviewing a Shi'ite mullah - one of those crusading democracy heroes who also kind of appreciate the $5,000 monthly salaries and $7,000 expense accounts. The reporter's asking the Mullah some fake question when there's a big WHAM! through the wall.
That noise was a bomb going off in the legislature's official cafeteria. It was one of the Honorable Gentlemen from the Jihadi Party saying in real clear language, "I beg to differ." It wasn't exactly Robert's Rules of Order, but it got the point across. "Point of or-duh, Mis-tuh Chairman! I wish to ask the House's indulgence while I pull this little string and blow you to hell before you can finish your American-taxpayer funded hummus lunch special! I wish to express myself with these little ball bearings! I wish to splatter my colleagues, very rare, over the steam tables!"
That, as the hippies say, "is what democracy looks like."
Or in this case, "sounds like." It was the noise of somebody detonating an explosive belt, or vest, or some other item of the local tailoring specialty: Semtex accessories. In order to pull his pop-top, the bomber had to get through five separate checkpoints.
The Semtex sushi?
So I had to laugh when CNN spent days asking its high-priced military experts if this might be "an inside job." Gee, ya think? Nah, maybe he just brought in the plastique on a serving tray, told the cooks it was a slab of tuna for the sushi lunch deal. If they asked about the wires coming out of it, he could say it was the latest spa fad from Osaka: acupuncture to stimulate the freshness cells.
Christ, of course it was an inside job. There's no other kind of job in Iraq. Here's the bottom line that nobody wants to face: Nobody is on our side in Iraq. Nobody. The Kurds are working with us, for now, but they'll go it alone if we stop serving as their free air force and supply line. The Shia hate us like poison, but don't mind letting us play bodyguard for the moment - most of them, anyway, though hotter heads are starting to prevail. And the Sunni - any one of them would accept death by torture just for the chance to get a good shot at an American.
It's a lot like the situation in South Vietnam around 1970. How many men did ARVN have? The official answer is "nearly 500,000." The real answer is, "Next to none - maybe a few thousand AF officers and a couple of Ranger units...maybe." How many friends do we have in Iraq? Not even as many as in Nam.
So this isn't exactly a Whodunit. It's more like "Who DIDN'T dunit?" Who in Iraq wouldn't be willing to die for the bragging rights to blowing up the occupiers' fake parliament?
The video shows that when the bomb goes off, the Mullah being interviewed reacts like a combat-hardened vet, hitting the floor in zero-point-zero seconds, turban and all. I guess that's why he's one of the "moderates" - he's not in any hurry to meet Allah and cash in his virgin-voucher one second before he has to.
The guy behind the camera shows no such good sense. You watch the camera pan around, looking for something to film, then wander out into the corridor. And the scene there, I have to say, is one of the coolest images I've seen from Iraq. It's a wide, well-lit corridor, naturally - money's no object in the Green Zone - so even though smoke is pouring out of the cafeteria, the lighting is perfect, kind of zombie-movie blue. You watch a bunch of men in suits stumble out yelling. The yelling itself doesn't mean much; Iraq is the heartland of the Yelling Crescent that stretches from the Mediterranean to Bangladesh. What is interesting about the yelling is that I could swear it sounded tired, like these guys are actually getting bored with these things the way people in my building do with the lame-ass fire drills. "Another day, another arterial spray on my tie from a suicide bombing - damn, that's gonna have to be dry-cleaned. And the only Martinizer in Baghdad lives in the wrong part of town, so I'm gonna be tortured to death when I go drop off the tie. Jeez, I'm getting tired of the office grind."