It’s official. It’s war again. Following the April 9 toppling of Saddam’s statue, The New York Times labeled its special Iraq coverage “After the War.” Now, after the wake-up car bombing in Najaf, the Times has changed the header to “The Struggle for Iraq.”
The brass and suits are muttering nervously that the war is being lost despite Bush and Bremer’s pollyannish pronouncements to the contrary. “There’s no way to pretend that the cost of this isn’t rising, in human terms, in military terms, and in economic terms,” one senior White House official told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In Iraq, attacks are becoming more sophisticated; the number of wounded GIs rose 35 percent in August over the previous month. The infrastructure has been looted clean, unemployment is at 60 percent and the crime rate has exploded phenomenally–the Baghdad morgue recorded a 4,700 percent increase in gunshot deaths this July compared to July 2002.
Yet, the United States is not about to withdraw anytime soon. Gideon Rose of Foreign Affairs explained the logic of power in an online Times forum: “If we can’t, or won’t [win in Iraq], then for all our vaunted military power and material dominance we’ll be revealed to be a paper tiger, and few people will take our word seriously anymore when it comes to international commitments. That would be very, very bad.”
The British empire was forced from Iraq twice in the last century. Clearly, America isn’t doing much better. Understanding why and what’s likely to happen is a different matter.
The Iraqi resistance is targeting Iraqis working for the Americans, prompting many to quit. At least a dozen translators have been killed. One Iraqi who quit his job as a translator told Time magazine he was shot in the leg near his home and lay in an alley bleeding for an hour because his neighbors were afraid to help him. In many towns clandestine lists circulate marking alleged informants for death. In numerous cases they have been killed in drive-by attacks or in broad daylight. In one incident, family members were forced to execute a male relative accused of being an informant. Police are also in the gunsights. Seven were killed in a bombing near Ramadi. One of the most recent car bombs targeted the Baghdad chief of police, blowing up outside his office. And police stations have been attacked and burned down in various towns.
Civilian officials have also been killed, such as the head of the state vegetable oil company and an engineer responsible for electricity distribution. The Chicago Tribune reported Aug. 31: “The pro-American mayor in the western town of Haditha and his son were killed in an ambush.”
The resistance has also killed at least four American civilians working as military contractors, including two from Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s former employer.
Even before the Aug. 19 U.N. bombing, two Red Cross employees and a U.N. worker were killed in ambushes. Since the bombing, most aid agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Red Cross and Oxfam, have withdrawn. The U.N. staff has been reduced by 90 percent.
As for the goal of the U.N. bombing, Agence France Presse says it “was not an attack against the United Nations as an organization. Rather, it was designed, along with recent attacks against foreign civilian targets, to paralyze the nonmilitary organizations. The longer civil operations are stopped, the more anti-American discontent will grow because America, as occupying authority, is responsible for these, and all, operations in Iraq.”
A report in the Los Angeles Times says “most of the resistance is home grown.” It describes the fighters as being “ex-intelligence officers and farmers, militiamen and merchants.”
A “group commander” named Ahmed detailed one ambush north of Baghdad to Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald: “We struck at sunset, in an area surrounded by farms… There were 19 soldiers. I could see their faces. I fired three grenades – two at a truck and one at a Humvee. Then we escaped across the fields to a car that was waiting for us. It took just a few seconds because God makes it easy for us.” Like many insurgents, Ahmed denies any loyalty to Hussein or the involvement of former Baathists. He claims the resistance is Sunni based and that authority lies “with the sheiks in the mosques,” adding “We now have a single, jihadist leadership group that operates nationally.”
One analyst estimates there are at least 70 outfits fighting the Occupiers with names like Mohammed’s Army, the Iraqi National Islamic Resistance Movement, Army of Right and the White Flags.
A Sept. 1 report from Asia Times said the resistance’s “hard core is estimated at least 7,000, all responding to local command and self-sufficient in terms of funds, weapons and military know-how.” Given how few insurgents are captured in firefights, it’s certain that they have at least the tacit support of the population. A survey by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies found that “nearly half the Iraqis polled attributed the violence to provocation by American forces or resistance to the occupation.”
While the Shia have yet to pick up arms against the Americans, the popular young cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, has formed an “army of al Mahdi” with thousands of recruits, warning they may engage in “martyrdom operations.” The killing of a prominent cleric in Najaf has also resulted in the deployment of a 10,000-strong Shia militia called the Badr Brigade in defiance of the Americans.
Spain, one of Bush’s few allies in West Europe, is under domestic pressure to bring its 744 soldiers home after a Navy captain was killed in the U.N. bombing. Poland has pledged to lead an unwieldy 21-nation force of 9,000 troops. But the Poles have already begged off assuming control of a volatile area near Baghdad and the U.S. has also decided to retain control of Najaf, which was set to be turned over.
Bush wants to bring the United Nations on board, but powers like France and Germany say no dice as long as the Pentagon is in charge. Few governments are pledging any funding at a planned aid conference for the fall. Diplomats in Brussels were said to be “stunned” by an American estimate that Iraq would need $20 billion next year for government operations and to make up for lost oil revenues. One official said, “You’d be putting more than a third of the world’s development assistance in 2004 into a country with the second largest oil reserves in the world. Imagine what that does to the rest of the poor countries in the world. All of Africa doesn’t get that much money” (New York Times, Sept. 5, 2003).
The lack of security has led private military contractors to go AWOL. According to the Newhouse News Service, “some civilian contractors hired by the Army for logistics support failed to show up.” For months, troops have been “camped out in primitive dust-blown shelters without windows “using ramshackle plywood latrines and living without fresh food or regular access to showers and telephones.”
The grunts are also stewing from the luxuries enjoyed by occupation officials. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported an email it received from one soldier who complained that while soldiers “‘look like hobo’s and live like pigs,’ those running Iraq are more concerned with ‘hooking up with nice-looking gals from the U.S. and Iraq.’ He says for staff at the headquarters, their biggest problem is running out of Coke and Diet Coke to go with their steak and crab leg dinner.”
The Army Times newspaper has become the forum for discontented troops. First Lt. Eric Rahman, writing from Camp Doha, Kuwait, states that “quality of life is at an all time low.” One wife of a national guardsman deployed in Baghdad pleaded in a letter to the Army Times: “Please send our troops home.” A number of letter writers have criticized officers who are rotating home while their troops remain in Iraq. One parent of a GI writes the policy is “a slap in the face” and notes bitterly that enlisted soldiers “have to stay deployed… Or they come home in a bag.”
A frequent complaint among troops is poor quality equipment. A sergeant writing from Germany states, “About 95 percent of my unit uses money out of his own pocket for special gear because basic issues doesn’t meet our expectations.” The lack of supplies is so severe that GIs have been arming themselves with confiscated AK-47s because there aren’t enough rifles to go around.
With no security, no regular electricity, water and gas, business in Iraq is collapsing. One of Bremer’s first acts was to abolish all tariff controls. Goods have come flooding in and Iraqi businesses, starved of supplies and credit for over a decade, are unable to compete. Add to that, Bremer has cut over $200 million for state-owned enterprises that employ 100,000 Iraqis. Additionally, there’s been a haphazard purge of former Baathists. At Baghdad University, for example, 436 professors who were Baath party members were sacked, many of whom complain they were members in name only. And 400,000 men have been sacked from the vanquished army.
Baghdad’s central morgue recorded an increase in shooting deaths from 10 in July 2002 to 470 this July. Most are a result of robberies, break-ins, carjackings and vendettas. But according to morgue employees who have talked to the families, perhaps one-third of those shot were killed by American troops.
A Sept. 3 Boston Globe dispatch tallied some of the claimants on one day at the Baghdad morgue: “a mother who alleged that her 21-year-old son had been killed at a checkpoint by U.S. soldiers who mistook the VCR he was carrying for a weapon; a man whose 28-year-old brother allegedly was shot by American troops when he went into a yard at 4 a.m. to start a generator; a man whose brother, a retired policeman, was shot to death in a carjacking; and a man whose brother and brother-in-law were killed in a home robbery.”
Looting of Iraq’s archaeological treasures has accelerated with no one protecting ancient sites. Rapes have become endemic, but shame keeps most victims shrouded in secrecy.
Kidnapping for ransom is one of the few growth industries. According to the Aug. 26 New York Times, “the vast majority of kidnappings are not being reported “because the families are either too frightened or simply lack any faith in the new police force.” Further down, the Times explains why there might be a lack of faith. “There were indications that the police might be working with the kidnappers in some cases.”
U.S. Military Casualties
If the Pentagon could hide deaths, a.k.a. bodywashing, it would. Instead, it has pressured the media to only report combat deaths, which are running about 150. What qualifies as a combat death is malleable; numerous deaths have occurred from vehicle accidents that are apparently a result of troops panicking under fire. To date almost 300 GIs have died, not including civilians working for the Pentagon or international agencies. Officially, another 1,500 have been injured.
But according to officials at Walter Reed Hospital, 6,000 troops have passed through there for treatment since the start of the war. To downplay the numbers, the wounded totals exclude those afflicted by disease (there is a severe strain of pneumonia afflicting some troops), heat stroke, which has felled hundreds and killed five U.S. soldiers, and those suffering from shell shock. (Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2003).
Hearts and Minds
U.S. forces are becoming locked in a deadly spiral of increasing alienation which spurs the use of greater force that further alienates Iraqis. Checkpoint killings, detentions and raids have outraged huge swaths of Iraqi society. One 17-year-old seized in a July 13 raid 40 miles north of Baghdad told Newsweek, “the Americans slipped a hood over his head and cuffed his hands. – If you told them that the cuffs were hurting you, they would tighten them,” he says, holding out wrists that still bear the marks of captivity. “They kicked us and hit us.” He was released after nine days, but 19 of his fellow villagers remained in captivity more than 40 days later. And families “have no idea where they’re being held, why they’ve been detained or how to get in touch with them.”
The U.S. has established a giant prison camp near the Baghdad airport that holds some 5,000 Iraqis. Many former detainees say they were physically abused and given insufficient food and water. Others say they were never questioned and released after months in captivity.
Few believe that eliminating Hussein will end the resistance. A relative of former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, told the Aug. 11 edition of Time: “There are many people who would like to fight against the Americans, but if they fight now they’ll be considered Saddam’s people. So the resistance will be stronger if Saddam is captured or killed.”
The first act of the Iraqi Governing Council was to declare April 9 a national holiday. Robert Fisk writes in The Independent that for Iraqis the new holiday marks “the first day of their country’s foreign occupation. ‘From its very first decision,’ an Iraqi journalist told me with contempt, ‘the Interim Council de-legitimized itself.’”
The Council is made up of exiles, unknown Iraqis and Kurds. It is so fragmented that members agreed to a nine-member presidency with each taking a one-month turn. The first president, when asked by a reporter where he lived replied “London.”
After the U.N. mission bombing, L. Paul Bremer III, the chief U.S. civil administrator, had a heated confrontation with the Council. Bremer’s sage advice was that they should hold “town hall meetings,” “come out with a forceful statement” and “undertake an aggressive press outreach strategy.”
The result is that no one seems to know who is in charge. The bombing in Najaf, wrote The New York Times, was “met by a political vacuum” in Baghdad. “There were no speeches calling for calm and few public appearances by anyone in authority. Bremer was on vacation in Vermont. Nobody knew when he would return. The American military command said nothing.”
Plans are afoot to create a myriad of forces – police, civil guard, militia, army – to assume control of security. That seems unlikely to work, however. In clashes between GIs and protesters, the police are often observed to be the first to flee.
The real purpose of the various forces is to provide the U.S. military with human intelligence because it doesn’t even know whom it’s fighting. “Putting more soldiers on the ground is not going to solve the problem when I don’t have the intelligence to act on,” Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. Ground Forces, told the media.
The Pentagon is reviving the notorious Interior Ministry and has established a 5,000-strong “Civil Defense Battalion.” The Washington Post reported Sept. 4 that the ministry “will also command a domestic intelligence network made up largely of secret police and intelligence agents from the ousted government.”
Apparently, the brass has an even crazier idea in the works, one certain to inflame the Sunni Arab resistance. The World Tribune website reported Aug. 30: “Kurdish groups have agreed to the U.S. request to help quell a Sunni insurgency. The sources said the Kurds will send 2,000 combatants to such cities as Baqubah, Faluja and Tikrit, the heart of the Sunni uprising.”
While some attacks on the infrastructure are politically motivated, most seem to be for monetary gain. Transmission towers are being toppled for their value as scrap metal and for their more precious copper wires. Electricity is spotty at best. Baghdad is getting just 8-12 hours a day of power. The power shortage is so severe that Middle East Online reported Aug. 29 that “the U.S.-appointed transitional leadership said Wednesday it was considering buying electricity from neighboring Iran, Syria and Turkey.”
Oil pipelines are being tapped by smugglers who haul the crude out of the country, where it’s refined and then resold on the Iraqi black market at up to 50 times the official price—a major factor in the Basra unrest in early August. Production has dropped to 750,000 barrels a day, but even that is subjective. According to an AP report from Aug. 14, “The lack of storage and export facilities [is forcing] Iraqis to re-inject much of the oil back into underground reservoirs.”
Bechtel officials quoted by the Aug. 27 Wall Street Journal say the sabotage is worsening. In the spring, Bechtel teams found dozens of downed transmission towers across Iraq. An assessment in recent weeks, however, found that over 120 towers are now down across the country.