Iraq ‘Facing Grim Future’

May 20th, 2007 - by admin

James Robbins / BBC News – 2007-05-20 22:33:33

Iraq ‘Facing Grim Future’
James Robbins / BBC News

(May 17, 2007) — The leading foreign policy think-tank, Chatham House, is warning that Iraq faces the distinct possibility of collapse and fragmentation.

A new report from the London-based Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, argues that the Iraqi government is now largely powerless and irrelevant in large parts of the country, as a range of local civil wars and insurgencies are fought. The report urges a radical change in American and British strategy to try to rescue the situation.

It is not the first time Chatham House — a highly respected foreign policy institution in London — has been highly critical of American and British strategies in Iraq.

This latest paper, written by Dr Gareth Stansfield, a Middle East expert, is unremittingly bleak. Dr Stansfield, of Exeter University and Chatham House, argues that the break-up of Iraq is becoming increasingly likely.

In large parts of the country, the Iraqi government is powerless, he says, as rival factions struggle for local supremacy.

The briefing paper, entitled Accepting Realities in Iraq, argues that “There is not ‘a’ civil war in Iraq, but many civil wars and insurgencies involving a number of communities and organizations struggling for power.”

Dr Stansfield says that, although al-Qaeda is challenged in some areas by local Iraqi leaders who do not welcome such intervention, there is a clear momentum behind its activity.

Iraq’s neighbours too have a greater capacity to affect the situation on the ground than either the UK or the US.

The report accuses each of Iraq’s major neighbouring states — Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — of having reasons “for seeing the instability there continue, and each uses different methods to influence developments”.

The briefing paper says “these current harsh realities need to be accepted if new strategies are to have any chance of preventing the failure and collapse of Iraq”.

Need for Change
Dr Stansfield contends that the American security surge is moving violence to different areas, but is not overcoming it.

Certainly there is a growing sense in London and Washington that the American Commander in Iraq, General Petraeus, is likely to ask for more time to continue the surge later this summer in order to deliver results.

That will confront the Bush Administration with a real dilemma.

The president has vetoed a bill that would have set a deadline for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The bill was approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Congressional opponents of the war believe the veto signals that now it is the president alone who must take responsibility for continuing America’s involvement, and the casualties.

The report urges the governments in London and Washington to change track.

It says the radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, leader of the Mehdi army (one of the major Shia militias), should be included as a political partner — no longer treating him as an enemy. And it also calls for increasing the involvement of other countries in the region.

Despair Stalks Baghdad as Plan Falters
Andrew North / BBC News

BAGHDAD (APRIL 20, 2007) — Trying to get into the centre of Baghdad earlier this week offered one view of how far away the Americans and Iraqi authorities are from gaining control here.

We were at the airport. Just before we were due to leave, the entrance car park was hit by a car bomb.

US troops and private security forces who guard the perimeter locked the whole area down for the next four hours. No traffic was allowed in or out.

While we waited with scores of other vehicles, mortars were fired at the airport. Fortunately for us they landed on the other side of the runway, plumes of smoke shooting into the air.

You won’t have heard about any of this because at the same time a series of other far more serious attacks was taking place.

One was at the Sadriya market in the city centre, where a massive car bomb killed more than 140 people.

The Sunni extremist surge seems to be having more effect than the American one

It was placed at the entrance to a set of barriers put up around another part of the market where a previous single bomb, in February, claimed more than 130 lives.

The market blast “did not penetrate the emplaced barriers” a later US military press release helpfully pointed out, ignoring the fact that the bombers had yet again adapted their tactics with vicious perfection — setting off their device at the point where crowds congregated outside and at the very moment when they were busiest.

Bombers ‘Organised’
As we drove into the city, we counted six blast holes left by recent roadside bombs along just one 100-metre stretch of road.

A large patch of damaged, blackened Tarmac on a bridge spoke of another attempt to destroy a key crossing.

The Sunni extremists held to be responsible for these attacks seem to be making a mockery of the US and Iraqi security plan, which is now into its third month.

So far, their surge seems to be having more effect than the American one.

Last month alone there were more than 100 car bombings, and the number of attacks has continued at a similar rate so far this month. This indicates a high level of organisation. This despite the fact that there are many extra US and Iraqi troops in the city now. There are more raids and patrols.

On our drive into the city, we encountered several Iraqi army checkpoints. But almost every vehicle — including ours — was being waved through.

Many new checkpoints have been set up across Baghdad. But what is their purpose, many Iraqis ask, when they seem to stop so few people?

It is not always encouraging when they do — a couple of times we have been pulled over by Iraqi soldiers who ask us if we have any bullets to give them.

Optimism Fading
Just a month ago there was a cautious — very cautious, but still real — sense of optimism among many Baghdadis that the plan was starting to work.

The daily count of bodies found around the city — mostly Sunni victims of targeted sectarian killings — had dropped off significantly.

The Shia militia of Moqtada Sadr, which was blamed for most of these murders, was largely obeying orders to put away its weapons and co-operate with the security plan. But there is a deadly and familiar equation here.

With official security forces apparently unable to protect Shia communities, pressure is growing on the militias to do so again. And there are signs their death squads have returned to work. The body count is creeping up again. Twenty were found yesterday.

Dealing with the car bomb is “our top priority”, says US military spokesman Lt Col Chris Garver. But as ever it is a game of cat and mouse, played with insurgents who are “very adaptive”, and very well-funded.

A man arrested by US soldiers after placing a truck bomb which failed to go off told interrogators he had been paid $30,000 (£15,000) for the task.

Lt Col Garver says the US believes it is up against several “car bombing networks”. “If there was just one, we might be able to pull the string and unravel it,” he says.

People still have to be patient, he warns, adding a note of optimism. “We are still not fully staffed,” he says — there are another two months to go until all the extra US troops are in Baghdad.

But there is frustration too among the Americans at the Iraqi government’s lack of progress on reconciliation — ultimately the only solution to the conflict, most believe.

Key issues include the need to implement a new law on sharing oil revenues, an amnesty programme and limiting the scope of the de-Baathification process. All of these are crucial to winning over Sunnis.

The idea was that the security drive in Baghdad would create “space” for such efforts to get going. But although new laws have been drafted they are a long way from being approved.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates stepped up the pressure over these issues on his visit to Baghdad. In the meantime, the young men and women sent out here to implement President Bush’s plan are paying a heavy price.

An average of 80-90 Americans die each month. And US personnel have just had their tours extended by another three months. But, as it has always been since the 2003 invasion, it is the Iraqis who suffer most.

No-one knows the exact figures, but at the end of another week of unspeakable, random carnage, hundreds more Iraqi families are grieving.

Exhaustion and despair hang over the country. And there are no signs of change.


Iraq Violence, in Figures

Tens of thousands of people have died in Iraq since the US-led invasion of March 2003. But exactly how many Iraqi lives have been lost is a controversial topic, with estimates varying wildly.

More than 3,600 coalition soldiers have died, but US forces do not keep complete records of civilians killed.

Nor does the Iraqi government have a precise figure. Health ministry estimates in November 2006 ranged from 100,000 to 150,000 dead.

This contrasts with a survey of Iraqi households in the Lancet, which suggested that — by July 2006 — about 655,000 Iraqi deaths were “a consequence of the war”.

These estimates are both higher than the running total of reported civilian deaths maintained by the campaign group, Iraq Body Count.

Using two media reports as its source for each death, IBC says the civilian death toll is now almost than 69,000, including more than 3,650 police. But the organisation also warns that many deaths may not have been reported.

These pages — updated monthly — give an overview of the most recent estimates.

Baghdad: Mapping the Violence
An interactive map of car bombings and other major incidents from the beginning of the US invasion until today.