Patrick Seale – The Daily Star / Jon Leyne – BBC – 2005-07-07 23:16:08
Washington Faces a No-win Situation in Iraq
Patrick Seale / The Daily Star
(June 28, 2005) — America is facing the real possibility of defeat in Iraq. The insurgency is as robust and as lethal as ever. US troops are overstretched and thin on the ground, while Iraqi troops are far from ready to replace them.
Sectarian violence is on the rise, suggesting that civil war is just round the corner. Every day brings its terrible tale of carnage. There seems to be no safety anywhere — and certainly not in Baghdad. Iraq under American occupation is slipping into uncontrollable chaos.
This is the backdrop to the visit to Washington that took place last Friday of Iraq’s new Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari. For both Jaafari and US President George W. Bush, this is an exceedingly difficult moment.
What should America do? Should it leave Iraq, or should it stay? No choice has been more difficult for an American president since the Vietnam War.
For the first time, a leading American politician and potential presidential candidate, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, was brave enough to say: “The White House is completely disconnected from reality. The reality is, we’re losing in Iraq.”
Even more dangerous for the “war party” — the neoconservative cabal that pressed for war against Iraq — is that it is losing the war in the United States. American opinion is tiring of the war. According to the latest Gallop poll, 57 percent of Americans think the war is “not worth it.” Members of Congress report that their constituents are getting restless.
As casualties mount, the word from the grass roots is “enough is enough!” Army recruitment rates have plunged, as have Bush’s approval ratings, now down to 42 percent from 51 percent after the November elections. In the House of Representatives, a bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans are drafting a resolution calling on Bush to present a strategy for getting the U.S. out of Iraq.
In Brussels last week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to drum up international support in men and funds for the Iraq war, but America’s allies are extremely reluctant to get sucked into the quagmire. They want Iraqi reconstruction contracts and oil concessions, but they do not want to fight the insurgency.
On the contrary, they are heading for the exit. The international coalition has disintegrated. Britain is the only country which still has a substantial fighting force in Iraq, alongside 139,000 American troops.
At a speech at Harvard University on June 7, a former CIA director, John M. Deutch, called for American troops to pull out of Iraq “as soon as possible.” Echoing proposals made last January by Senator Edward Kennedy, Deutch said the US should begin the military withdrawal and let Iraqis make their own political decisions.
The opposite view was put last week by The Economist — which has a large American readership. “Recent talk of shipping lots of troops home early next year looks wildly unrealistic,” it declared. It quoted “top American officers in Iraq” as saying that the US should not contemplate making significant troops withdrawals for at least two years, perhaps longer.
The Economist was a supporter of the war and still has not had second thoughts. It still thinks America should stay the course and advocates sending in more US troops: “Indeed, if America is serious about vanquishing this insurgency,” the magazine argued, “it needs more rather than fewer American boots on the ground. To prevail in Iraq, America needs urgently to raise new forces that can be committed to a low-intensity counter-insurgency that might drag on for years.”
Those who argue that America should fight on in Iraq point to the danger of “handing victory to the terrorists.” An American withdrawal would, they allege, encourage extremists to redouble their campaign, not only against America and its interests in various parts of the world, but also against its regional allies, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan.
This is precisely the argument used by those who oppose Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. An Israeli withdrawal, they claim, would hand victory to Hamas and spread the message that terrorism pays. The thought of Hamas members dancing on the roofs of Jewish settlements seems to be the ultimate Israeli nightmare.
The opposite — and more convincing argument — is that Israel’s brutal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is the main cause of anti-Israeli violence, and that Israel’s security would best be served by evacuating, rather than settling, occupied Palestinian territory.
In the same way, the longer the US stays in Iraq, the more attacks it will face. As I wrote long before the war, occupation breeds insurrection. A further argument for getting out is that the continued US occupation of Iraq is turning that country into a training ground for nationalist and Islamic militants from many different countries who, sooner or later, will spread violence elsewhere. As a breeding ground for jihad, Iraq seems set to be playing the same role as Afghanistan in the 1980s.
There has, as yet, been no candid debate in the mainstream US media, still less in Congress, on the controversial question of America’s war aims. Why did the U.S. make war on Iraq? The official reasons — Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction and its links with Al-Qaeda — have now been shown to be lies. What then were the real reasons?
It would seem that men like Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Bush himself — advocates of using military power to shape the world to America’s advantage — were persuaded that Iraq presented a tremendous prize. Its oil reserves were equal to those of Saudi Arabia; its reconstruction was estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars to American firms; while its strategic position made it an ideal place from which to project US military power to the oil-rich Gulf and to a vast region beyond. Seizing Iraq and turning it into a client state was a tempting goal.
Prominent neocons in the Pentagon, such as the former deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, his associate Douglas Feith, and their many friends and colleagues in and out of the administration, pressed for the destruction of Iraq and its army in order to make Israel more secure.
They had long advocated regime change in Iraq, but the September 11, 2001 attacks gave them the pretext to push the case for war with greater urgency. They peddled the fantasy that, freed from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, a “democratic” Iraq would be a model for the entire Middle East, which could then be reshaped and restructured to make it pro-American and pro-Israeli.
The Iraq war was in fact the product of parallel American and Israeli ambitions. Israel’s objectives have been achieved: Iraq has been weakened for at least a generation. But America’s war aims remain out of reach. If the US leaves Iraq, its efforts will have been in vain. But if it stays, the cost in men and treasure will inevitably mount, with no guarantee of political, economic or strategic benefits at the end of the day.
This is the disagreeable dilemma with which Bush, the US Congress and the whole American defense and foreign policy establishment must wrestle with in the months ahead.
Patrick Seale, a veteran Middle East analyst, wrote this commentary for The Daily Star.
US Dwindling Options in Iraq
Jon Leyne / BBC News
Baghdad (June 27, 2005) — The prediction by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that it could take up to 12 years to defeat the Iraqi insurgency will come as no surprise to his own troops.
That is the sort of time-scale written into US military doctrine. So it is part of every officer’s basic training.
It will not come as much of a surprise to the Iraqis either. Even the optimists here in Iraq — and there are surprisingly many — do not expect life to improve for many years.
The problem is with the American public. They have simply not been prepared for this sort of long-term commitment.
Even in the course of just the last few days, the Bush administration and the professional military have been delivering mixed, often flatly contradictory, messages.
There were the comments of Vice-President Dick Cheney that the insurgency was in its “last throes”.
Then in a Congressional hearing last week, Gen John Abizaid, the US Middle East commander, bravely pointed out that the violence was stable, or increasing.
Here in Baghdad, Brig Gen Karl Horst told the BBC recently that on many days the violence was no worse than in Los Angeles or London.
So it is no surprise that a confused American public is asking where it all went wrong, and, increasingly, calling for the withdrawal of American forces.
With no sign of an end to the violence, the Bush administration strategy is based on two principles.
There is support for the political process – which has already seen successful elections — and a new democratic government.
The Americans are pressing for the Iraqis to meet the mid-August deadline for negotiating a draft constitution.
If all were to go well, that process would lead to an October referendum, then December elections.
At the same time Washington is encouraging the Iraqi government to engage moderate members of the Sunni Muslim community – in an attempt to undermine support for the insurgency.
There have even been talks with factions linked to the insurgency, though the Americans stress there have been no direct negotiations with insurgent leaders.
Stay or Go?
The problem with this strategy is that so far the political progress has had no noticeable impact on the insurgency.
In fact, if anything the violence has only increased. At the same time, Washington and London are stressing the importance of training the Iraqi security forces to take over control of their own destiny.
Despite the enormous dangers, the Iraqis are volunteering in impressive number. More than 168,000 Iraqi soldiers and police have already been trained.
But the effort has been dogged by low quality training and poor equipment. For a long time the Pentagon seemed to be more concerned with meeting numerical targets, rather than focusing on quality.
On the ground, American soldiers often have little-disguised contempt for their Iraqi counterparts.
So it is clear the Iraqi forces are not going to have the capability to fight on their own any time in the foreseeable future.
That leaves Washington with only two options.
The White House can either prepare Americans for a very long haul – or it could start work on an exit strategy, with all the humiliation that would entail, and the very real danger of an Iraqi civil war.
For all President Bush’s recent expressions of resolve, it is still not entirely clear which option he is going to choose.
Iraq Rebuilding Fails to Deliver
Jon Leyne / BBC
BAGHDAD (June 22, 2005) — On the outskirts of Baghdad, workmen have been toiling frantically to repair a huge broken water main.
It was blown up by insurgents at the weekend. They knew exactly where to place the charge for maximum damage. It has taken out the water supply for more than half of Baghdad.
“We’ve been affected badly,” complained one man in the area. “We don’t have any water to drink. What are we supposed to do? Sometimes they cut the power as well. It’s all the fault of the Americans.”
It is typical of the frustration faced by the Americans and their allies, as they struggle to improve the quality of life in Iraq.
Figures from the US aid agency US-Aid show that Iraq is generating more electricity now than when Saddam Hussein was in power. But that us not the impression for most Iraqis as they suffer another sweltering summer with only intermittent power.
At the moment in Baghdad, the power is off for four hours, then on for only two. Even those lucky enough to own generators struggle to find the power to run vital air conditioning units.
In the southern city of Basra there were protests about the situation this week.
The temperature there can rise to 50C with 98% humidity. It can be almost unbearable.
The Iraq budget for US-Aid alone, since the downfall of Saddam Hussein, has been more than $5bn. But most Iraqis simply have not seen a difference.
On one job creation project, there is a budget of $88m. It has paid for a series of training centres, like one I visited in the impoverished Sadr City neighbourhood of Baghdad.
I found trainers teaching Iraqis computer skills. In another room, two classes of women were learning to use Chinese-made sewing machines.
They are popular classes. But the day I visited, nothing was moving. The power was down once again.
The staff admit they only expect to find jobs for half the people they train.
“Nothing has changed, maybe it’s worse. Life is very hard,” said one of the women learning to sew.
Rime and her husband Saad work for the contractors who are carrying out the training.
I asked Rime if life was getting any better, two years after the fall of Saddam.
“No it’s not, that’s the truth” she said. “But we cannot submit to the situation.
“There are some jobs, there are some companies defying the security situation and trying to get things started. And Iraqis are very supportive to such companies.”
Rime and Saad know they are putting their lives in danger, just by working on a US-financed project.
“It is dangerous,” said Saad. “But one way or another we have to do it. If I believe in something I have to continue doing it.”
Little to Show
The Americans and their allies point to the steady political progress — the handover of sovereignty, elections, the formation of a government, and now talks on the writing of a new constitution.
The hope was that a new, legitimate, government, would isolate the insurgents and win the support of moderates in all communities.
The trouble is, that has just not happened. If anything the violence continues to increase.
In the last few days, for example, more than 40 Iraqis have been killed in bomb attacks against police trainees, and at a Baghdad restaurant.
It has become so commonplace the rest of the world hardly notices any more.
Remarkably, Iraqis have not lost hope that things will improve. But so far, despite billions of dollars spent in Iraq, there is very little to show for it.
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