It should come as no surprise that the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is gaining supporters by the thousands. The Pentagon estimates that his core supporters number between 500-600 men, but reporters in Baghdad, Najaf, and Kerbala number his militia members well into the thousands and say that busloads and truckloads of young Iraqi men are arriving at his militia headquarters every day to volunteer to fight the Great Satan.

What lit the flame of jihad among the Shiite majority who were initially tolerant (if not exactly supportive) of the US invasion of Iraq? As usual, it was the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians. When the US clamped down on al-Hawza, al-Sadr’s newspaper, and his supporters turned out to protest in the streets of Baghdad, “our boys and girls” in Iraq mowed down 69 civilians with lethal weapons fire from helicopter gunships, and managed to wound another 200-300 more unarmed demonstrators. Then came the strangulation and bombardment of Fallujah, where Reuters reporters and Arab-language TV stations have filmed the bodies of hundreds of dead women and children, who make up nearly 90% of the 600 casualties so far, according to the director of Fallujah’s main hospital. And he’s just counting those who could make it to the hospital–many families are burying their dead in their back yards, because they’re too scared to risk carrying them through the streets to the local soccer stadium, which has to serve as a mass grave because US Marines have cut off access to the cemeteries on the edge of town.

The motto of the Bush administration should be “win enemies and influence people…to hate our guts.” Europe, Asia, Russia, China, and the entire Middle East is aghast at the US military’s appalling use of collective punishment against the city of Fallujah. In Baghdad, convoys of trucks have carried humanitarian aid from both Sunni and Shiite communities to beleaguered Fallujah residents, and relied on mass demonstrations by nearby villagers to make an opening in the US blockade for the trucks to pass through. The Jordanian government has set up a makeshift hospital near Fallujah and has sent humanitarian aid to its suffering citizens. Aid is arriving from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other nations. Even the trained puppets who sit on the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council have called for a halt to the Fallujah operation, and one of them has “suspended” his membership in the council in protest. And, most disturbingly, several reporters have seen young Shiite men sneaking past the US Marine blockade into Fallujah to join the Sunni insurgents. This is not the War Against Terrorism. It’s the War to Create Terrorism.

All of this is, of course, wreaking havoc with US plans to turn over power to the Iraqi Governing Council on June 30th. For one thing, the UN and the majority of Iraqis–most particularly the moderate Shiites, as represented by Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani–won’t accept the pitiful Governing Council as an interim government. Acknowledging this, Paul Bremer has begun the search for a new dictator for Iraq–oh, excuse me, “an appointed Prime Minister.” (Same thing, in my book.) Now, Pentagon analysts have admitted that the new dictator won’t even have control over Iraqi troops on July 1. This is because the new Iraqi police and paramilitary forces have refused to take part in the Fallujah massacre. In addition, a number of Iraqi police units turned over their police stations to al-Sadr’s militias in Baghdad, Najaf, Kufa, Kerbala, Amarah, Basra, and Nasiriyah. The radical cleric’s followers confiscated weapons, ammunition, bulletproof vests, jeeps, and police uniforms.

In the future, it’s going to be very, very difficult to tell who’s a friend and who’s an enemy. And, with more US troops headed over to Iraq soon, it’s going to be US troops who’ll have to make that decision. Quagmire? Yes, but “Nightmare” may be a better word.

I heard from a colleague at work that one of her nephews has just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. I asked her what he’d said about his time over there. She told me that he was relieved to be home and that he felt lucky to have made it out alive. Just in the past month, the situation had grown so scary that he had found it hard to sleep, and he was still having trouble adjusting. Improvised explosive devices, insurgents wearing Iraqi police uniforms, buddies killed in ambushes, every civilian with a cell phone a potential enemy (cell phones are often used by the insurgents to trigger roadside bombs), Islamic terrorists driving truck bombs–all these things and more still keep him awake. It’s a far cry from Army and Marine recruiting ads that promised to show him the world and give him money for college. They never mentioned that he could lose a limb or die in his sleep from a mortar attack. They never boasted that he’d have to scrounge up metal plates to weld to his Humvee. The Few, the Proud, the Sitting Ducks. If I were Mother Nature, I’d send them on a winged migration. Home.