In Iraq, the Center Cannot Hold
April 30, 2005
By Ken Sanders
following Iraq's elections in January, the Bush administration and
its apologists declared that the "successful" elections in Iraq
delivered a "body blow" to the insurgency. In March, General John
P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, and Lt.
General John F. Sattler, the top Marine officer in Iraq, both declared
that the strength of the insurgency was waning thanks, in large
part, on the elections. General Abizaid even went so far as to predict
that by the end of 2005, Iraqi security forces would be leading
the fight against the insurgents.
At first, it appeared that Bush & Co. might actually have been
correct. In the weeks immediately following the elections, it did
appear as though insurgent attacks were more sporadic and less effective.
In short, it seemed relatively quiet in Iraq.
Appearances, however, are often deceiving.
General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
admitted recently that the past few weeks have seen a dramatic resurgence
of the insurgency in Iraq. Not only has the insurgency not waned,
it has grown more coordinated and sophisticated. Rather than being
limited to little more than roadside bombs, the Iraqi insurgency
has recently mounted large-scale attacks against U.S. and Iraqi
forces, as well as civilians.
This month, in fact, insurgents staged well-coordinated offensives
against fortified U.S. positions. On one occasion, three suicide
truck bombers and dozens of armed insurgents tried and failed to
breach the perimeter of a U.S. base on the Syrian border. On the
other occasion, no fewer than 40 insurgents assaulted the Abu Ghraib
prison complex. Only after several hours of fighting were U.S. forces
able to ultimately repel the assault.
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal, citing an internal
U.S. Army analysis, reported that the insurgency in Iraq really
hadn't died down at all. Rather, the insurgency shifted its focus
from attacking U.S. forces to attacking Iraqi civilians. According
to a recent report in the Boston Globe, the insurgency's apparent
shift in focus has led senior military officials to begin worrying
that the insurgency may spark a sectarian war between Iraq's Shiite
and Sunni populations. The threat of such a civil war was made all
the more ominous by recent reports of dozens of dead Shiites being
fished out of the Tigris River. According to Iraqi President Jalal
Talabani, the men, women, and children were taken hostage then killed
by Sunni militants.
Iraqi army and police units have begun abandoning their posts
due to the recent upsurge in insurgent attacks. Near the Syrian
border in the Sunni city of Husaybah, an Iraqi unit that once numbered
400 troops is down to a few dozen. Residents of Mosul claim that
Iraqi police almost never patrol the city’s streets anymore. Likewise,
in Madain, 14 miles south of Baghdad, where many of the recent insurgent
attacks have occurred, residents complain that the police have effectively
abandoned the city.
There weren't that many combat-ready Iraqi security forces to
being with. The White House and Pentagon frequently claim that 147,000
Iraqis have joined the security forces. However, as Representative
Jim McGovern of Massachusetts recently learned during a trip to
Baghdad, less than a quarter of those 147,000 are ready for combat.
For now, the other three-quarters of the Iraqi security forces are
little more than fodder. As if proving the point, insurgents executed
19 Iraqi national guardsmen last week in a soccer stadium. The week
before, 12 Iraqi police were killed by a car bomb in Kirkuk.
The White House and the Pentagon have made it abundantly clear
that the U.S. will not withdraw from Iraq until Iraq is able to
stand on its own. As noted by Rep. McGovern, the U.S. doesn't foresee
withdrawing from Iraq any time soon. In the multi-billion dollar
supplemental wartime appropriations bill recently passed by Congress,
$500 million is set aside, at the Bush administration's request,
for the construction of military bases in Iraq. Whether the proposed
military bases are indicative of Bush's wavering confidence in the
outcome of his grand experiment in Iraq, or are evidence of Bush
& Co.'s imperial designs, remains to be seen. Either way, G.I. Joe
and G.I. Jane probably won't be home for the holidays.
Coinciding with the escalation of violence in Iraq and the growing
sense that the U.S. has, as it did in Vietnam, initiated a war it
cannot win, is evidence that Bush's so-called Global War on Terrorism
isn't faring so well, either. Last week, the Bush administration
revealed that it would no longer publish the State Department's
19-year-old annual report on international terrorism. Based upon
information revealed to Congress but withheld from the public, who
can blame them?
According to data compiled by the State Department and the National
Counterterrorism Center, there were 650 "significant" terrorist
attacks in 2004, as compared with only 175 in 2003. The number of
attacks in 2003 was, at that time, a 20-year high. Those numbers,
however, don't include "significant" attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.
There were 198 such attacks in 2004, compared to only 22 the year
before. That's a 900 percent increase over the course of a single
year. Notably, the number of attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq
alone in 2004 exceeded the 20-year-high of 175 global attacks in
2003. Records are made to be broken.
If the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians were counted
by the U.S. as "significant," who knows how much bigger the number
for 2004 would be? Of course, in the U.S. "[w]e don't do body counts."
Not of dead Iraqis, anyway. In fact, based upon the data that the
State Department bothered to compile for the annual terrorism report,
but is now too embarrassed to publicly release, the deaths of Iraqi
civilians are simply not "significant." (This callous disregard
for the deaths of Iraqi civilians, whether caused by insurgents
or by U.S. forces, should give truth to the lie that the U.S. was
ever concerned about the plight of the Iraqi people.)
Whether or not Bush & Co. want to admit it, things in Iraq are
spiraling out of control. It is time that Bush and his neo-con cronies
to acknowledge the anarchy they set loose in Iraq. It is time they
stopped trying to convince the American public and themselves that
victory in Iraq is on the horizon. Until they acknowledge what's
really happening in Iraq, real progress there will never be made.