by Michael Jansen / Deccan Herald (India) –
BAGHDAD (August 17, 2003) — The US is running out of time. If it does not fix the broken electricity and water installations, stop looting and impose law and order, resistance will become increasingly widespread and effective
The Bush administration successfully achieved its goal of effecting regime change in Iraq last April, but the occupation regime installed in Baghdad is not controlling the country. Regime change produced a power vacuum. No one rules. Nothing runs.
The “Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)” established by Washington is not a coalition effort, not provisional, not an authority. The US dominates; its allies — Britain, Italy, Japan, and others — go along. Instead of providing short-term administration until an Iraqi government takes over, the “CPA” is becoming a long-term occupation regime, mainly because it cannot get its act together. The writ of the CPA does not go beyond the vast Jumhurriya Palace compound where it has its headquarters.
The “vertical” planning which characterized the Bush administration’s handling of pre-war preparations for post-war Iraq has produced bureaucratic anarchy. US officials and consultants appointed to run shadow ministries do not coordinate and cooperate. In some cases, they compete with and even undermine each other. Since Iraq’s phone system was bombed, looted and burnt, communications between US officials via the CPA mobile phone system are uncertain. Contacts between the CPA and skeleton staff at Iraqi ministries are difficult. Communication between the CPA and the outside world is even more problematic. Obtaining an appointment with an official at headquarters is almost impossible.
Gaining entrance without an appointment to make an appointment is impossible. The Jumhurriya Palace has become almost as inaccessible as it was under former President Saddam Hussein. However, when he was in residence, two soldiers guarded the gate. Now that US Viceroy L Paul Bremer III lives and works at the palace, its entrances are sealed off with coils of concertina wire, tanks and scores of heavily armed troops.
The occupation regime has delegated to the Iraqi “Governing Council” the authority to appoint ministers, draft the constitution, and prepare for elections. However, effective power resides with Bremer. The Council, made up of disparate individuals who, for the most part, do not have domestic constituencies, is unable to take the very decisions that would give the body credibility. Iraqi ministries need someone at the top to make and implement policy. Former civil servants now overseeing the day-to-day running of ministries are not empowered or ready to take initiatives. No one wants to assume responsibility because no one is in charge.
The US military machine does not function well. The 30,000 US troops deployed in Baghdad are based in temporary camps scattered all over the city. These camps are located in the old Iraqi War College and military facilities used by the toppled government, ministries, the Saddam sports complex, palaces and manufacturing plants. Communications within and between bases are tenuous.
Mismanaged and ill-positioned military checkpoints and flying roadblocks infuriate Iraqis kept waiting in the sun while the temperature climbs to 53 degrees Celsius (127 F). Barriers provide security for no one. US vehicle patrols disrupt traffic but catch neither the thieves plaguing the populace nor resistance fighters. Raids on private homes and random arrests alienate Iraqis.
US troops know nothing of Iraq’s history, have little contact with Iraqis, and do not really understand what the US military is doing in the country. Morale is low. While officers enjoy perks, other ranks have a very Spartan existence. Their quarters are cramped and not air-conditioned, they eat rations out of packets and tins and wash their own uniforms, stiff with sweat, salt and dust. Water is rationed.
They rarely have cooked meals, fresh fruit and vegetables. Many are homesick and dispirited, underemployed and bored. They are not effectively and efficiently utilised to meet the most important demands of Iraqis. They do not even prevent thieves from making off with electricity cables providing power to US military camps.
While on patrol or checkpoint duty in the streets of the capital in wide-bodied humvees with wide-open sides, they are under constant threat of attack. At least 60 soldiers have died and three times that number have been wounded since President George Bush proclaimed the war at and end on May 1. Most of the fatalities have been in the capital and the central region. Some soldiers are trigger-happy, others are abusive towards Iraqis.
On Patrol with America’s ‘Comanches’
Last Sunday, Foreign Panorama went on patrol with Comanche troop of the First Squadron, Second Armoured Cavalry Regiment. Travelling in two humvees, we accompanied a tanker delivering water to the squatter township of Imam al-Mahdi on the north of the vast slum quarter now called “Sadr City” to honor a Shia cleric assassinated by the ousted regime.
The soldiers strongly believe the desperately poor Shias who dwell in Imam al-Mahdi and the neighboring town of Hay Tareq love them and support the US occupation. “Ninety percent are with us,” Sergeant Joe Harris asserted. However, everywhere we went men, women and small children demanded, “electricity, water… electricity, water,” in varying tones edging on hostility. Deprivation is likely to cause an explosion of anti-US violence against the hapless soldiers of Comanche troop.
Every sensitive and sensible observer who visits Iraq says, “The US is running out of time. If it does not fix the broken electricity and water installations, stop looting and impose law and order, resistance will become increasingly widespread and effective. More US soldiers will be killed and wounded, putting pressure on the politicians in Washington to pull out. If they do, Iraq, rich in natural resources and educated people, will collapse into anarchy and chaos. The US cannot leave, so it must rule and run Iraq. Many Iraqis joke, “Let’s get Saddam back for week to restore security, electricity and water.”
A more practical alternative would be to bring in the UN, which has experience in rebuilding shattered countries. But last week, the Bush administration, once again, refused to give the UN a major role in peacekeeping and reconstruction. The dominant neo-conservatives, who engineered the war on Iraq, are hostile to the UN and reject “internationalization” of the effort to pacify and redevelop the country. Increasingly held responsible for the mess in Iraq, the “neo-cons” cling to control. To cede would amount to an admission of guilt and failure. It is said, “Pride goes before a fall.” While the proud “neo-cons” may fall from grace in Washington, proud Iraq is falling further into chaos and anarchy day by day.
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