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What Is Going Wrong In Iraq

The Bush administration has until now avoided making comparisons between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam conflict. But with mounting casualties, it is hard not to make that comparison. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Oct 20, 2006
The Iraq conflict is not stabilizing, it is rapidly getting worse. And current U.S. policies are not helping. It is less than a year since Iraq held full-scale parliamentary elections. Bush administration policymakers and their pundit allies in the media were genuinely confident that those elections would prove a historic turning point in Iraq and they were absolutely correct: The only trouble was that the turning point plunged the country into hell, not heaven.

For it was those elections so eagerly pushed and hyped by the White House that gave the Sunni insurgents in central Iraq the great strategic goal for which they had previously been striving in vain for more than two-and-a-half years.

It was those elections that transformed the Iraq conflict from a limited insurgency supported by a relatively small minority within an ethnic minority of only 5 million Sunni Iraqis -- less than 20 percent of the total population -- into a burgeoning full scale civil war between the two largest religious groups in the country comprising 80 percent of the population, or 22.4 million people between them.

For the elections led to a consolidation of Shiite political power in Baghdad and then to the empowering of Shiite militias by Shiite political parties dominating the new parliament. Shiite militia influence within the new Iraqi police and army rapidly grew.

Less than three months after the elections, on Feb. 22, 2006, Sunni insurgents bombed the al-Askariya, or Golden Mosque in Samara, one of the holiest Shiite shrines in Iraq. Enraged Shiite militias lost no time in flexing their new-found power and confidence. They launched campaigns of terror and ethnic cleansing and random mass killings against Sunni communities. The general Sunni population rallied to their own insurgents in response.

The 130,000 to 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq proved far too few to prevent the collapse into chaos and civil war. Besides, the Bush administration and U.S. military commanders in Iraq were focusing on trying to minimize American military casualties in the year-long run up to the November congressional elections in the United States. U.S. civilian policymakers and military commanders had both signed on to the delusion that the new Iraqi security forces could prove effective in reining in the Shiite militias as well as the Sunni insurgents. It is now abundantly clear that they have failed to do so.

U.S. policymakers also assumed that the new Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that they laboriously cobbled together this spring would prove simultaneously effective, credible with the Iraqi people, and an obedient, compliant partner for American military policies. Every one of those assumptions has now also been shown to be a pipe dream.

The al-Maliki government remains entirely ineffectual -- even in its own capital Baghdad -- outside the heavily guarded enclave of the Green Zone. It cannot protect its own key personnel from either Sunni insurgents on the one hand or the pressures of the Shiite militias on the other.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the government has fired the nation's two top police commanders this week in a desperate bid to try and reduce and end the operation of Shiite death squads from within the ranks of the special police services themselves.

Only two days earlier, on Monday, USA Today reported that Prime Minister al-Maliki was openly defying U.S. pressure to use the Iraqi army and security forces to disarm the Shiite militias. He said there was no question of taking such action either for the rest of this year or at the very least early into next year, despite violence against Sunnis that is escalating by the day.

Al-Maliki is trying to walk a tightrope between his dependence on U.S. military support and his desperate need to try and establish some independent credibility primarily within his own Shiite constituency. Most of all, al-Maliki knows that he cannot rely on the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army to act against Shiite militias that have already heavily infiltrated it.

The number of Iraqi Shiite soldiers who owe their primary allegiance to these militias, especially Moqtada al-Sadr's ever more formidable Mahdi Army, rather than to the Iraqi Army, is unknown, either by the Iraqi authorities or by U.S. military commanders.

This was a predictable outcome of the crazed rush with which the U.S. government and military commanders in Iraq encouraged the Iraqis to create their new army and security forces at breakneck speed from scratch over the past two years. Given the paucity of U.S. troops and resources in the country and the chaotic anarchy of the environment within which they were operating, no serious attempt was made to seriously check the backgrounds of most recruits.

For the past seven months we have been warning in these columns that no effective government or indigenous security forces existed in Iraq, nor will they in the foreseeable future. We have repeatedly warned that what we described as "Belfast Rules" or "Beirut Rules" operate in Iraq: a state of chaos in which local militias exercise real power, usually brutally, through most of the country. The grim developments of the past two weeks further confirm this assessment.

earlier related report
Cheney Says The War Is Going Well
by Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor Victoria, Canada (UPI) Oct 20 - Replying to a question on a radio talk show Vice President Dick Cheney said he believes the war in Iraq is going "remarkably well." The follow up question should have been 'who is it going well for?'. The majority of reports from Iraq overwhelmingly agree that the situation in Iraq for the United States is far from well, let alone "remarkably well."

In fact, the vice president's own boss, President George W. Bush, the same day admitted for the first time since the start of hostilities in Iraq three years ago that the increasing violence "could be" compared to the Tet offensive -- the turning point of the Vietnam War.

Tet, as its name indicates, began on the Vietnamese new year in 1968 with a series of attacks on U.S. and south Vietnamese targets, including a brazen assault on the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Although Tet turned out to be a huge military fiasco for the communists, the psychological impact was tremendous. It brought the reality of the war into American homes, largely thanks to unlimited access the media enjoyed at that time. This was a lesson the military never forgot.

The Bush administration has until now avoided making comparisons between the war in Iraq and the Vietnam conflict. But with mounting casualties, it is hard not to make that comparison. Eleven U.S. soldiers were killed in 30 hours of fighting just a few days ago, bringing the total U.S. military casualty rate to 2,772 as of Oct. 19. And the number of Iraqis who have lost their lives -- although the figures and the methodology used to compile the data is contested -- remains obscenely high, regardless of which figure you elect to believe.

Still, Vice President Cheney during an interview Thursday on Rush Limbaugh's radio show was asked to respond to mounting frustration at how the war was progressing.

"I think there's some natural level of concern out there because in fact, you know, it wasn't over instantaneously. It's been a little over three years now since we went into Iraq, so I don't think it's surprising that people are concerned," said the vice president.

"On the other hand, this government has only been in office about five months, five or six months now. They're off to a good start. It is difficult, no question about it, but we've now got over 300,000 Iraqis trained and equipped as part of their security forces. They've had three national elections with higher turnout than we have here in the United States. If you look at the general overall situation, they're doing remarkably well."

But the vice president added: "It's still very, very difficult, very tough. Nobody should underestimate the extent to which we're engaged there with this sort of, at present, the 'major front' of the war on terror. That's what Osama bin Laden says, and he's right."

In an interview with ABC President Bush said: "The leaders of al-Qaida have made that very clear. They believe that if they can create enough chaos, the American people will grow sick and tired of the Iraqi effort and will cause (the) government to withdraw."

A short while later a White House spokesperson tried to clarify President Bush's statement, saying that the full context about the comparison to Tet had more to do with the propaganda effect of the Tet offensive.

In the televised interview, Bush said he was patient, but his patience had a limit. "I'm patient, I'm not patient forever, and I'm not patient with dawdling. But I say to the American people, 'We won't cut and run'," said Bush.

Also contradicting the vice president was Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a military spokesman, who called the most recent escalation of violence in Iraq "disheartening." He said the month of Ramadan, traditionally a holy month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, saw a 22 percent increase of attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces.

It is doubtful that the troops in Iraq who are coming under increasing attack from insurgents would agree with the vice president's assessment of the situation.

Source: United Press International

Related Links
Iraq: The first techonology war of the 21st century

Myth Of Shiite Revival
Riyadh (UPI) Oct 19, 2006
When King Abdullah of Jordan claimed last year that a "Shiite crescent" was emerging as the dominant force in the Arab world, few disputed him. It can be safely assumed that they would be even less inclined to do so today. Not only are Shiite parties still governing Iraq, but the Shiite militia Hezbollah is seen to have defeated Israel -- the regional military superpower -- this summer in Lebanon.

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