Monday, July 23, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- July 23rd edition

July 23, 2005: A U.S. Army A-64 Apache helicopter prepares to land as the sun comes up at Camp Taji.

July 23, 2002:

So, Mr Bush, what’s to be gained by attacking Iraq?

Nothing could be more sensible than trying to stop something dreadful happening rather than having to deal with the consequences after it has happened. It is the doctrine of pre-emption. But if that doctrine leads us into war against Iraq it is worth a closer examination to see if it really is quite as sensible as it seems at first blush.

George Bush enunciated the doctrine in a speech at West Point earlier this year. Tony Blair embraced it in his appearance before MPs on Tuesday. Blair conceded that there is no evidence “linking Saddam Hussein to the actual attack on September 11”. There were only “rough linkages” between Baghdad and the Al Qaeda terrorist network. He might have added that there are more than rough linkages between, say, Saudi Arabia and the terrorists since most of the hijackers were Saudi citizens. But nobody is suggesting we attack Riyadh. So pre-emption is the key here. What does it mean?

Blair is circumspect. He talks about “action” — a word that could theoretically mean anything from handing out a few cases of rifles to Saddam’s enemies to sending a stiff diplomatic note. In Washington it means only one thing. It means a military attack on Iraq. The question seems no longer to be whether but when and how. Not that those questions will be answered by President Bush. The best we can do is join up the dots. One day we read a report of soldiers being vaccinated against anthrax, another day that reservists are replacing some regular soldiers in places such as the Balkans to free up the professionals for a more deadly mission. They may be part of the preparations for an invasion in the new year. They may mean nothing. Washington is hardly likely to send Saddam 28 days’ notice of any planned invasion.

The question I would like to put to President Bush in the interview I dream of having is how we got here. I may be missing something, but I’m baffled as to how we moved so swiftly from agreeing that the world would be a better place without Saddam to the notion that he must be deposed — probably by a mass invasion. I would expect his answer to quote the doctrine of pre-emption: we must stop him before he unleashes his weapons of mass destruction. Has the West not pursued a highly effective method of pre-empting countries from using such weapons for many, many years now? It was called deterrence. You made sure that your side had at least as powerful an arsenal as the other side and if they fired theirs at you, you would fire yours at them. It seemed to work for the 40 years of the cold war.

Perhaps if Bush had been in power half a century ago when the Russians were arming themselves with intercontinental ballistic missiles he would have marched on Moscow rather than threaten devastating retaliation. But I rather doubt it. What’s the difference now — apart from the fact that Iraq is far smaller and less powerful than the old USSR and has no missiles?

Well, Mr Bush might say, Saddam is a murderous psychopath and deterrence works only with rational leaders. Maybe, but I seem to remember much the same description being applied to Joseph Stalin. Yet that’s a cheap shot. The more serious point is that Saddam is certainly all of those things, but he’s also a pretty astute operator with a proven instinct for survival. Why would he use his weapons when he knows full well what the consequences would be?

Bush might argue that he has already done so. Did he not gas his own people? He did indeed. But the curious morality of international politics allows dictators to butcher their own more or less with impunity, just as long as they don’t stray over their national borders. An attack on, say, Israel would invite instant retaliation and Saddam knows it. Look what happened when he took Kuwait. Even then he did not use his weapons of mass destruction — just a few hopeless Scuds.

The real danger of allowing Saddam to develop his weapons is that he will pass them on to terrorists to wreak mayhem on western targets. Against wraith-like terrorists deterrence breaks down. Apart from anything else, if you don’t know where they are you can’t threaten them. And even if you could, threats don’t work with suicide bombers. They have already chosen their own extinction voluntarily. And anyway, where is the evidence that Saddam has been handing these hideous weapons to Al Qaeda? If it existed you can be sure we would have been told about it. In any case, the terrorists would be more likely to go in search of the material for, say, a “dirty” bomb in the old Soviet Union than in Baghdad. So maybe we’d be better off invading Ukraine.

Scott Ritter made an appearance in the Palace of Westminster this past week. He is the former chief weapons inspector for the United Nations in Iraq. He is loathed by the White House for the message he delivers, which is that Saddam does not pose a threat and an attack on him would be both stupid and wrong and highly dangerous. Ritter is no bleeding heart liberal or softy appeaser. He is a former US Marines intelligence officer, a card-carrying Republican who was fiercely critical of what he regarded as Clinton’s soft line on Iraq. He told me that by the time his team was thrown out of Iraq in 1998 they were certain they had destroyed between 90% and 95% of Iraq’s capacity for producing chemical and biological weapons. Fine, but that might still leave a potentially lethal 10%. Ritter says the shelf life of those weapons is between three and five years. If there were any left they would be effectively obsolete by now. And, he says, we would know if Saddam had been procuring more material from abroad and building new factories. If we do know, once again, why are we not producing the evidence?

But let us assume Ritter is wrong and Saddam has the capability of killing many thousands of people in the most horrible way imaginable. Surely the most effective way of persuading him to use them is to launch a massive attack and convince him he has nothing to lose. Where might the doctrine of pre-emption then lead us? Our own defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, has said we would be willing to use nuclear weapons “in the right circumstances”. Could these be the right circumstances?

There is something on which we all agree: we all want to stop terrorism. So let me return to my interview with Bush. What effect do you imagine a full-scale attack on Iraq would have on all those fired-up young Arabs who are already tempted to join the ranks of Al Qaeda or some other gang of killers? Not even the most powerful country the world has ever seen can guarantee it can kill them all.

And if the attack is successful, who will take over from Saddam? There is no shortage of opposition groups — just a shortage of competent ones. The Clinton administration could not manage to spend all the money allocated by Congress to finance the opposition in Iraq because there were not enough of any calibre. Perhaps a partitioned country is the answer: Marsh Arabs in the south, Kurds in the north. Are the Turks happy with that? And are we prepared to risk Iran, which sees America as the Great Satan, filling any vacuum?

Many people will die — including those whose only crime is to live at the wrong time in the wrong country under the wrong leader. I would hate to be the American president who ordered the attack that led to those deaths — or the British prime minister who supported him. So, one final question, Mr President. Are you sure you have thought this through?

Read the rest at the Daily Times

July 23, 2003:

Text: Bush Speech on Deaths of Uday and Qusay

BUSH: It is my pleasure to welcome Ambassador Paul Bremer back to the White House. I'm also pleased to be joined by Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers.

Thank you all for coming.

Ambassador Bremer is doing a fine job in an essential cause.

The nations in our coalition are determined to help the Iraqi people recover from years of tyranny. And we're determined to help build a free and sovereign and democratic nation.

The coalition provisional authority, led by Ambassador Bremer, has a comprehensive strategy to move Iraq toward a future that is secure and prosperous. We're carrying out that strategy for the good of Iraq, for the peace of the region and for the security of the United States and our friends.

Saddam Hussein's regime spent more than three decades oppressing Iraq's people, attacking Iraq's neighbors and threatening the world's peace. The regime tortured at home, promoted terror abroad and armed in secret.

Now with the regime of Saddam Hussein gone forever, a few remaining holdouts are trying to prevent the advance of order and freedom. They are targeting our success in rebuilding Iraq. They're killing new police graduates. They're shooting at people who are guarding the universities, power plants and oil facilities.

These killers are the enemies of Iraq's people. They operate mainly in a few areas of the country. And wherever they operate, they are being hunted, and they will be defeated.

Our military forces are on the offensive. They're working with the newly free Iraqi people to destroy the remnants of the old regime and their terrorist allies.

Yesterday, in the city of Mosul, the careers of two of the regime's chief henchmen came to an end. Saddam Hussein's sons were responsible for torture, maiming and murder of countless Iraqis.

Now more than ever all Iraqis can know that the former regime is gone and will not be coming back.

As our work continues we know that our coalition forces are serving under difficult circumstances.

Our nation will give those who wear its uniform all the tools and support they need to complete their mission. We are eternally grateful for the bravery of our troops, for their sacrifices, and for the sacrifices of their families.

The families of our service men and women can take comfort in knowing that their sons and daughters and moms and dads are serving a cause that is noble and just and vital to the security of the United States.

A free, democratic, peaceful Iraq will not threaten America or our friends with illegal weapons. A free Iraq will not be a training ground for terrorists or a funnel of money to terrorists, or provide weapons to terrorists who would willingly use them to strike our country or our allies.

A free Iraq will not destabilize the Middle East. A free Iraq can set a hopeful example to the entire region and lead other nations to choose freedom.

And as the pursuits of freedom replace hatred and resentment and terror in the Middle East, the American people will be more secure.

America has assumed great responsibilities for Iraq's future. Yet we do not bear these responsibilities alone. Nineteen nations are providing more than 13,000 troops to help stabilize Iraq and additional forces will soon arrive.

More than two dozen nations have pledged funds that will go directly toward relief and reconstruction efforts. Every day we're renovating schools for the new school year. We're restoring the damaged water, electrical and communication systems. And when we introduce a new Iraqi currency later this year, it will be the first time in 12 years that the whole country is using the same currency.

Our greatest ally in the vital work of stabilizing and rebuilding a democratic and prosperous Iraq is the Iraqi people themselves. Our goal is to turn over authority to Iraqis as quickly as possible.

Coalition authorities are training Iraqi police forces to help patrol Iraqi cities and villages. Ambassador Bremer and General Abizaid are working to establish as quickly as possible a new Iraqi civilian defense force to help protect supply convoys and power plants and ammunition depots. Offices have been established in major Iraqi cities to recruit soldiers for a new Iraqi army that will defend the people of Iraq instead of terrorizing them.

Most importantly, 10 days ago, Iraqis formed a new governing council. The council represents of all Iraq's diverse groups and it has given responsible positions to religious authorities and to women. The council is naming ministers to establish control over Iraq's ministries and council is drawing up a new budget. The process of drafting a constitution will soon be under way, and this will prepare the way for elections.

Yesterday in New York, members of Iraq's governing council participated in the meeting of the United Nations Security Council. They heard a report from U.N. Secretary General Annan which welcomed the establishment of the Iraqi governing council as a broadly representative Iraqi partner with whom the U.N. and the international community can engage to build Iraq's future.

Now that we have reached this important milestone, I urge the nations of the world to contribute military and financially toward fulfilling Security Council Resolution 1483's vision of a free and secure Iraq.

The U.N. report also urges a swift return to full Iraqi sovereignty. And this morning Ambassador Bremer briefed me on our strategy to accelerate progress toward this goal.

He outlined a comprehensive plan for action, for bringing greater security, essential services, economic development and democracy to the Iraqi people. The plan sets out ambitious timetables and clear benchmarks to measure progress and practical methods for achieving results.

Rebuilding Iraq will require a sustained commitment. America and our partners kept our promise to remove the dictator and the threat he posed not only to the Iraqi people, but to the world. We also keep our promise to destroy every remnant of that regime and to help the people of Iraq to govern themselves in freedom.

In the 83 days since I announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq, we have made progress--steady progress in restoring hope in a nation beaten down by decades of tyranny.

Ambassador Bremer is showing great skill and resourcefulness, and is demonstrating fine leadership and the great values of our country.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for what you're doing for America.

Read the rest at the Washington Post

July 23, 2004:

Health fears grow in polluted Iraq

It's not just the violence in Iraq that is keeping doctors busy. The country is facing an environmental crisis.

One of the main problems is waste water pouring out of Baghdad's main sewage plants.

Iraq's ancient sewage system collapsed during the war and insecurity is hampering efforts to repair it.

Not a drop has been treated yet at the Rustumiya works, which was damaged during the war and then looted.

Much of Baghdad's untreated waste, the sewage of more than two-and-a-half million people, is now flowing straight into the River Tigris.

The mighty river has sustained civilisation in Iraq for more than 7,000 years. The water is meant to give life, but now it is a source of disease...

And so, behind the bombs and the bullets that have claimed so many Iraqi lives, another quieter tragedy is unfolding and taking its own terrible toll.

At a local paediatric hospital, a doctor checks up on two-year-old Fatima Nasser, who has been sick with diarrhoea for two months and is now badly malnourished.

The child, who recently learnt to walk and talk, can now only cry or lie listlessly in her hospital bed and the likely culprit is dirty water.

The family has no running water. Her mother says they buy it in by tank, but do not know what the source is.

"Things haven't got better since the war," she says. "We still have no water and no sewage system. There are lots of people in my area whose children are falling ill."

More than half the children now being treated at the hospital have water-borne diseases. The doctors say they can only treat the symptoms of the real problem - the state of Iraq's infrastructure.

Read the rest at BBC News

July 23, 2005:

Every death adds fuel to Iraqi flames

LAST week I stood in silence in the Commons alongside MPs of all parties in memory of the Londoners whose lives were cut short so brutally and in sympathy with the relatives and partners who are left to grieve for them. One day of terrorist atrocity shocked our state, altered our political priorities and has dominated comment. This week we were dismayed by another attempt to repeat the attacks on London transport.

Yet it is an awful fact of life in Iraq that every day brings a violent death and broken families. In the ten days following the first London bombings there were no fewer than 30 suicide bombings in Iraq. In one single attack, a hundred people were killed when a fuel tanker was blown up near a crowded market. The chaos in Iraq today is a direct consequence of the decision to invade it, and the unforgivable failure to plan how to provide security for the country we had taken over.

For two years the public has been fed promises that we were about to reach a turning point against the insurgents in Iraq. First we were told that the capture of Saddam would remove the head of the insurgency. Then we were assured that transfer of power to an Iraqi government would transform the security environment. Last of all, we were promised that by reducing the city of Fallujah to rubble we would eliminate the rebel base.

But after every turning point we have found the insurgency worse, not weaker. We will never make progress on Iraq until we stop deluding ourselves and face up to the central truth of the western occupation. The longer it has lasted, the stronger and more violent the insurgency has become.

A new study of the violent deaths since the invasion has reported that they have doubled in the second year of the occupation. Armed rebels appear boldly on Baghdad streets and recently mounted a firefight for two hours on a police station only a mile away from the US headquarters in the Green Zone.

George Bush sold the invasion of Iraq to the American people on the basis that it would be a victory in his famous war on terror. Judged by that yardstick, Iraq has been a monumental defeat.

After the invasion, the occupying forces busily set about creating the ideal conditions for al-Qaida to operate. They left the borders of Iraq without protection, they disbanded the army and police, and they alienated the local population through the heavy-handed operations of the US.

The CIA has been so alarmed by the consequences that it has warned Iraq may become an even worse breeding ground for the export of terrorism than Afghanistan ever was. In Iraq we have eliminated a rogue state at the price of creating even greater dangers from a failed state...

It is plain to all but the most blinkered that the US military are deluded in their faith that they will win if only they can bury enough insurgents beneath the rubble of Iraqi homes.

The Iraqi health ministry reveals that as recently as January deaths from US military action were still running at almost double the rate from suicide bombers. The more Iraqis are killed by occupying forces, the greater are the recruits to the insurgency. The first step to containing the insurgency is to convince the Iraqis that we have an exit strategy.

Read the rest at the Scotsman

July 23, 2006:

Overshadowed but, Sadly, Very Far From Over

Meanwhile, in Baghdad ...

Last week, and perhaps for some time to come, Iraq became "the other war" (or the other, other war, if you count Afghanistan). But as network anchors decamped New York studios for Israel, violence in Iraq reached new highs--and new lows. In a marketplace south of the capital, mothers cradled their children and sons struggled to protect their fathers as Sunni gunmen descended upon the terrified crowds in pickup trucks and kept firing until 48 were dead. It was payback, gunmen said, for murders by Shiite death squads. "They did not spare anyone," said one witness. "Not the children. Not the elderly."

It is just one breathtakingly brutal snapshot of sectarian violence in a region where the strength of militias keeps growing as Iraqis struggle to find security. Security, though, is an increasingly dim prospect in a country where an average of 100 people a day were murdered in May and June, forcing an additional 30,000 to flee their homes just this month. These are crippling blows to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose credibility hinges on his ability to get control of the capital and the death squads that have infiltrated Iraqi security forces.

Ask whether the country is in civil war, and Pentagon officials say publicly that, well, it depends on how you define civil war. Privately, many military officials answer the question with the sort of stare reporters have come to recognize as the classic response to the obvious query. "Of course," they say. But they'll also ask how much definitions matter when, call it what you will, Iraqis are vowing to die in their homes rather than to see their bodies "found dumped on a wasteland."

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, issued a rare public statement, saying he was sick at heart seeing the rise of "terror, displacement, killing, kidnapping, and everything that words could not explain." The thirst for vengeance, however, remains unslaked in the land that gave birth to the code of Hammurabi--and the unrelenting demand of an eye for an eye.

Read the rest at US News and World Report