Baghdad's hospitals admit a hundred casualties an hour and have run out of anesthetics. Surgeons try to numb up mangled children with short-term pain-killers, but even these are in dwindling supply. Iraqi families who fled into the desert face 100-degree temperatures and no water. U.S. tanks inflict mayhem and slaughter in Baghdad's streets.

From Umm Qasr and the Faw peninsula, through Basra to Baghdad, it's a scene of devastation, with every bridge and guard post adorned with civilian cars riddled with bullets by jumpy U.S. soldiers. There's no "fog of war" where the disaster of daily life in Iraq (what's now swaddled in that virtuous bureaucratic phrase "humanitarian crisis") is concerned. Reports confirm what all sane forecasts predicted of a U.S. attack: It is a catastrophe for the Iraqi people, particularly the poor.

A few days ago, the BBC featured a vivid interview with Patrick Nicholson of the British charity Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD). He's just returned from Umm Qasr, where he found the humanitarian effort in the British-occupied area to be a "shambles." "From the TV pictures of Umm Qasr, I had been led to believe it was a town under control, where the needs of the people were being met. The town is not under control. It's like the Wild West. And even the most major humanitarian concern, water, is not being adequately administered.

"Everywhere I went, the local people asked me for water. I went into the two rooms occupied by a family of 14, they were drinking from an oil drum half full of stagnant, dirty water. It was water I certainly would not have drunk. The little girl was very malnourished, skeletal, and in my experience as an aid worker I would say she had less than a week to live."

Given this, plus the sort of horrors reported from near Al Hillah about Iraqi civilians sliced to ribbons by U.S. cluster bombs, can one imagine that an Iraqi puppet government is going to be greeted with cheers and bunting by Iraqis? Take Kenan Makiya, based at Harvard and one of the more prominent people in Ahmed Chalabi's group of exiles, the Iraqi National Congress.

On March 24, Makiya described his emotions at the news that Baghdad was being bombed: "The bombs have begun to fall on Baghdad … those bombs are music to my ears … the explosion of a JDAM can sound beautiful." Probably more beautiful when contemplated from the sanctuary of Harvard Yard than in the maternity hospital in Baghdad a U.S. missile hit last week.

"My friends in the opposition," Makiya went on, "are gathering in Kurdistan with the Iraqi National Congress and in Kuwait with Jay Garner's office. [The retired US general, intended as postwar Iraq's proconsul, noted for the public vehemence of his support for Israel.] I should be there with them, but I am told I have to stay. I am needed here, to keep touch with Washington. I cannot stand it. All I have to think about is whether or not the U.S. government is going to once again betray the Iraqi opposition."

Makiya is right to be apprehensive. It was he who personally assured George Bush before the U.S./U.K. attack that the invaders would be greeted with cheers and roses, and the U.S. high command has no doubt adjusted its estimate of exactly how closely people like Chalabi and Makiya are attuned to the sentiments of the people of Iraq, who probably do not appreciate the scenario Makiya recently shared with the American Enterprise Board (at a symposium) of a "federal, non-Arab demilitarized Iraq." Such a federal Iraqi government, Makiya went on, "cannot be thought of any longer, in any politically meaningful sense of the word, as an Arab entity."

Assessing the surprising extent of resistance, the U.S. ultra-hawks are now circulating the idea that Iraq is a "deeply sick" society, not yet ready for "western-style democracy," which will require purgation through lengthy occupation, with all appropriate theft or exploitation of Iraq's assets. Assuming the demise of Saddam's regime, Iraqi national resistance will probably be led by Dawa, which is the Shi'ite resistance group, by the Iraqi Communist Party and perhaps the pro-Syrian elements of the Ba'ath Party, which has retained through years of repression a surprising amount of strength.

How long will U.S. occupation last, given lethal assaults of the sort that killed over 200 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in the Reagan years, prompting rapid withdrawal? From across the border, the Iranians will be pretty good at this sort of game, and of course will be eager to speed U.S. departure. So a flickering U.S. casualty rate (note the disclosure last week of 175 casualties among U.S. special operations forces, post 9/11), as now occurring in Afghanistan, could prompt a Bring the Troops Home call from Democratic contenders such as Kerry, currently too prudent to do anything but wag the flag.

The future? Most assuredly continuation of existing nightmare for ordinary Iraqis for years to come. For a sense of perspective read the grand speeches of the British who entered Mesopotamia in 1917, only to face a concerted uprising by Shi'a, Sunni and Kurds three years later.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.