Gareth Porter / IPS & Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily / IPS – 2006-09-25 01:01:33
Iraq Occupation Depends on Sadr — and Iran
Analysis by Gareth Porter / Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON, DC (September 20, 2006) — For many months, the George W. Bush administration has been complaining that Iranian meddling in Iraq is a threat to the country’s stability and to US troops. The irony of this publicity campaign over Tehran’s alleged bid to undermine the occupation is that Iran may well be the main factor holding up a showdown between militant Shiites and US forces.
The underlying reality in Iraq, which the administration does not appear to grasp fully, is that the United States is now dependent on the sufferance of Iran and its Iraqi Shiite political-military allies to continue the occupation.
Three and a half years after the occupation began, the US military is no longer the real power in Iraq. As the chief of intelligence for the US Marine Corps revealed in a recent report, US troops have been unable to shake the hold that Sunni insurgents have on the vast western province of Anbar.
But the main threat to the occupation comes not from the Sunni insurgents but from the militant Iraqi Shiite forces aligned with Iran, led by Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army. The armed Shiite militias are now powerful enough to make it impossible for the US. occupation to continue.
Gone are the days when the US military could be so cavalier about Sadr’s forces that it deliberately provoked a major military confrontation with him in Najaf in April 2004. That was when he was believed to have 10,000 poorly-trained troops.
Since then, US officials have avoided giving any estimate of the Mahdi Army’s strength. But according to a report published last month by London’s Chatham House, which undoubtedly reflected the views of British intelligence in Iraq, the Mahdi Army may now be “several hundred thousand strong”. Even if that estimate vastly overstates his troop strength, it reflects the sense that he has the strongest political-military force in the country — because of the loyalty that so many Shiites have to him.
The Mahdi Army controls Sadr City, the massive Shiite slum in eastern Baghdad that holds half the capital’s population. But even more important, perhaps, it holds sway in the heavily Shiite southern provinces, and as Sadr knows well, that gives him a strategic position from which to bring the US military to a standstill.
Patrick Lang, former head of human intelligence collection and Middle East intelligence at the Defence Intelligence Agency, explained why in an important analysis in the Christian Science Monitor July 21: US troops must be supplied by convoys of trucks that go across hundreds of miles of roads through this Shiite heartland, and the Mahdi Army and its allies in the south could turn those supply routes into a “shooting gallery”.
Lang notes the supply trucks are driven by South Asian or Turkish civilians who would immediately quit. And even if the US military used its own troops to protect the routes, they would vulnerable to ambushes. “A long, linear target such as a convoy of trucks is very hard to defend against irregulars operating in and around their own towns,” he wrote.
It would not require a complete cutoff of supplies to make the US position untenable. A significant reduction in those supplies would begin a “downward spiral”, according to Lang.
Both US officials and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki realise that Sadr is too powerful to be dealt with by force. When Iraqi forces raided Sadr City last month accompanied by US advisers, Maliki denounced the operation on television and promised, “This won’t happen again.”
Last week a “senior coalition official” admitted to the Washington Post, “There’s not a military solution” to the Mahdi Army.
But the administration and the military in Iraq still appear to believe that there is some way to contain Sadr’s power. They have not yet accepted that Sadr has both the intention and the capability to bring down the US occupation.
Sadr has made no secret of his intentions. In an interview with the Washington Post published Aug. 11, Sadr’s top deputy, Mustafa Yaqoubi, said, “If we leave the decision to [the Americans], they will not leave. They’ll stay. To get the occupiers to leave, they need [to make] some sacrifice.”
The Shiites have never forgiven the United States for its “betrayal” in calling for an uprising against Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War and then standing by as Hussein slaughtered thousands of Shiite militants who took up arms. Most of them never supported the occupation in the first place.
Wayne White, principal Iraq analyst for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, recalls that polling done by the State Department soon after the US occupation began but never made public showed that a clear majority of Shiites were already opposed to it.
Growing anger at US military atrocities, combined with a growing sense of power in the Shiite community, have made Sadr’s readiness for a showdown with the US occupation forces enormously popular.
By last spring, the political atmosphere in the Shiite community was seething with hatred of the US and support for war against the occupation forces. In a May 6 story, Borzou Daraghi of the Los Angeles Times quoted a spokesman for the Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi Moderessi in Karbala, known in the past as a moderate, as saying the slogan at Friday prayers is: “Death to America”. The ayatollah reported that people were preparing for a military showdown with the US, saying “The Americans won’t leave except by the funerals of their sons.”
If Sadr and his followers are already preparing for a showdown with the US occupation forces, the only factor that appears to be restraining the Mahdi army now is Iran. After all, Tehran’s interest lies not in forcing an immediate withdrawal of US forces, but in keeping them in Iraq as virtual hostages. The potential threat to US forces in Iraq in retaliation for an attack on Iran is probably Tehran’s most effective deterrent to such an attack.
Meeting with Prime Minister Maliki last week, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, “We hope that one day the Iraqi nation will regain its rightful place and take the financial and human capital of the country into their own hands with the withdrawal of the foreigners.”
At the University of Virginia a week earlier, former President Mohammad Khatami answered a question on Iraq by saying the immediate departure of US troops would create instability.
It would be surprising if Iran were not urging Sadr to hold off on attacking the occupation forces until after the Bush administration has either reached a broad political agreement with Tehran or has been replaced in two years by an administration that will do so.
Only Iran’s ability to convince Sadr to hold off on his effort to end the occupation can prevent a violent confrontation between Shiite militants and the occupation forces. But Bush’s advisers may still not understand how fundamentally the power equation in Iraq has shifted. “They don’t think like that,” Patrick Lang told IPS. “They think they are still in charge.”
Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in June 2005.
Iraq: US Resorting to ‘Collective Punishment’
Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily / Inter Press Service
RAMADI (September 18, 2006) — US forces are taking to collective punishment of civilians in several cities across the al-Anabar province west of Baghdad, residents and officials say.
“Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar province, is still living with the daily terror of its people getting killed by snipers and its infrastructure being destroyed,” Ahmad, a local doctor who withheld his last name for security purposes told IPS. “This city has been facing the worst of the American terror and destruction for more than two years now, and the world is silent.”
Destroying infrastructure and cutting water and electricity “for days and even weeks is routine reaction to the resistance,” he said. “Guys of the resistance do not need water and electricity, it’s the families that are being harmed, and their lives which are at stake.”
Students and professors at the University of al-Anbar told IPS that their campus is under frequent attack.
“Nearly every week we face raids by the Americans or their Iraqi colleagues,” a professor speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS. Students said that US troops occupied their school last week..
“We’ve been under great pressure from the Americans since the very first days of their occupation of Iraq,” a student told IPS.
Such raids are being reported all over Ramadi. “The infrastructure destruction is huge around the governorate building in downtown Ramadi,” said a 24-year-old student who gave his name as Ali al-Ani. “And they are destroying the market too.”
IPS reported Sep. 5 that the US military was bulldozing entire blocks of buildings near the governorate to dampen resistance attacks on government offices.
Such US action seems most severe in al-Anbar province, where resistance is strongest, and which has seen the highest US casualties.
The city of Hit 80km west of Ramadi was surrounded by US troops for several days earlier this week. Several civilians were killed and at least five were detained by US forces. Checkpoints are in place at each entrance to the city after the US military lifted the cordon around it. This has stifled movement and damaged local businesses.
“There was an attack on a US convoy, and three vehicles were destroyed,” a local tribal chief who gave his name as Nawaf told IPS. “It wasn’t the civilians who did it, but they are the ones punished. These Americans have the bad habit of cutting all of the essential services after every attack. They said they came to liberate us, but look at the slow death they are giving us every day.”
In Haditha, a city of 75,000 on the banks of the Euphrates River in western al-Anbar, collective punishment is ongoing, residents say. This was the site of the massacre of 24 civilians by US marines in November 2005.
“The Americans continue to raid our houses and threaten us with more violence,” a local tribal leader who gave his name as Abu Juma’a told IPS. “But if they think they will make us kneel by these criminal acts, they are wrong. If they increase the pressure, the resistance will increase the reaction. We see this pattern repeated so often now.”
Abu Juma’a added: “I pray that the Americans return to their senses before they lose everything in the Iraqi fire.”
In Fallujah, local police say residents have turned against them due to the collective punishment tactics used by US forces.
“The Americans started pushing us to fight the resistance despite our contracts that clearly assigned us the duties of civil protection against normal crimes such as theft and tribal quarrels,” a police lieutenant told IPS. “Now 90 percent of the force has decided to quit rather than kill our brothers or get killed by them for the wishes of the Americans.”
At least one US vehicle is reported destroyed every day on average in the face of mounting US raids and a daily curfew. The scene is one of destruction of the city, not rebuilding.
“Infrastructure rebuilding is just a joke that nobody laughs at,” Fayiq al-Dilaimy, an engineer in Fallujah told IPS. He was on the rebuilding committee set up after the November 2004 US-led operation which destroyed approximately 75 percent of the city..
“People of this city could rebuild their city in six months if given a real chance. Now look at it and how sorrowful it looks under the boots of the ‘liberators’.”
Many of the smaller towns have been badly hit. “Khaldiyah (near Fallujah) and the area around it have faced the worst collective punishments for over two years now,” said a government official in Ramadi. “But of course most cities in al-Anbar are being constantly punished by the Americans.”
Samarra and Dhululiyah towns, both north of Baghdad, have also been facing collective punishment from the US military, according to residents.
“Curfews and concrete walls are permanent in both cities, which makes life impossible,” Ali al-Bazi, a lawyer who lives in Dhululiyah and works in Samarra told IPS. “There are so many killings by American snipers. So many families have lost loved ones trying to visit relatives or even just stepping outside of their house.”
While Baghdad is not in al-Anbar province, occupation forces have used similar tactics there. In January 2005 IPS reported that the military used bulldozers to level palm groves, cut electricity, destroy a fuel station and block access roads in response to attacks from resistance fighters.
A US military spokesman in Baghdad did not comment on specific cases, but told IPS that the US military “does its best to protect civilians from the terrorists.”
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Research on Globalization. www.globalresearch.ca
© Copyright Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service, 2006
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