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Everyone, Iraq Is Still A F*cking Mess & A Powderkeg - 'The Surge Worked' Mythology At Counterpunch

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Hissyspit Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-08-08 05:52 AM
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Everyone, Iraq Is Still A F*cking Mess & A Powderkeg - 'The Surge Worked' Mythology At Counterpunch
Edited on Sat Mar-08-08 05:59 AM by Hissyspit
http://www.counterpunch.org/patrick03072008.html

Why Iraq Could Blow Up in John McCain's Face
By PATRICK COCKBURN

In Baghdad the Iraqi government is eager to give the impression that peace is returning. Not a single sectarian murder or displacement was reported in over a month, claimed Brigadier Qasim Ata, the spokesman for the security plan for the capital. In the US, the Surge, the dispatch of 30,000 extra American troops in the first half of 2007, is portrayed as having turned the tide in Iraq. Democrats in Congress no longer call aggressively for a withdrawal of American troops. The supposed military success in Iraq has been brandished by Senator John McCain as vindication of his prowar stance.

Seldom has the official Iraqi and American perception of what is happening in Iraq felt so different from the reality. Cocooned behind the walls of the Green Zone, defended by everybody from US soldiers to Peruvian and Ugandan mercenaries, the government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki pumps out alluring tales of life returning to normal that border on fantasy. For instance, Brigadier Ata made his claim that there had been no sectarian murders or expulsions in the capital over the previous month on February 15, but two weeks earlier, on February 1, suicide bombers, whom the government said were al-Qaida, had blown themselves up killing 99 people in two bird markets in Baghdad, both situated in largely Shia districts.

So keen are the authorities to show that Sunni and Shia have stopped killing each other and overall violence is down that many deaths with an obvious sectarian motive are no longer recorded. I think the real figure for the number of people being killed is about twice what the government says it is, said one local politician. He had just sent the death certificates of the victims of sectarian killers to the military authorities, who were steadfastly refusing to admit that anybody had died at the time and place that the bodies were discovered.

One day after Brigadier Ata claimed that there had been no sectarian killings or abductions over the previous month, prime minister Maliki himself went on a walk about in central Baghdad to demonstrate just how safe things have become. But it was the precautions taken by Malikis bodyguards which were more revealing about the real state of security in the city.

Malikis brief venture onto the streets and out of the Green Zone took place in the al-Mansur district of west Baghdad. This is an area of big houses and many embassies, but has been heavily fought over by Sunni and Shia in the past year. I was in Mansur on Saturday afternoon, an Iraqi friend told me, when, at about 3.15pm, I noticed a strange movement in the street, which was suddenly flooded by soldiers in green uniforms, led by generals and colonels, who were checking parked cars and all the buildings. Minutes later a large convoy of vehicles appeared, with three US army Humvees in front and behind, and, in the middle, five black armoured four wheel drives They stopped in front of a famous ice cream shop called al-Ruwaad, but for fifteen minutes nobody got out of the vehicles as soldiers searched all the shops nearby. When officials and their guards did begin to emerge Maliki was in the middle of them and began to walk around.

- snip -

Baghdad is better than it was, but the improvement is only in comparison to the bloodbath of 2006 when 3,000 people were being killed every month. People stay inside their own Sunni or Shia ghettoes. I drove one night through west Baghdad at 8 pm, sitting in the back of a police car with a second military vehicle full of heavily armed soldiers and police behind. Though I was driving in the heart of the capital I saw only three civilian cars during a three or four mile journey through a maze of military checkpoints and fortifications. In Shia-dominated east Baghdad, where there has been less fighting, there are more shops open but few customers. Overall the city the city is still frozen in fear. The growth in the number of checkpoints is not entirely good news because it has always been a favorite tactic of kidnappers and death squads to set up fake checkpoints to stop and identify potential victims. More reassuring is the knowledge that the Mehdi Army militiamen, the military wing of Shia clerics Muqtada al-Sadrs movement, who killed so many Sunni at the height of the slaughter, are still abiding by a strictly-enforced six month ceasefire on the orders of their leader. The killings have not stopped but there are less of them.

Baghdad is entirely divided between Sunni and Shia and the sectarianism is as deep seated as it was before fall in violence. In many areas, say Iraqis bitterly, the killing stopped because there was nobody left to kill. There are very few mixed neighborhoods left. Just beneath the surface the Mehdi Army still exists as a parallel government in Shia areas, which means most of the city. A friend who was trying to sell a large house for $300,000 had to pay a $25,000 bribe to government officials to get the sale registered. No sooner had he paid this than the Mehdi Army demanded a further $15,000 for the sale to go through, money he reluctantly paid on the grounds it was too risky to refuse. Baghdad remains the most dangerous city in the world. This explains why so few of the 2.2 million Iraqis who have fled abroad, mostly to Jordan and Syria, or the one million forced from their homes within Iraq, are coming home, despite the fact that many families exist miserably in a single rented room in Damascus or Amman.

Again, the Iraqi government has tried to prove the contrary. Last December it paid for a highly publicized convoy of buses to bring Iraqis home from Syria, the exercise geared to giving the impression that a flood of people was returning to peaceful Baghdad. Unfortunately, it never happened. Three months later, despite much tougher Syrian visa regulations, the flow is still out of Iraq. The latest figures from the UN High Commission for Refugees show that the number of Iraqis entering Syria from Iraq was 1,200 a day in late January while an average of 700 are going back to Iraq from Syria.

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