Iraq: Occupation forces have nowhere to go except home
19 - 25 October 2006 Issue No. 817
They must go, and soonUnder attack daily, occupation forces in Iraq have nowhere to go except home, writes Haifa Zangana
US policy in Iraq is not working and George W Bush should consider radical changes, according to a panel of advisors trying to find politically face-saving ways for Bush to slowly extract the United States from war.
The panel of "wise men" includes James Baker, the old Texan Republican with a network that stretches all the way from the West Sahara to Azerbaijan. He represents, via the Carlyle Group, the most pragmatic, "commercial" exit options from this failed neo-con adventure. On the ground, the pace of events on the resistance and political fronts is ever accelerating.
It all echoes events of 40 years ago. In late-July 1965 President Lyndon B Johnson consulted with advisors on the future of American forces in Vietnam. He was informed that the situation was worse than a year before. The South Vietnamese were failing to make progress and the North Vietnamese refused to negotiate on his terms. The idea of dispatching more troops depressed him.
One advisor, Undersecretary of State George Ball, was against the idea of escalating the war. He told Johnson that: "There is no assurance that we can achieve our objectives by expanding US forces in South Vietnam." Ball believed that it was the last chance for the US to leave Vietnam.
Johnson knew it was the right advice to follow, but he chose to stay the course. It took the US another 10 years to withdraw its soldiers from Vietnam. Three million Vietnamese were killed, 15 million were displaced, over one million persons had to flee the country, infrastructure was destroyed and 58,000 Americans killed, and far more injured.
The same is happening in occupied Iraq now.
The latest study by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health published in The Lancet, estimates that a total of 654,965 Iraqi people -- nearly one in 40 -- have died violently since the American-led invasion of the country in March 2003. The number is equivalent to seven million Americans. No academic or statistician has disputed the methodology and conclusions of a study based on a cluster samples and on death certificates naming violent death and excluding the equally devastating figures of preventable mortality due to collapsing medical services or contamination.
Maliki's government, though, was keen to discredit the report and its conclusions. While Iraqi morgues, hospitals and streets bear witness to the daily carnage, Ali Al Dabagh, spokesperson for the government, stood, shamelessly, in the fortified Green Zone to argue "methodology". He did not argue responsibility or the morality of the killings.
Thousands are displaced. Tortured, mutilated, burned bodies appear everywhere. Nameless and numberless, the young and old are found shot in the head. Bodies pile in the streets, dumped near rubbish tips or in rivers. The Tigris River, the heart of Baghdad, cries in horror as bodies float downstream to be snagged in grids at Suwaira to the south. The city weeps for bodies no one dares to collect. The pre-planned descent into hell is so rapid that no fatwa can stop it.
Fourteen thousand occupation troops and 40,000 Iraqi "security forces" have subjected Baghdadi neighbourhoods to stifling sieges, alternatively called "Together Forward" or "national reconciliation". Little of what actually happens is reported in the media.
The reason is not difficult to extrapolate. The last few months witnessed a surging escalation in targeting journalists who work for organisations considered relatively independent. Fourteen media employees have been killed with others kidnapped or killed in roadside attacks. Gunmen killed eleven employees of Al-Shaabiya television station last week alone. The attacks are seen by Iraqis as means to intimidate journalists and prevent independent reporting of the scale of the carnage unfolding in Iraq. At the same time there must be no news of detention centres, torture and organised crime. But what's left?
Parliament spent some time arguing how to punish Al-Sharqiya television and Azzaman newspapers for reports considered unacceptable by the "democratic" government. Ruling groups objected to the suggestion that their voting for "federalism" under occupation amounts to fragmenting the country and encouraging sectarian and ethnic civil war. But that was before Bush said the same, for his own reasons.
Politically, Maliki's government is totally isolated from the people and unable to provide what any government should: security, basic services, and dignity to people in their daily lives. With no real power, it is consumed from inside, like an old wooden ship eaten by termites, by sectarian, ethnic division, but above all by corruption, militias and death squads. Maliki was so shaken by the news of an imminent US change in strategy that Bush had to call him to reassure him there was no American deadline for the Iraqi government to stand on its own.
Corruption is endemic among Iraqi officials and the US administration alike. Billions of dollars have been lost or redirected to "security". Judge Radhi Al-Radhi, head of the Commission on Public Integrity, which is tackling corruption, said around $4.5 billion has "disappeared". This does not include separate funds invested in fighting "terrorism", such as the $5 billion Iraqi Security Forces Fund.
Meanwhile, occupation forces, militias, security forces, mercenaries and contractors enjoy immunity from Iraqi law. Indeed, whereas once Iraqi law was the protector of the Iraqi citizen, it is now toothless to ensure Iraqi civil rights.
No wonder that support for the popular national resistance is increasing with most Iraqis celebrating the success of attacks on occupation forces.
In the last year, the so-called "Sunni triangle" has expanded to defy any geometrical definition. Occupation forces and their camps have been under attack in the north, centre and south of the country daily. Some reports talk of the US covering up huge losses of men and over one billion dollars worth of equipment at their main Al-Saqr (Falcon) base south of Baghdad after sustained rocket and mortar attacks hit the main ammunition store, lighting up Baghdad and spreading shrapnel in a 20 kilometre radius, three days ago.
US soldiers and mercenaries are being hit across the country. Half of them fall in Baghdad. Nearly 60 US soldiers have been killed halfway through this month, a toll that threatens to make October 2006 the deadliest month for occupation forces since 107 US and 10 British soldiers died in January 2005.
The neocns have failed in Iraq. A poll conducted for CNN suggests support among Americans for the war in Iraq is declining to an all-time low. Just 34 per cent say they support the war, while 64 per cent oppose it. On the other hand, polls in Iraq, like the one conducted this month by a University of Maryland team, show the hardening of Iraqis across all provinces against occupation. Seventy-eight per cent across Iraq's 18 provinces now find the presence of US troops the main cause of the bloodletting with over 60 per cent openly telling pollsters that they support attacks on occupation forces.
The US administration is frustrated with the Maliki government's inability to make progress according to US requirements. General George Casey, the US's top commander in Iraq, has serious concerns about Iraqi security forces' ability to take up the fight against "insurgents". As well he might when 60 per cent of Iraqis stand against the occupation.
Like in Vietnam, Algeria and South Africa, the only option for occupation forces is to negotiate their exit with the Iraqi people and the resistance. Indications are that that is what is happening. Yet the US stalled the Vietnamese for years before leaving. Let us hope they learn from experience and take their cue soon.