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Trouble In The Garden Of Eden

"Al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist group has openly called for sympathizers with the appropriate technical skills to assist the group in developing chemical warfare IEDs," says K. Scott McMahon, Washington Team Leader with RAND Counter-IED Research Team. "We should anticipate that insurgents in Iraq will continue to attempt to develop effective chemical dispersal capabilities. In the meantime, the very presence of toxic agents will add to the fear and panic caused by the IED attacks."
by Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor
Washington (UPI) Feb 23, 2007
The yet-undeclared civil war in Iraq took a turn for the worse as insurgents have turned to detonating "dirty bombs." For the second time in as many days, insurgents used chemicals in attacking civilians, combining chlorine gas canisters with explosives. For the moment, they are still very crude bombs, with the chlorine dissipating by the force of the explosion.

Still, the result is the chemicals manage to spread a limited but deadly cloud of toxic gas once the bomb explodes. Thursday's bomb killed five people, but more than 50 others required hospitalization.

Are these attacks a harbinger of what the next step in the escalation of violence in Iraq holds?

"These attacks hold more of a symbolic value than a military one," Anthony Cordesman, the respected military strategist with the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies, told United Press International.

In fact, said Cordesman, had the terrorists taken the trouble to build a better conventional bomb the damage would have been greater. Once the chlorine dissipates and victims get over their minor lung problems, irritated eyes and headaches, they are usually released within hours and sent home.

K. Scott McMahon, Washington Team Leader with RAND Counter-IED Research Team, who spent part of 2006 in Baghdad supporting U.S. Army counter-IED operations, concurs.

"The fact that no deaths in the attacks were attributed to the chlorine agent also indicates the technical challenge that the insurgents must overcome to effectively disperse chemical agents for a mass-casualty attack, "McMahon told UPI.

But, says Cordesman, "this was meant to send the Americans a message." Its effect was to be more of a political tool rather than a military weapon.

McMahon, who calls himself "a counter-IED specialist," told UPI that the chlorine gas attack was not a surprise for U.S. forces in Iraq. "U.S. intelligence had anticipated that insurgents in Iraq would attempt to escalate the IED threat by combining explosives and chemical agents," McMahon says. "So the recent attacks using chlorine come as no surprise.

"Al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist group has openly called for sympathizers with the appropriate technical skills to assist the group in developing chemical warfare IEDs," says McMahon. "We should anticipate that insurgents in Iraq will continue to attempt to develop effective chemical dispersal capabilities. In the meantime, the very presence of toxic agents will add to the fear and panic caused by the IED attacks."

In Iraq the use of chemical weapons carries special morbid significance, given their memory of Saddam Hussein's chemical attacks on Iraqi dissident groups and Iran's chemical warfare attacks on Iraqi troops during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

U.S. Defense Intelligence may have anticipated the chemical-laden IEDs, but they certainly never imagined the U.S. military occupation of Iraq would outlast the U.S.' involvement in World War II. Nor that the civilian death toll in Iraq would run around 120 Iraqis killed every day. For a country of only 26 million people, this represents a huge figure. Compared to the United States it would be the equivalent of 1,400 people dying every single day as a result of violence.

Added to those figures, the United States has now lost close to 3,000 soldiers and Marines. More people than were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on Manhattan, the Pentagon and in a rural Pennsylvanian field.

Those, and others, are just some of the depressing facts brought to light in a new study titled, "Escaping the Trap: Why the United States must leave Iraq," written by Ted Galen Carpenter of the prestigious Cato Institute.

Carpenter reminds us that what is happening in Iraq today is a "far cry from the optimistic pronouncements the administration and its supporters made when the war began." Forget the fact that U.S. troops were supposed to be greeted with open arms, flowers and rosewater, but instead had to deal with improvised explosive devices, snipers and a hostile environment.

According to the Pentagon planners, by now the number of American troops serving in Iraq should have been reduced to no more than 60,000 for the end of 2003, says Carpenter. Instead, President George W. Bush decided there was a need to "surge" an additional 21,500 troops.

Carpenter asks if the time has come to "admit that the Iraq mission has failed and cut our losses."

As the Democrats are getting more of a say in government after their victory on Capitol Hill last November that tendency seems to move in that general direction. Says Carpenter: "The notion that Iraq would become a stable, united, secular democracy and be the model for a new Middle East was always an illusion. We should not ask more Americans to die for that illusion."

The U.S. invasion of Iraq has created a situation of damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Staying the course, as President Bush keeps saying, will require that more Americans die for that "illusion." The reality is that Iraq is not about to become a model of Jeffersonian democracy in the Middle East any time soon. On the other hand, a pullout from Iraq "will not be without cost," says Carpenter.

Indeed, a premature U.S. pullout from Iraq will open the door to further bloodshed. All sorts of anti-democratic forces would immediately fill the power void. Jihadis and extremist Islamists seeking a new home will flock to Iraq. It would turn what some scholars claim used to be the Garden of Eden into a Garden of Evil.

earlier related report
Impact Of Britain Drawdown
by Mark N. Katz - UPI Commentator
Washington (UPI) Feb 23 - Tony Blair's announcement that Britain will reduce its troop presence in Iraq from 7,100 to 5,500 by the end of summer, and possibly to 5,000 by the end of 2007 has come as a shock to the Bush administration. After all, until now, Blair has been President George W. Bush's supporter amongst foreign leaders in the Iraq war effort.

The fact that Blair will decrease British presence in Iraq right when Bush is seeking to increase the American one by 21,500 troops has major implications.

Both the White House and Downing Street claim that the British drawdown is being undertaken because the security situation in Basra -- where the British are primarily deployed -- has improved. This, however, appears to be little more than an attempt to put a positive spin on an unpleasant political reality.

If the British government continued to support the war effort as strongly as before, it would redeploy British troops to elsewhere in Iraq where the security situation is worse. It is well known, though, that British public opinion now strongly opposes the war effort, and that the Labor Party is forcing Blair to step down this year for fear that his continuing in office would negatively affect its prospects in the next parliamentary elections.

The drawdown of British troops in Iraq announced by Blair is likely to lead to the following consequences:

First, Blair's initial replacement as prime minister from within the Labor Party -- whether it is Gordon Brown or one of his more leftist challengers -- is going to be less supportive of the Iraq war effort than Blair, and will probably work for the complete withdrawal of British forces from Iraq.

Second, the drawdown of British troops is likely to lead to the drawdown, or outright withdrawal, of troops from most of the remaining coalition partners. Denmark has already announced it will withdraw all of its troops and Lithuania has declared it is seriously considering doing so. If the British are on their way out, governments and publics elsewhere will ask, what will their countries gain by remaining in the coalition?

Third, the departure of more countries from the coalition in Iraq will serve to further undermine the already declining level of American public support for the Iraq war effort.

Fourth, the reduction in America's coalition partners in Iraq bodes ill for any U.S. effort to build a coalition willing to undertake military action against Iran over the nuclear issue. Despite repeated denials by top level American policymakers, many believe the Bush Administration is preparing to undertake military action against Iran.

Whether the U.S. will or will not undertake such a step is unclear. What is clear, though, is that neither Britain nor almost any other country -- except, possibly Israel -- will join with the U.S. in this. Indeed, the likely worldwide disapproval for U.S. military action against Iran will only accelerate the disintegration of the American-led coalition in Iraq.

For Americans who want U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq, Blair's announcement will only serve to confirm their viewpoint. As has been seen, however, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have brushed off the significance of the British drawdown and claimed, at least in public, that it will not have any serious consequences.

But as outlined here, the consequences of the British drawdown are likely to be quite serious indeed.

Those who continue to support President Bush's policies in Iraq are very much alive to the negative consequences that could result if the U.S. withdraws. They need to be aware, though, that there are also negative consequences for America and its position in the world if it remains in Iraq alone and unsupported by other countries.

Dismissing this problem as unimportant will not solve it.

Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

Source: United Press International

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