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In Iraq, the Center Cannot Hold

April 30, 2005
By Ken Sanders

Immediately 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.

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