Monday, December 19, 2005

War News for Monday, December 19, 2005 Bring 'em on: Two Iraqis killed and eleven wounded (mostly policemen) in suicide bomb attack on a police convoy near a children's hospital in Baghdad. Bring 'em on: Three civilians killed and three wounded after gunmen attacked the convoy of Baghdad's Deputy Governor in Baghdad. Bring 'em on: Two students injured after gunmen opened fire on their bus in Baghdad. Bring 'em on: Two Iraqi policemen and one civilian injured after gunmen attacked a police checkpoint in Baghdad. Mission Fucking Accomplished: President Bush declared to the nation on Sunday night that the United States was winning the war in Iraq and pleaded with his viewers not to "give in to despair" over a conflict that has cost more than 2,100 American lives and an estimated 30,000 Iraqi deaths. American Hostage Dead: An extremist group, the Islamic Army of Iraq, today claimed on a website posting that it had killed an American adviser taken hostage in Iraq, and said it would publicise a video showing the killing. The group did not identify which American hostage it was referring to, but last week, an internet statement in the name of the Islamic Army claimed that the abductors of American Ronald Allen Schulz had killed him. German Hostage Free: Susanne Osthoff, the German woman taken hostage in Iraq, has been freed, Germany's foreign minister says. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, did not say how she was freed. "I am glad to be able to announce to you ... that Mrs Susanne Osthoff is no longer in the hands of the kidnappers," he said on Sunday. British Hostage Hope:There is still hope for Norman Kember despite the apparent execution of another hostage in Iraq, campaigners for the peace activist's release said today. Nothing has been heard from the group holding the 74-year-old since a deadline for its demands to be met passed more than a week ago. $20m 2 month PR contract in Anbar: A number of workers who carried out Lincoln Group's offensive, including a $20-million two-month contract to influence public opinion in Iraq's restive Al Anbar province, describe a campaign that was unnecessarily costly, poorly run and largely ineffective at improving America's image in Iraq. The current and former employees spoke on condition of anonymity because of confidentiality restrictions. "In my own estimation, this stuff has absolutely no effect, and it's a total waste of money," said another former employee, echoing the sentiments of several colleagues. "Every Iraqi can read right through it." Casual Killings: These casual killings are the reality of life in and around Baghdad. The everyday incidents of war play as great a role in determining the political mood as the much-publicised elections. The death of men like Atheer, who also worked on the family farm, and Waleed, who inspected vehicles a a customs post on the Syrian border, usually go unreported. Truce Over: The violence is not likely to end soon. Insurgent leaders from in and around Fallujah said yesterday that the de facto truce to enable Sunni Arabs to vote was now over. "As long as the occupation exists along with those agents who brought it, we will continue our armed struggle," said Abu Muyasir, a former member of the Baath party who is a guerrilla leader in Fallujah. A Little Blood Stained: Iraq may have successfully carried out a referendum and two elections this year, each time with less violence and more people voting. But he believes the provincial elections, due to be held six weeks after a new government is formed, are more important to southern Iraqis than last week's national poll, and could be "a little blood-stained". Factions that had clashed violently in the past before declaring a truce for last week's election could fall out again. "I would predict a slightly bumpy ride," said the commander. Next PM of Iraq?: Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi has had some narrow escapes, but now he has a shot at being named prime minister and tasked with taking the country beyond the somber pall of Saddam Hussein. A top member of the leading United Iraqi Alliance, the devout but moderate Shiite Muslim’s name regularly tops the list of prospective Iraqi premiers. Opinion and Commentary One Thousand Bin Ladens:
But the editor of the Islamabad-based “Mediawatch”, Yaqoub McLintock, who is also an expert on Al Qaeda, appeared confident as to bin Laden’s safety. “I think he is alive and well. Admittedly, bin Laden is not in great health, but he is not at the point of death. All that we hear about his fate is nothing but media speculation. His death would certainly be announced by Al Qaeda, in conformity with Sharia (Islamic law),” he told AFP. He also claimed that bin Laden avoids making any appearance “as a safety measure, knowing that he is being traced by intelligence services.” Abdul Bari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, agreed. “Bin Laden has said it all and has nothing to add,” he said. “The man could well be preparing a large-scale operation in the United States,” added Atwan, the first Arab journalist to interview bin Laden, who has a 25-million-dollar bounty on his head. “Dead or not? This is not the question,” said Yasser Sirri, the director of the London-based Islamic Observatory. “Admittedly, bin Laden is a strategic symbol, but Al Qaeda is now a decentralised multi-national jihadist (movement) capable of generating thousands of bin Laden,” he said.
Iraq is a bloody mess, and will stay that way for quite some time. It is nothing like George Bush—or, for that matter, The Economist—hoped it would become when he sent in his troops nearly three years ago to get rid of Saddam Hussein. This week's general election will not turn things round overnight.
Exit Strategy:
The American presence in Iraq—and official declarations that the U.S. military there will “hunt down” the terrorists—exacerbates these problems. First, Iraqi politicians will not apply sustained pressure to their security forces to improve themselves so long as they know that the Americans will remain to protect the state from the insurgents. Second, the Iraqi units themselves will not grow in capability and confidence so long as they are relying upon American command and control, firepower, and tactical acumen. The assertion that they would profit from more training, more professional leadership, more organization, and better equipment is true, though the American and Iraqi governments have already had two years to pour resources into these problems. But how do the insurgents do so well with no large training bases, no safe place to organize, no secure electronic command-and-control network, and only the weaponry they can obtain covertly? The answer is almost certainly motivation. The insurgents care more about ejecting the United States than Iraqi politicians and soldiers care about stopping the insurgents—in part because the Iraqis can rely on the United States to do it for them. Third, the political leaders of Iraq’s three main factions will not make difficult compromises so long as the United States remains in Iraq. Ironically, the U.S. presence probably encourages the Kurds, the Shia, and the Sunni Arabs each to believe that they are stronger than they are. The Kurds have become accustomed to American protection from the Shia and from Turkey, so they have felt free to demand what amounts to an independent state and control of Iraq’s northern oil fields. The Shia rely on American soldiers to do the hard fighting against the Sunni Arab insurgents, which permits Shia politicians to believe that they can safely strive for a religious state and preserve their monopoly over Iraq’s rich southern oil fields. Some Shia politicians also support purges of officials and soldiers—most of them Sunni Arabs—who may have had an affiliation with Saddam’s regime but who were pragmatically drawn into the Iraqi administration and security services by Iyad Allawi, the interim prime minister. The Sunni Arabs probably believe that only the presence of U.S. troops can prevent them from re-establishing their domination of Iraq. Only U.S. troops have been able to dethrone them in the past, and many do not even believe the widely accepted estimate that they are outnumbered three to one by the Shia. They also seem to have forgotten that they preserved their domination of Iraq with chemical weapons, artillery, tanks, and aircraft—all of which are gone. They will not reconcile themselves to a diminished position in Iraq until they discover that they cannot beat the Shia and the Kurds in a fair fight. Fourth, the American presence fuels all four social sources of insurgent support. Sunni Arabs almost surely see the United States as the agent of their fall from the top of the social order and the American presence as an obstacle to restoring their power and resources. U.S. military action, however precise by historical standards, nevertheless directly harms Iraqis and their extended families. Every killing or arrest produces more insurgents, and it is easy to see how when every victim may have two or three brothers and many more male first cousins. Finally, and obviously, the American presence stimulates both religious and nationalist opposition. It is easy to forget that, for a time, even some Shias violently opposed the American presence for these reasons. Nationalism and religion have also brought foreign fighters to Iraq. (Good public relations has something to do with it, too: insurgents have posted films of their exploits on the Internet.) Young Arab males have been traveling to Iraq to fight the United States, many coming through Syria. Countries on Iraq’s periphery seem to find it in their interests to look the other way as their more violent and politically and religiously motivated young people go to Iraq, where they can die fighting the Americans rather than conspire against the regimes of their home countries. (Perhaps half of the foreign fighters who have died in Iraq have been Saudi Arabian nationals.) Were the United States not in Iraq, not only would fewer rebels wish to come, but the incentives of neighboring governments to capture such people would rise. Today Iraq is a training ground for foreign fighters, but it is also a burial ground for many of them—thanks to the U.S. military. The Saudi and Syrian governments will have no interest in the Sunni areas of Iraq becoming an unpoliced training ground and sanctuary for rebels who wish to overthrow them once the American forces leave. The United States is more than two years into battling the insurgency in Iraq. The insurgents are at least as strong now as they ever have been, and probably stronger. The American presence simultaneously provokes resistance and reduces the incentives for the Iraqi government to take the steps necessary to combat it. The political and military progress in Iraq to which the Bush administration regularly alludes is to be found mainly in the Kurdish and Shia Arab communities; very little progress is being made in the Sunni Arab communities that are at the heart of the insurgency. The American presence produces at best a bloody equilibrium, the endless costs of which will be paid by American soldiers and taxpayers and Iraqi civilians.


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