Monday, July 09, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 9th edition

July 9, 2003: Iraqis gather as soldiers with the 321st Psychological Operations Company cover anti-American graffiti with pro-American posters.

July 9, 2002:

Inspectors certain Iraq will use its deadly weapons

A former United Nations weapons inspector gave warning last night that Saddam Hussein is developing frightening new ways to deliver his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, including smallpox and the deadly VX nerve agent.

David Kay, who headed the UN's nuclear inspection team inside Iraq during the early 1990s, said that Pentagon planners believe that Saddam is devising novel means of launching his most dangerous weapons, to replicate the surprise achieved by al-Qa'eda terrorists on September 11.

One possibility is that Saddam could use the links he had cultivated with the Palestinian refugee camps to recruit volunteers willing to be injected with the smallpox virus and then enter Israel to infect hundreds of Jews before themselves succumbing to the disease.

Read the rest at the Telegraph

July 9, 2003:

In Iraq, 'V' doesn't stand for victory

Vietnam and Watergate are two overwhelming metaphors of the American political lexicon with which no sitting president wants any association. The first one is related to the United States's rather humiliating withdrawal from South Vietnam, and the second axiom epitomizes political corruption that led to the ignominious ouster of a president from office. That is one reason why the administration of President George W Bush is fighting an uphill battle to nip in the bud all the suggestions of similarities between its presence in Iraq and the Vietnamese imbroglio. But there are similarities, to be sure, and they are intensifying. Shadows of the ghosts of Vietnam are growing tall.

To start, America is an occupying force in Iraq - as much as it was in South Vietnam, or it was so depicted by the communist rulers in Hanoi - no matter how much the top public officials in Washington insist on being labeled as "liberators". Here is one of the great ironies. US forces brought about an end to a tyrannical rule, but they were perceived as liberators for only a fleeting period. That feeling was epitomized in the comments of a nameless Iraqi when he said to an American soldier in the immediate aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein, "Thank you for liberating us, now please go home."

But America could not have gone home. Much work had to be done. An entire national infrastructure had to be rebuilt; one of the most intricate tasks was recreating a political authority in Iraq, so that it could never again be atrophied into a tyranny for its people and an aggressor to its neighbors.

Those tasks did not have to be carried out directly by the US and the United Kingdom, but by the United Nations, with an active and visible participation of the Arab League. However, in the post-September 11, 2001 environment, Bush had the ambition of redesigning the Muslim Middle East in America's image. Those who have the slightest doubt about this characterization should read his National Security Strategy, his West Point speech of June 2002, and the Quadrennial Defense Review of 2002. Consequently, only a secondary or a tertiary role was to be given to the UN, but the Arab League was to play no role whatsoever. Contrary to the advice given to the Bush administration by those experts who wrote a number of historical narratives on the Middle East - in a region where national sovereignties have been systematically trampled by a number of Western colonialists in the previous era - no occupying power was to be given a warm welcome. How can the Iraqi people, after living an undignified life under Saddam for so long, be expected to accept an equally unbecoming proposition of living under a Western occupier?

The whole issue of nation-building got embroiled in a highly publicized controversy when some big American corporations with high-level government contacts - Bechtel and Halliburton, etc - were allowed to bid for lucrative contracts, with the exclusion of companies from France and Russia - who opposed the American invasion of Iraq - and even from Britain. That was a wrong way of starting America's role as an occupying force in Iraq. This issue was watched with rapt attention in the Middle East and Europe, thereby giving ample credibility to the already prevailing rumor that the invasion of Iraq was about the control of oil. After the successful dismantlement of the Iraqi government, the US and Britain returned to the UN with demands that the world body's economic sanctions on Iraq be removed, so that they could become the sole determiners of how to spend Iraqi oil funds.

From a bureaucratic perspective, that measure may be seen as necessary. After all, the governance and rebuilding of Iraq required enormous capital that could be generated by selling Iraqi oil. However, from the perspective of the already prevailing suspicions about US's motives underlying the invasion - "the greed factor" - the strong-arming of the world body into giving in to Washington's demands of controlling Iraq's oil funds further convinced the Iraqis that the purpose of the invasion of their country was to create an Anglo-American system of plundering the enormous oil reserves of their country for the benefit of big Western business enterprises.

Now, US forces are encountering almost daily violence and death. However, their response is exactly the same two-pronged strategy as it was in the early days of Vietnam conflict. The US occupying authority is trying to rebuild Iraq and "win over its people at the same time is applying force to crush insurgents". The US officials are also claiming that the resistance force in that country "is made up of small bands of insurgents ..." and that they "don't enjoy popular support ...." Operation Sidewinder - whose purpose is to root out insurgent elements in Iraq - will go down in the annals of American occupation as a major reason for the unraveling of whatever goodwill it had accumulated among the Iraqi populace after toppling Saddam. Maher Jalil al-Haboush, brother of a senior Ba'ath Party official, is reported to have stated that American and British troops storm into private homes, arrest innocent men, and embarrass the women. "They inspect even the diapers of the babies." From the perspective of force protection, that type of action may be deemed necessary; however, it was precisely that type of operation that also acutely alienated the civilian population in Vietnam.

Another reminder of the Vietnam debacle is the phrase "quagmire". Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld clearly chafes over any comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam. In a briefing on June 30, he growled, "It's a different time. It's a different era. It's a different place." American senators, and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, during their separate visits to Iraq made a point of downplaying the "concerns that the US-led occupation risked descending into a Vietnam-style quagmire". "A quagmire?" asked Straw, and answered his own question, "No, these actions against coalition forces won't succeed and will be dealt with." But those tepid denials were preceded by a candid observation by retired Major General William Nash, who is a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, the Gulf War of 1991, and Bosnia. He told the London Observer that the US "lost its window of opportunity" after the fall of Saddam. Even though he was reluctant to make comparisons with Vietnam, he observed, "There are far more things that were different about Vietnam than there are similarities." "Except," he added, "perhaps the word 'quagmire'. Maybe that is the only thing that is the same."

Another phrase from the Vietnam conflict that is becoming relevant in Iraq is "guerrilla warfare". Rumsfeld is also sensitive about such a depiction of the pervasive violence against American forces. But an American diplomat who also is serving as a provisional mayor of Baghdad, Ted Morris, stated as recently as July 3, "This [the worsening security situation] is no longer the kind of unit-to-unit war, but it is definitely a guerrilla war and sabotage that is going on."

There also are similarities between the Vietnam conflict and the Iraqi situation at the presidential level. The most significant, but least talked about, is the commitment and resolve of president Lyndon B Johnson then, and Bush now, to win, no matter the cost. Johnson envisioned America's commitment to defend South Vietnam as part of his country's larger obligation to anti-communism, liberty and freedom. By the same token, Bush envisions his mission in the Middle East to promote the Jeffersonian and Wilsonian predilection for democracy and self-determination. Bush was unflappable in the wake of daily American deaths in Iraq, and taunted the perpetrators of violence by saying "bring them on". This statement was against the background of the death of six British and 26 American soldiers since May 1 - when Bush declared that combat in Iraq was over - and in the wake of a statement made by Major General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the coalition forces, that the number of shooting incidents against American forces is averaging 13 a day.

During the Vietnam conflict, America was determined to forestall the possibility of the "falling dominos", a phrase that described the potential fall of neighboring countries if South Vietnam were allowed to be taken over militarily by the communists of North Vietnam. Bush envisions the invasion of Iraq in the context of a reverse domino theory. He stated during his speech at the UN on September 2002, "The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world."

The question now is, what will shake the resolve of America's top civilian leadership before it revisits the proposition of remaining as an occupying force in Iraq? Unfortunately, any such radical reconsideration will be done only in the aftermath of continued and heightened violence against American forces. One of the main reasons underlying a sustained public support regarding the US's invasion of Iraq was Saddam himself. Now that he's out of sight, the American public will start to ask how long will US forces stay in Iraq? Such questioning will come in the shortest possible period, if those hated "body bags" - another portentous phrase of the Vietnam conflict - were to start coming home from Iraq with increased regularity or in increased numbers.

Read the rest at Asia Times

July 9, 2004:

Iraq insurgency larger than once thought

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Iraq insurgency is far larger than the 5,000 guerrillas previously thought to be at its core, U.S. military officials say, and it’s being led by well-armed Iraqi Sunnis angry at being pushed from power alongside Saddam Hussein.

Although U.S. military analysts disagree over the exact size, dozens of regional cells, often led by tribal sheiks and inspired by Sunni Muslim imams, can call upon part-time fighters to boost forces to as high as 20,000 — an estimate reflected in the insurgency’s continued strength after U.S. forces killed as many as 4,000 in April alone.

And some insurgents are highly specialized — one Baghdad cell, for instance, has two leaders, one assassin, and two groups of bomb-makers.

The developing intelligence picture of the insurgency contrasts with the commonly stated view in the Bush administration that the fighting is fueled by foreign warriors intent on creating an Islamic state.

“We’re not at the forefront of a jihadist war here,” said a U.S. military official in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official and others told The Associated Press the guerrillas have enough popular support among nationalist Iraqis angered by the presence of U.S. troops that they cannot be militarily defeated.

Read the rest at Newsweek

July 9, 2005:

Experts fear 'endless' terror war

New York and Washington. Bali, Riyadh, Istanbul, Madrid. And now London.

When will it end? Where will it all lead?

The experts aren’t encouraged. One prominent terrorism researcher sees the prospect of “endless” war. Adds the man who tracked Osama bin Laden for the CIA, “I don’t think it’s even started yet.”

An Associated Press survey of longtime students of international terrorism finds them ever more convinced, in the aftermath of London’s bloody Thursday, that the world has entered a long siege in a new kind of war. They believe that al-Qaida is mutating into a global insurgency, a possible prototype for other 21st-century movements, technologically astute, almost leaderless. And the way out is far from clear.

In fact, says Michael Scheuer, the ex-CIA analyst, rather than move toward solutions, the United States took a big step backward by invading Iraq.

Now, he said, “we’re at the point where jihad is self-sustaining,” where Islamic “holy warriors” in Iraq fight America with or without allegiance to al-Qaida’s bin Laden.

The cold statistics of a RAND Corp. database show the impact of the explosion of violence in Iraq: The 5,362 deaths from terrorism worldwide between March 2004 and March 2005 were almost double the total for the same 12-month period before the 2003 U.S. invasion.

Read the rest at Newsweek

July 9, 2006:

Violence pushes Iraq closer to civil war

Masked Shiite gunmen stormed through a Sunni Arab district of Baghdad on Sunday, dragging Sunnis from their cars, picking them out on the street and killing at least 41 in a dramatic escalation of sectarian violence that raised new fears that Iraq was on the brink of civil war.

As evening fell two car bombs exploded near a Shiite mosque in central Baghdad, killing 17 people and wounding 45, the police said.

The rampage in the western Jihad neighborhood was in apparent retaliation for the car bombing on Saturday night of another Shiite mosque that killed two people and wounded nine, the police and Shiite leaders said. Many of the victims Sunday were killed after being pulled from their cars at fake police checkpoints close to that mosque.

The violence comes as a blow to the national reconciliation plan of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, which aims to end the bloodletting between his fellow Shiites and the once-dominant Sunnis that has pitched Iraq toward all- out urban warfare in recent months.

Meanwhile, American military investigators formally accused four more soldiers of the rape and murder of a teenage Iraqi girl and the murder of her parents and younger sister south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said in a statement Sunday. A fifth soldier was formally accused of "dereliction of duty" for failing to report the offenses, the military said.

The five soldiers, all of whom are still on active duty in Iraq, have been accused of conspiring to commit the crimes with Steven Green, a recently discharged private who was arrested June 30 in North Carolina on suspicion of rape and murder in connection with the case. (Page 8)

Sunni leaders referred to the attacks in Baghdad on Sunday as a "massacre."

Iraqi troops, supported by American forces, swooped into western Baghdad late in the morning, soon after the shooting began, residents and security officials said, sealing off Jihad and imposing a curfew on the neighborhood.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, appealed for unity.

Police Lieutenant Maitham Abdul- Razzaq said 41 bodies had been collected and taken to hospitals. Sunni clerics put the death toll at more than 50 in Jihad, a once a prosperous neighborhood of handsome villas owned by officials of Saddam Hussein's security service

Members of the medical staff at west Baghdad's main hospital said they had received 29 bodies, overwhelming their morgue.

U.S. and Iraqi security officials, however, said the casualty figures were much lower. Still, in the culture of violence that has seized Iraq, perceptions often count as much as fact, and residents throughout the city feared that the killings in the neighborhood of Jihad threatened to accelerate the cycle of violent, retributive justice between the Shiites and Sunnis that has threatened to trigger full-scale civil war.

Shiite militiamen wearing masks and black uniforms began roaming the Jihad neighborhood around 10 a.m., checking identification cards and abducting those people whose names indicating they were Sunni, said officials from the police and the Interior Ministry who declined to be named because of security concerns.

"Gunmen are killing Sunni civilians according to their identity cards," an Interior Ministry official said. Another official said Sunni men had been herded into side streets and gunned down.

Several of the bodies left lying in the streets had been bound and blindfolded, a feature of the worsening communal bloodshed that has gripped Iraq since the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque on Feb. 22.

Later on Sunday, armed men belonging to the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia loyal to the radical cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, sealed off roads leading to the neighboring area of Shula, fearing reprisals, the police said, although Sadr and his aides denied their militiamen were behind the attacks.

A senior Shiite politician said the Mahdi Army fighters from eastern Baghdad had moved into Jihad on Sunday but insisted they were only taking on Sunni militants responsible for killing Shiites. "There are many terrorist groups in Jihad who are killing Shiite families so they went to fight them," he said.

Sadr on Sunday assured Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, leader of the largest Sunni Arab party, that he would punish any of his militiamen if they had been involved. In a statement issued from his residence in the Shiite clerical capital of Najaf, he called on Shiites and Sunnis to "join hands for the sake of Iraq's independence and stability."

Mohammed Beshar al-Faydhi, a spokesman for a Sunni clerical association, told Al Jazeera television that he had documents proving the Mahdi Army was behind the attacks.

Although U.S. military spokesmen and officials from the Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the Iraqi security forces, said they could not confirm the accounts of the seemingly arbitrary assassinations, residents reached by telephone Sunday reported gunmen systematically rounding up and massacring Sunni men.

A Shiite shopkeeper said he saw heavily armed men pull four people out of a car, blindfold them and force them to stand to the side while they grabbed five others out of a minivan.

"After 10 minutes, the gunmen took the nine people to a place few meters away from the market and opened fire on them," Saad Jawad al-Azzawi said.

Wissam Mohammad al-Ani, a Sunni, said three gunmen stopped him as he was talking toward a bus stop and demanded his identification. They let him go after he produced a fake identification with a Shiite name, but they seized two young men standing nearby.

Clashes also broke out Sunday between gunmen and Iraqi police officers in at least three neighborhoods across the capital, the police and residents said. Three Shiite militiamen were killed in fighting with the security forces in one of them, the police said.

On Friday, Iraqi troops backed by U.S. jets raided a Shiite militia stronghold in Sadr City, killing and wounding dozens of people.

Maliki, a Shiite, has promised to disband the militias, blamed for much of the sectarian violence. But militias have flourished in large part because of the inability of the police, the Iraqi army and coalition forces to guarantee security.

Many Shiites believe the militias are their only protection against Sunni extremists such as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, responsible for many attacks against Shiite civilians.

The violence is likely to complicate U.S. and Iraqi efforts to encourage disaffected Sunnis to abandon the Sunni- dominated insurgency and join in political life so that U.S. troops can begin to go home.

The deputy prime minister, Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, a Sunni, meanwhile described the Jihad attack as "a real and ugly massacre," and blamed Iraqi security forces, widely believed to have been infiltrated by Shiite militias. "There are officers who instead of being in charge should be questioned and referred to judicial authorities," Zubaie told Al Jazeera. "Jihad is witnessing a catastrophic crime."

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune