War News for Wednesday, January 4, 2006
Bring 'em on: At least three people were killed and 13 wounded in a car bomb attack in Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Thirty six people killed and 36 injured in a bomb blast at a funeral in Muqdadiyah
Bring 'em on: Car bomb wounds three in Kerbala
Bring 'em on: U.S. forces killed one suspected insurgent and wounded another on Monday near Balad
Bring 'em on: U.S. forces arrested two insurgents near Hawija, southwest of the northern city of Kirkuk
Bring 'em on: Gunmen killed a senior official at the Oil Ministry, along with his son, in an attack on his car in western Baghdad
Bring 'em on: Two guards of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of one of Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite political parties, were shot dead on Tuesday while attending a funeral in southern Baghdad
Bring 'em on: The bodies of two people, bound, gagged and shot dead, were found in Mahawil
: Even though Ahmad Chalabi apparently lost badly in last month's parliamentary election here, the former Pentagon favorite is still likely to be a big player in the next Iraqi government. The Dec. 15 vote went largely to ethnic and sectarian coalitions at the expense of secular slates, including his, preliminary returns indicate. That could leave him without a seat in parliament. Yet the former exile who helped spur the U.S.-led invasion by feeding false intelligence to Washington about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction, and who returned to Iraq after Saddam's fall to craft himself into a political leader, still has more cards to play. Characteristically, Chalabi, 61, could land on his feet in a high government post even though he failed to win even a minimum of votes from the Iraqi people.
Election results delayed
: Officials from Iraq’s independent electoral commission (IECI) say that the more than 2,000 complaints filed have already been investigated, but time was needed for a team from a Canada-based elections mission to check the violations-detection process. The IECI had originally forecast that results might be available early this month, but Sunni Arab and secularists alleged widespread fraud and voter intimidation by Shia Islamists and demanded that international observers be brought in to check the results.
: Both Iraqis who supported the election and those who opposed it have come onto the streets since the vote was completed. Groups on both sides are making veiled threats of armed response if their complaints to unheeded. Expatriates in Amman seem to want the continued unification of Iraq above all else. Most saw the election as the last chance to stop Iran's influence.
Hated Wolf Brigades
: The record shows, however, that the U.S. military has had a close operational relationship with the Wolf Brigade, the most hated and feared commando unit, and has even carried out joint operations with it. The U.S. command had repeatedly sent the Brigade to carry out operations in Sunni cities despite the opposition of U.S. Embassy officials who warned that such deployments would fuel sectarian tensions and violence.
: Although morale among members of the professional corps of the U.S. military remains generally high, their confidence in U.S. President George W. Bush and other civilian government leaders slipped substantially during 2005, according to major new survey released Monday by the "Military Times". The survey, the third in an annual series, found that approval of Bush's Iraq policies by military professionals fell from nearly two-thirds at the end of 2004 to just 54 percent in late 2005, while their support for his overall performance dropped from 71 percent to 60 percent over the course of the year.
: Rep. John Murtha, a key Democratic voice who favors pulling U.S. troops from Iraq, said in remarks airing on Monday that he would not join the U.S. military today. A decorated Vietnam combat veteran who retired as a colonel after 37 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Murtha told ABC News' "Nightline" program that Iraq "absolutely" was a wrong war for President George W. Bush to have launched.
: Over the strong objections of U.S. commanders in Baghdad, the Iraqi government has nominated a new leader for a brigade that is set to assume control over some of the capital's most sensitive areas. This dispute appears likely to postpone an already overdue handover by American forces for at least another month. The 5th Brigade, 6th Division of the Iraqi army was scheduled to assume responsibility on Dec. 27 for the heart of Baghdad, including the perimeter of the fortified Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and many Iraqi government buildings are located. It was also to patrol the road to the city's main airport.
Good News Story
: The WaPo has a good news story here about rebuilding projects being run by Maj. John Hudson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I decided to read it and found these items:
As Hudson's convoy popped onto the street, an Iraqi driver nearby -- trained to stop dead at the sight of any one U.S. Humvee or two or more sport-utility vehicles -- slammed on his brakes. The Iraqi sat stoically as a car rear-ended his, the crunch of metal audible through the bulletproof windows of Hudson's SUV.
British private security contractors escorted Hudson on his trip. A siren signaled the coming of the convoy, sending some pedestrians scrambling even as others stubbornly slowed. One vehicle ran interference, guarding against suicide bombers that prowl Baghdad in search of Western convoys. Hudson has had the good fortune never to come close to a bombing, he said, never to hear more than a few gunshots on his visits once or twice a week to work sites.
Money for the U.S. reconstruction package here is scheduled to run out around the end of the year. International donors largely have not kept their pledges to pick up the tab for reconstruction. Iraqis have balked at the painful economic reforms necessary to win foreign loans to do the work. Insurgents want to destroy it all. Civil war would do the same.Analysis
Doing Business in Iraq
Elsewhere, new businesses aren't faring so well. Economists at the Baghdad Economic Forum say that as many as 90 percent of the 24,000 new businesses are idle, unable to secure the work, raw materials, and startup money to get off the ground. Security problems, unreliable electricity, and lack of finance are hobbling small businesses, analysts and local businessmen say.
Not far from Hassan's ice cream parlor, Nour Ali Haider sits behind the counter of his leather jacket store. He is the sort of self-made entrepreneur the US would like to see blossom in Iraq's nascent free market economy. In 1989, fed up with his three-dollar-a-month job in a state-owned leather factory, Mr. Haider bought a dozen leather jackets and began hawking them from a street corner. Now he owns his own store and, until recently, business was thriving.
"Before the fall of Saddam I wouldn't have been able to talk [to journalists] because I'd have been so busy," he says. "Now I can sit here and talk and drink tea with you all evening."
His is one of dozens of leather goods stores along this heavily traveled boulevard. Buyers once came from all over Iraq and neighboring Jordan and Syria to buy inexpensive Iraqi-made leather coats here. But since car bombs, kidnappings, and assassinations have become a daily ordeal for ordinary Iraqis, business has all but disappeared. Two car bombs exploded just blocks away from his store last week.
Earlier this year, struggling to feed his wife and three kids, Haider tried his hand at another trade. He started a new business selling generators, a hot commodity in electricity-starved Iraq, but it proved to be a losing venture.
"The generators I was selling were coming from China, and most of them were broken," he says. "And by the time I got into the market everybody already had generators. I lost $2,500."
Cheap imports from China and elsewhere are a sore subject for many small businessmen here. In 2003, the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) enacted a series of economic policies to rapidly liberalize the economy. They slashed tariffs on all but a handful of goods. Inexpensive wares began pouring in, leaving Iraqi producers struggling to compete.
"Everything is being imported from outside the country with no taxes, tariffs, or any kind of planning," complains Shaalan al-Shazar, the head of Ro'a al Muhager, an eight-person engineering firm that designs machines for small Iraqi factories. "This has led to the deterioration of Iraqi industry, and now I have no work."
As an engineer, Mr. Shazar should be well placed to benefit from the $21 billion that the US is spending to rebuild Iraq. But he hasn't seen a penny. Thanks to rampant corruption, he says, only foreign companies and well- connected Iraqis get contracts.Life as a Journalist
An increasing number of journalists were murdered last year, in contrast with the previous two years where crossfire had been the leading cause of death. Fatal abductions also emerged as a particularly disturbing trend with at least eight journalists kidnapped and slain in 2005, compared with one abduction the previous year.
Additionally, those responsible for the deaths usually go unpunished, the journalist watchdog association said following an analysis of the situation.
"Slayings were carried out with impunity about 90 percent of the time in 2005, a figure consistent with data collected by CPJ over more than a decade," a CPJ statement said.
"Too many journalists have lost their lives just because they were doing their jobs, and unresponsive governments bear responsibility for the toll," Cooper added.
"Iraqi journalists bore the brunt of these attacks as it became increasingly hazardous for foreign reporters and photojournalists to work in the field," the statement added.
Steven Vincent, a US citizen, was the only foreign journalist to be killed in Iraq in 2005; five foreigners died there a year earlier.
At least three journalists were killed as a result of fire from US forces, compared with six such deaths in 2004.
A total of 60 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003.Opinion and Commentary
In this context, Bush's December 18 speech to his nation celebrating the Iraqi elections betrayed both a disquieting ignorance of the history, timeline and impact of US foreign policy in the Middle East. Perhaps more troubling, it reflected a weak grasp of the complex roots of the violence that has defined his presidency.
Specifically, the president argued that since the events of September 11 occurred before the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States bears no responsibility for the conditions that fomented the "war on terrorism". Such a view is not just historically wrong - it assumes that the US was not deeply involved in the Muslim world before 2001 - it contradicts the president's own oft-cited admission that "60 years of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East" helped create an environment that has nurtured the current generation of terrorists.
Yet such an ahistorical perspective is crucial to Bush's argument that terrorists emerge out of a deep and seemingly irrational (if admittedly minority) tendency within Islam to view the world as a "giant battlefield" on which, in the president's account, radical Muslims are trying to "demoralize free nations ... to drive us out of the Middle East, to spread an empire of fear across that region and to wage a perpetual war against America and our friends".
But it was the US, not al-Qaeda, that pioneered the tendency to view the whole world as a battlefield. And not just during the Cold War that was commencing when Kennan wrote his memo. This view equally defines the past decade's push toward "full-spectrum dominance" over all of the United States' potential competitors.
Indeed, in a 1992 ur-text of Bush administration policymaking, then Pentagon strategist (and today US ambassador to Iraq) Zalmay Khalilzad advised then secretary of defense Dick Cheney to define the United States' primary post-Cold War foreign-policy objective as preventing any "return to a bipolar or multipolar system".
Why? Because by this period US planners well understood that globalization was increasing poverty, inequality and even anarchy across the developing world (the "coming anarchy" had begun to trouble strategic planners such as former under secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz at the same moment). As Kennan would have agreed, in such an environment the US and the West more broadly could maintain their way of life only by maintaining the global disparities that made it possible.
American policymakers are not the only ones familiar with this equation. Muslims also have long understood what a post-Cold War system characterized by unfettered US power would mean for their societies. That is why it is not just terrorists who, in the US president's words, want to "drive us out of the Middle East".
Rather, most Muslims (and this includes most Iraqis) do not want a US military presence in the region, nor do they want to see US companies and culture become dominant forces in their societies - precisely because they understand that US power and policies make it harder, not easier, to create societies modeled on America's highest ideals. Footnotes
Abramoff is making the Headlines and I link the story because of what Juan Cole says here.
Terror isn't terror and aggression is not aggression when it has lobbyists in Congress who can provide luxury vacations and illegal campaign funding.
In the past few days I had a spat with another poster on another blog that I regularily visit. Shooting from the hip, my weakness, I accused him of being a troll, but he is far from it. We have since made up; and I was pleasantly surprised to get this email from him today.
By the way, one good thing to come out of this as far as I'm concerned is that I've discoved your blog Today in Iraq. What a great thing - I may be loosely in the pro-war camp (only in so far as I still hope its eventual outcome may outweigh the terrible costs) but that means I need to make sure I know (as far as is possible) what those terrible costs are - and your blog is the best (only) source I have found. So, er, congratulations, I love your work!