[Mb-civic]     It's Worse Than You Think     By Scott Johnson and Babak Dehghanpisheh      Ne wsweek

Michael Butler michael at michaelbutler.com
Mon Sep 13 19:33:44 PDT 2004

    Go to Original 

    It's Worse Than You Think
    By Scott Johnson and Babak Dehghanpisheh

     Monday September 20 2004 Issue
 As Americans debate Vietnam, the U.S. death toll tops 1,000 in Iraq. And
the insurgents are still getting stronger.

    Iraqis don't shock easily these days, but eyewitnesses could only blink
in disbelief as they recounted last Tuesday's broad-daylight kidnappings in
central Baghdad. At about 5 in the afternoon, on a quiet side street outside
the Ibn Haitham hospital, a gang armed with pistols, AK-47s and pump-action
shotguns raided a small house used by three Italian aid groups. The gunmen,
none of them wearing masks, took orders from a smooth-shaven man in a gray
suit; they called him "sir." When they drove off, the gunmen had four
hostages: two local NGO employees - one of them a woman who was dragged out
of the house by her headscarf - and two 29-year-old Italians, Simona Pari
and Simona Torretta, both members of the antiwar group A Bridge to Baghdad.
The whole job took less than 10 minutes. Not a shot was fired. About 15
minutes afterward, an American Humvee convoy passed hardly a block away -
headed in the opposite direction.

     Sixteen months after the war's supposed end, Iraq's insurgency is
spreading. Each successful demand by kidnappers has spawned more
hostage-takings - to make Philippine troops go home, to stop Turkish
truckers from hauling supplies into Iraq, to extort fat ransom payments from
Kuwaitis. The few relief groups that remain in Iraq are talking seriously
about leaving. U.S. forces have effectively ceded entire cities to the
insurgents, and much of the country elsewhere is a battleground. Last week
the total number of U.S. war dead in Iraq passed the 1,000 mark, reaching
1,007 by the end of Saturday.

     U.S. forces are working frantically to train Iraqis for the thankless
job of maintaining public order. The aim is to boost Iraqi security forces
from 95,000 to 200,000 by sometime next year. Then, using a mixture of force
and diplomacy, the Americans plan to retake cities and install credible
local forces. That's the hope, anyway. But the quality of new recruits is
debatable. During recent street demonstrations in Najaf, police opened fire
on crowds, killing and injuring dozens. The insurgents, meanwhile, are
recruiting, too. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once referred to
America's foes in Iraq as "dead-enders," then the Pentagon maintained they
probably numbered 5,000, and now senior military officials talk about
"dozens of regional cells" that could call upon as many as 20,000 fighters.

     Yet U.S. officials publicly insist that Iraq will somehow hold national
elections before the end of January. The appointed council currently acting
as Iraq's government under interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is to be
replaced by an elected constitutional assembly - if the vote takes place. "I
presume the election will be delayed," says the Iraqi Interior Ministry's
chief spokesman, Sabah Kadhim. A senior Iraqi official sees no chance of
January elections: "I'm convinced that it's not going to happen. It's just
not realistic. How is it going to happen?" Some Iraqis worry that America
will stick to its schedule despite all obstacles. "The Americans have
created a series of fictional dates and events in order to delude
themselves," says Ghassan Atiyya, director of the independent Iraq
Foundation for Development and Democracy, who recently met with Allawi and
American representatives to discuss the January agenda. "Badly prepared
elections, rather than healing wounds, will open them."

     America has its own Election Day to worry about. For U.S. troops in
Iraq, one especially sore point is the stateside public's obsession with the
candidates' decades-old military service. "Stop talking about Vietnam," says
one U.S. official who has spent time in the Sunni Triangle. "People should
be debating this war, not that one." His point was not that America ought to
walk away from Iraq. Hardly any U.S. personnel would call that a sane
suggestion. But there's widespread agreement that Washington needs to
rethink its objectives, and quickly. "We're dealing with a population that
hovers between bare tolerance and outright hostility," says a senior U.S.
diplomat in Baghdad. "This idea of a functioning democracy here is crazy. We
thought that there would be a reprieve after sovereignty, but all hell is
breaking loose."

     It's not only that U.S. casualty figures keep climbing. American
counterinsurgency experts are noticing some disturbing trends in those
statistics. The Defense Department counted 87 attacks per day on U.S. forces
in August - the worst monthly average since Bush's flight-suited visit to
the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Preliminary analysis of the July and
August numbers also suggests that U.S. troops are being attacked across a
wider area of Iraq than ever before. And the number of gunshot casualties
apparently took a huge jump in August. Until then, explosive devices and
shrapnel were the primary cause of combat injuries, typical of a "phase two"
insurgency, where sudden ambushes are the rule. (Phase one is the
recruitment phase, with most actions confined to sabotage. That's how things
started in Iraq.) Bullet wounds would mean the insurgents are standing and
fighting - a step up to phase three.

     Another ominous sign is the growing number of towns that U.S. troops
simply avoid. A senior Defense official objects to calling them "no-go
areas." "We could go into them any time we wanted," he argues. The preferred
term is "insurgent enclaves." They're spreading. Counterinsurgency experts
call it the "inkblot strategy": take control of several towns or villages
and expand outward until the areas merge. The first city lost to the
insurgents was Fallujah, in April. Now the list includes the Sunni Triangle
cities of Ar Ramadi, Baqubah and Samarra, where power shifted back and forth
between the insurgents and American-backed leaders last week. "There is no
security force there [in Fallujah], no local government," says a senior U.S.
military official in Baghdad. "We would get attacked constantly. Forget
about it."

     U.S. military planners only wish they could. "What we see is a classic
progression," says Andrew Krepinevich, author of the highly respected study
"The Army and Vietnam." "What we also see is that the U.S. military is not
trained or organized to fight insurgencies. That was the deliberate choice
after Vietnam. Now we look to be paying the price." Americans aren't safe
even on the outskirts of a city like Fallujah. Early last week a suicide
bomber rammed his vehicle into two U.S. Humvees nine miles north of town on
the four-lane concrete bypass called Highway 10. Seven Americans died. It
was one of the deadliest blows against U.S. forces since June, when Iraqis
formally resumed control of their government.

     As much as ordinary Iraqis may hate the insurgents, they blame the
Americans for creating the whole mess. Three months ago Iraqi troops and
U.S.-dominated "multinational forces" pulled out of Samarra, and insurgents
took over the place immediately. "The day the MNF left, people celebrated in
the streets," says Kadhim, the Interior spokesman. "But that same day, vans
arrived in town and started shooting. They came from Fallujah and other
places and they started blowing up houses." Local elders begged Allawi's
government to send help. "The leaders of the tribes come to see us and they
say, 'Really, we are scared, we don't like these people'," Kadhim continues.
"But we just don't have the forces at the moment to help them." Last week
negotiators reached a tentative peace deal, but it's not likely to survive
long. The Iraqi National Guard is the only homegrown security force that
people respect, and all available ING personnel are deployed elsewhere.

     Will Iraq's troubles get even worse? "The insurgency can certainly
sustain what it's doing for a while," says a senior U.S. military official.
Many educated Iraqis aren't waiting to find out. Applicants mobbed the
courtyard of the Baghdad passport office last week, desperate for a chance
to escape. Police fired shots in the air, trying to control the crowd.
"Every day there is shooting, gunfire, people killed, headaches for lack of
sleep," said Huda Hussein, 34, a Ph.D. in computer science who has spent the
past year and a half looking for work. "I want to go to a calm place for a
while." It's too bad for Iraq - and for America - that the insurgents don't
share that wish.



   Jump to TO Features for Tuesday September 14, 2004   

 © Copyright 2004 by TruthOut.org

More information about the Mb-civic mailing list