Sunday, July 24, 2005

The heroic Iraqi resistance

24 July: Suicide bomb kills at least 25

16 July: Suicide bomb kills 98

15 July: Suicide bombs kill 16

13 July: Bomb kills 26 children (Nice one!)

10 July: 20 army recruits killed

26 June: 35 die in Mosul attack

25 June: Suicide attacks kill 23

20 June: Several attacks, 31 dead

2 June: Multiple bombs kill 24

30 May: 27 dead in Hilla

11 May: 70 dead in Tikrit, Hawija

4 May: Irbil bombing kills 60


Caspar Henderson said...

If It's Civil War, Do We Know It?
New York Times
July 24, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The first signs that America's top officials in Iraq were revising their thinking about what they might accomplish in Iraq came a year ago. As Iraq resumed its sovereignty after the period of American occupation, the new American team that arrived then, headed by Ambassador John D. Negroponte, had a withering term for the optimistic approach of their predecessors, led by L. Paul Bremer III.

The new team called the departing Americans "the illusionists," for their conviction that America could create a Jeffersonian democracy on the ruins of Saddam Hussein's medieval brutalism. One American military commander began his first encounter with American reporters by asking, "Well, gentlemen, tell me: Do you think that events here afford us the luxury of hope?"

It seemed clear then that the administration, for all its public optimism, had begun substituting more modest goals for the idealists' conception of Iraq. How much more modest has become clearer in the 12 months since.

From the moment American troops crossed the border 28 months ago, the specter hanging over the American enterprise here has been that Iraq, freed from Mr. Hussein's tyranny, might prove to be so fractured - by politics and religion, by culture and geography, and by the suspicion and enmity sown by Mr. Hussein's years of repression - that it would spiral inexorably into civil war.

If it did, opponents of the American-led invasion had warned, American troops could get caught in the crossfire between Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and Turkmen, secularists and believers - reduced, in the grimmest circumstances, to the common target of a host of contending militias.

Now, events are pointing more than ever to the possibility that the nightmare could come true. Recent weeks have seen the insurgency reach new heights of sustained brutality.

The violence is ever more centered on sectarian killings, with Sunni insurgents targeting hundreds of Shiite and Kurdish civilians in suicide bombings. There are reports of Shiite death squads, some with links to the interior ministry, retaliating by abducting and killing Sunni clerics and community leaders.
The past 10 days have seen such a quickening of these killings, particularly by the insurgents, that many Iraqis are saying that the civil war has already begun.

That at least some senior officials in Washington understand the gravity of the situation seems clear from remarks made at the Foreign Press Center in Washington two weeks ago by Zalmay Khalilzad, who arrives in Baghdad this week to begin as Mr. Negroponte's successor. In his remarks, Mr. Khalilzad abandoned a convention that had bound senior American officials when speaking of Iraq - to talk of civil war only if reporters raised it first, and then only to dismiss it as a beyond-the-fringe possibility. Using the term twice in one paragraph, he spoke of civil war as something America must do everything to avoid.
"Iraq is poised at the crossroads between two starkly different visions," he said. "The foreign terrorists and hardline Baathist insurgents want Iraq to fall into a civil war."

The new ambassador struck a positive chord, to be sure, saying "Iraqis of all communities and sects, like people everywhere, want to establish peace and create prosperity." Still, his coda remained one of caution: "I do not underestimate the difficulty of the present situation."

One measure of the doubts afflicting American officials here has been a hedging in the upbeat military assessments that generals usually offer, coupled with a resort to statistics carefully groomed to show progress in curbing the insurgents that seems divorced from realities on the ground. One example of the new "metrics" has been a rush of figures on the buildup of Iraq's army and police force - a program known to many reporters who have been embedded on joint operations as one beset by inadequate training, poor leadership, inadequate weaponry and poor morale.

Officers involved in running the program offer impressive-sounding figures - including the fact that, by mid-June, the Iraqi forces had been given 306 million rounds of ammunition, roughly 12 bullets for each of Iraq's 25 million people. But when one senior American officer involved was asked whether the Americans might end up arming the Iraqis for a civil war, he paused for a moment, then nodded. "Maybe," he said.

The war's wider pattern has always held the seeds of an all-out sectarian conflict, of the kind that largely destroyed Lebanon. The insurgency has been rooted in the Sunni Arab minority dispossessed by the toppling of Mr. Hussein, and most of its victims have been Shiites, the majority community who have been the main political beneficiaries of Mr. Hussein's demise. Shiites have died in countless hundreds at their mosques and their marketplaces, victims of insurgent ambushes and bombs, their deaths celebrated on Islamic Web sites by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, who has called Shiites "monkeys" and their religion an affront to God.

Last weekend, it was the turn of the small town of Mussayib, where at least 71 people died when a suicide bomber blew himself up under a fuel tanker outside the main mosque. Hitherto, Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had urged Shiites not to retaliate, but to focus instead on the American-sponsored electoral process, which brought Shiite parties victory in January and is likely to do so again in voting for a full, five-year government in December.

But this time, the ayatollah, his patience spent, demanded that the transitional government, which is led by Shiites, "defend the country against mass annihilation."

If that was a call for tougher military action against the insurgents, it played into a situation made all the more volatile in recent months by signs that hard-line Shiites have begun to strike back. There have been persistent reports, mostly in Baghdad, of Shiite death squads in police uniforms abducting, torturing and killing Sunni Arab clerics, community leaders and others. In Baghdad, a police commando unit composed mainly of Shiites raided a hospital two weekends ago and abducted 13 Sunni men accused of being insurgents. Sixteen hours later, the bodies of 10 were delivered to a morgue, the victims of suffocation in a locked metal-topped police van in a temperature nearing 120 degrees.

Even the new Iraqi forces, hailed by the Bush administration as the key to an eventual American troop withdrawal, seem as likely to provoke a civil war as to prevent one. The 170,000 men already trained are dominated by Shiites and Kurds, in a proportion even higher than the 80 percent those groups represent in the population. Though there are thousands of Sunni Arabs in the forces, including some generals, Iraqi units that are sent to the worst hot spots are often dominated by Shiites and Kurds, some recruited from sectarian militias deeply hostile to Sunni Arabs.

The contempt this provokes was voiced by Dhari al-Bedri, a Baghdad University professor with a home in Samarra, a Sunni town. "The Iraqi army in Samarra is Badr, Dawa and Pesh Merga," he said, citing the militias of the two largest Shiite political parties, and of the Kurds.

"The people feel that the army does not come to serve them, but to punish them. The people hate them."
The American hope is that the political process under way will succeed, eventually, in forging a broad enough consensus that hard-liners on all sides will be isolated. The odds on that, though slim, seemed to rise a bit with an agreement this month that added 15 Sunni Arabs to the 55-member parliamentary committee charged with drawing up the constitution. But when two of the Sunni men involved in that process were gunned down in Baghdad last week, some other Sunni members pointed to Shiites as the killers, and said the killings showed that Shiite hard-liners wanted no compromise.

Despite these gloomy trends, American commanders have continued to hint at the possibility of at least an initial reduction of the 140,000 American troops stationed here by next summer, contingent on progress in creating effective Iraqi units. Some senior officers have said privately that there is a chance that the pullback will be ordered regardless of what is happening in the war, and that the rationale will be that Iraq - its politicians and its warriors - will ultimately have to find ways of overcoming their divides on their own.

America, these officers seem to be saying, can do only so much, and if Iraqis are hellbent on settling matters violently - at the worst, by civil war - that, in the end, would be their sovereign choice.

Caspar Henderson said...

Iraq: This is now an unwinnable conflict
As he completes another tour of duty in the chaos of Iraq, award-winning reporter Patrick Cockburn charts how Bush and Blair's 'winnable war' turned into a mess that is inspiring a worldwide insurgency

The Independent, 24 July 2005

The Duke of Wellington, warning hawkish politicians in Britain against ill-considered military intervention abroad, once said: "Great nations do not have small wars." He meant that supposedly limited conflicts can inflict terrible damage on powerful states. Having seen what a small war in Spain had done to Napoleon, he knew what he was talking about.

The war in Iraq is now joining the Boer War in 1899 and the Suez crisis in 1956 as ill-considered ventures that have done Britain more harm than good. It has demonstrably strengthened al-Qa'ida by providing it with a large pool of activists and sympathisers across the Muslim world it did not possess before the invasion of 2003. The war, which started out as a demonstration of US strength as the world's only superpower, has turned into a demonstration of weakness. Its 135,000-strong army does not control much of Iraq.

The suicide bombing campaign in Iraq is unique. Never before have so many fanatical young Muslims been willing to kill themselves, trying to destroy those whom they see as their enemies. On a single day in Baghdad this month 12 bombers blew themselves up. There have been more than 500 suicide attacks in Iraq over the last year.

It is this campaign which has now spread to Britain and Egypt. The Iraq war has radicalised a significant part of the Muslim world. Most of the bombers in Iraq are non-Iraqi, but the network of sympathisers and supporters who provide safe houses, money, explosives, detonators, vehicles and intelligence is home-grown.

The shrill denials by Tony Blair and Jack Straw that hostility to the invasion of Iraq motivated the bombers are demonstrably untrue. The findings of an investigation, to be published soon, into 300 young Saudis, caught and interrogated by Saudi intelligence on their way to Iraq to fight or blow themselves up, shows that very few had any previous contact with al-Qa'ida or any other terrorist organisation previous to 2003. It was the invasion of Iraq which prompted their decision to die.

Some 36 Saudis who did blow themselves up in Iraq did so for similar reasons, according to the same study, commissioned by the Saudi government and carried out by a US-trained Saudi researcher, Nawaf Obaid, who was given permission to speak to Saudi intelligence officers. A separate Israeli study of 154 foreign fighters in Iraq, carried out by the Global Research in International Affairs Centre in Israel, also concluded that almost all had been radicalised by Iraq alone.

Before Iraq, those who undertook suicide bombings were a small, hunted group; since the invasion they have become a potent force, their ideology and tactics adopted by militant Islamic groups around the world. Their numbers may still not be very large but they are numerous enough to create mayhem in Iraq and anywhere else they strike, be it in London or Sharm el Sheikh.
The bombers have paralysed Baghdad. I have spent half my time living in Iraq since the invasion. The country has never been so dangerous as today. Some targets have been hit again and again. The army recruiting centre at al-Muthana old municipal airport in the middle of Baghdad has been attacked no fewer than eight times, the last occasion on Wednesday when eight people were killed.

The detonations of the suicide bombs make my windows shake in their frames in my room in the al-Hamra hotel. Sometimes, thinking the glass is going to shatter, I take shelter behind a thick wall. The hotel is heavily guarded. At one time the man who looked for bombs under cars entering the compound with a mirror on the end of a stick carried a pistol in his right hand. He reckoned that if he did discover a suicide bomber he had a split second in which to shoot him in the head before the driver detonated his bomb.

The bombers, or rather the defences against them, have altered the appearance of Baghdad. US army and Iraqi government positions in Baghdad are surrounded by ramparts of enormous cement blocks which snake through the city. Manufactured in different sizes, each of which is named after a different American state such as Arkansas and Wisconsin, these concrete megaliths are strangling the city by closing off so many streets.

For all the newspaper and television coverage of Iraq, the foreign media still fail to convey the lethal and anarchic quality of day-to-day living. The last time I drove into west Baghdad from the airport in early July we were suddenly stopped by the sound of volleys of shots. This turned out to be the police commandos, a 12,000-strong paramilitary force which is meant to be the cutting edge of the government offensive against the insurgents. On this occasion they had loaded coffins wrapped in Iraqi flags, containing the bodies of two of their officers murdered that morning, on to the backs of their pick-ups and were weaving through the traffic, firing over our heads. Drivers slammed on their brakes since people detained by the commandos, often for no known reason, are often found later in rubbish dumps, having been tortured and executed.

The government, whose members seldom emerge from the Green Zone, make bizarre efforts to pretend that there are signs of a return to normality. Last week a pro-government newspaper had an article on the reconstruction of Baghdad. Above the article was a picture of a crane at a building site. But there are no cranes at work in Baghdad so the paper had been compelled to use a photograph of a crane which has been rusting for more than two years, abandoned at the site of a giant mosque that Saddam Hussein was constructing when he was overthrown.

The same quality of make-believe mars British and American policy in Iraq. The current motto of both governments is to "stay the course in Iraq". This may be useful propaganda at home but Iraqi government officials counter that London and Washington have no "course" in Iraq, only a policy of endless zig-zags.

For future historians Iraq will probably replace Vietnam as the stock example of the truth of Wellington's dictum about small wars escalating into big ones.

Ironically, the US and Britain pretended in 2003 that Saddam ruled a powerful state capable of menacing his neighbours. Secretly they believed this was untrue and expected an easy victory.

Now in 2005 they find to their horror that there are people in Iraq more truly dangerous than Saddam, and they are mired in an un-winnable conflict.