[R-G] British journalist: Are US, Britain losing the "peace" in Iraq?
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Feb 16 17:35:40 MST 2004
The introductory remarks below are by Professor Mark Jensen, a
Seattle-area peace activist whom I have found perceptive about
developments in the war. I had known, but never quite recognized the
possible legal and political importance of the fact that "no Iraqi
authority ever surrendered to the invaders."
[A member of the Provisional Governing Council told the Associated Press
Sunday that 600 Iraqi police have now been killed since the occupation
began -- more than the number of U.S. soldiers who have died in the
entire war. Here, a British journalist reports many observers believe
that having won the war, the U.S. is losing the peace. But did the war
ever really come to an end? Perhaps not, since no Iraqi authority ever
surrendered to the invaders. -- Ian Mather has been a feature writer
for the Daily Mail, defense correspondent for the Observer, and
diplomatic and defense editor for the European. His foreign assignments
have included Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, the Gulf War, and
Northern Ireland. --Mark]
LOSING THE PEACE By Ian Mather
Scotland on Sunday February 15, 2004
Earazan Abu Issa was standing outside the police station when the
guerrillas hit. "Their weapons were more powerful than our
Kalashnikovs," said the officer yesterday, adding that the "unknown men
fired mortars, explosives and light machine guns from four directions."
Issa was one of the lucky ones -- he survived. By the time the
audacious raid on the station in the volatile town of Falluja was over,
at least 22 people were dead, 35 were wounded and an unknown number of
prisoners had been freed.
The attack ended a week in which the anti-Coalition forces in Iraq have
given grim warning that they are growing in confidence, by upping the
intensity of their campaign. Falluja police chief Aboud al-Dulaimi said
about 70 guerrillas launched the closely coordinated attack on the
police headquarters as well as on a compound for the Iraqi Civil Defence
Corps (ICDC) and the mayor's office.
The raid followed two suicide bombings in two days, and took the tally
of deaths in Iraq in February alone to at least 237. It follows a black
January when attacks more than doubled, after tailing off in the autumn.
Upbeat official statements in Washington, such as US Secretary of State
Colin Powell's report to Congress last week, claiming "real progress in
Iraq" are becoming increasingly hard to reconcile with events on the
Last Tuesday a truck packed with explosives blew up outside a police
station in the mostly Shi'ite town of Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad,
killing 53 Iraqis who were queuing for jobs in the police force.
The next day a car drove into a crowd of Iraqis outside an army
recruitment centre in Baghdad and the driver blew himself up, killing 47
Then, in what could be an even more disturbing development, Iraqi
insurgents made an attempt to kill the US commander in the Middle East.
General John Abizaid escaped unscathed when three rocket-propelled
grenades were fired at his convoy as he was visiting a local Iraqi civil
defence corps compound 30 miles west of Baghdad, accompanied by Major
General Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne.
What is now causing the US administration the utmost concern is the
possibility that the attackers knew in advance of the whereabouts of the
two senior US commanders. If so, how?
The US has always denied suggestions of leaks from the US military on
the movement of high profile visitors, despite the fact that there has
already been one attempt to kill US administrator Paul Bremer, and a
rocket attack on the Baghdad hotel where deputy defence secretary Paul
Wolfowitz was staying. The question that now arises is not whether US
intelligence has penetrated al-Qaeda, but whether al-Qaeda has
penetrated US intelligence.
Suspicion will naturally fall on the large numbers of Iraqis being
employed by the US as it moves towards a handover of power. But the
arrest last week of Ryan Anderson, a National Guardsman due to serve in
Iraq, for trying to contact al-Qaeda operatives on the internet to offer
military information, is a warning sign that the US armed forces
themselves might have al-Qaeda sympathisers in their ranks.
Anderson, a convert to Islam, is the second US Muslim soldier to face
accusations of crimes connected to the war on terror. Captain James
Yee, a former army chaplain, who ministered to Muslim prisoners at
Guantanamo Bay, is accused of misusing classified information for the
benefit of suspected terrorists.
In Washington last week Powell followed the official US optimistic line
when he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of "great strides in
the areas of security, economic stability and growth, and
democratisation" through the efforts of "brave Americans, in uniform and
But almost simultaneously, one of the organisations he praised was
telling a different story. The aid agency USAID, which Powell described
as among organisations "working tirelessly to help Iraqis succeed in
this historic effort", issued a report that contradicted the official
"January has the highest rate of violence since September 2003. The
violence continues despite the expansion of the Iraqi security services
and increased arrests by coalition forces in December and January," it
said in a confidential report.
It went on to warn that the spiral of decline in the security situation
could lead to the "Balkanisation" of Iraq.
The warning cannot be dismissed by the White House as politically
motivated since USAID is a government agency. Off the record at least,
some US officials agree. Last week, speaking anonymously, one said the
prospect of Iraq slipping into civil war was real. He pointed to the
parallels with the civil conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in parts
of the former Soviet Union which broke out following the collapse of
The administration is clear on where responsibility lies for the worst
outbreak of violence since the end of the Iraq war: al-Qaeda. Last week
US military commanders in Baghdad said they were convinced that the rare
consecutive suicide bombings were the work of a Jordanian militant, Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi, although it was unclear if he was also being held
responsible for yesterday's attacks.
The US made public a 17-page letter, which they said had been written by
Zarqawi to the al-Qaeda leadership. The letter, which they say was on a
computer disc found on a captured al-Qaeda courier, is a call to arms
against Iraqi "collaborators", meaning Kurds and Shi'ite Muslims, with
the aim of sparking a civil war. It claims that the group have already
carried out 25 attacks.
"Fighting the Shia is the way to take the nation to battle," the
document says. "We will undertake suicide operations and use car bombs
to harm them."
The goal is to prevent the US from handing over power at the end of
June, and it warns that time is running out. "The American army is
being replaced by the Iraqi army, and this is the real problem we are
facing. Fighting the Americans is easy because the enemy is obvious,
its back is unprotected and it is ignorant of the terrain and the
reality of the Mujahadeen because of the weakness of their intelligence.
"Anyone aware of the reality will see how hurriedly the enemy is forming
the police and army, which have begun to take over its duties. That
enemy is made up of rejectionists [Shi'ites] and augmented by Sunni
collaborators and is the real danger we face. They are our cousins and
they know our ins and outs and they are more cunning than their crusader
But is the letter genuine? Zarqawi himself is genuine enough. He is a
known terrorist, a top chemical and biological weapons expert for
al-Qaeda, who heads Ansar al-Islam, a radical militant group in northern
Iraq linked to al-Qaeda. The US last week doubled the price on his head
from $5m to $10m.
"Zarqawi has had a long-standing connection to senior al-Qaeda
leadership and appears to be highly regarded among al-Qaeda and a close
associate of Osama bin Laden and Saif al-Adel [Bin Laden's senior
aide]," the state department says.
US officials say Zarqawi took refuge in Iraq after the US overthrew the
Taliban, and he received medical attention there after losing a leg in
Yet the release of the letter is highly convenient to the US as it
neatly fits Washington's thesis that foreigners are to blame for the
violence in Iraq. The Bush administration's message is that ordinary
Iraqis want stability in their country as a prelude to US troop
reductions. It also dovetails with the stance of the Bush camp in the
run-up to the US election that al-Qaeda is the public enemy number one
in the international war on terror.
"Mostly they are foreign fighters, jihadists who have infiltrated Iraq
from neighbouring countries," interim Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar
Zebari said of the insurgents last week.
A similar line was taken by Tony Blair, who told the Commons on
Wednesday that attacks in Iraq were "almost certainly" organised by
people outside the country.
Observers agree that the insurgents are accelerating attacks against US
forces and their Iraqi allies in an effort to wreck the planned June 30
handover. Both Tuesday's and Wednesday's attacks were against Iraqis
perceived by the terrorists as collaborating with the occupiers, and
were designed to wreck the US coalition's plans.
The police and the new Iraqi army are central to Washington's plan to
hand over power to Iraqis. The Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority
has set aside $3bn to recruit, train and deploy security forces who will
take over law and order after the handover. The authority already
employs between 150,000 and
210,000 security personnel, and has plans to recruit 30,000 more new
police, and thousands of troops.
It is no coincidence that the latest escalation in attacks came as a UN
team was touring the country examining the prospect of early elections.
Both suicide attacks were on Iraqis gathering outside public buildings,
a scene that would be repeated all over Iraq in a general election.
But Washington's handover plans are running into trouble in any case.
The US administration argues that there is no time to organise proper
elections before the deadline, and wants a temporary legislature to be
chosen by regional 'caucuses.' National elections would follow in early
For this it needs the support of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini
al-Sistani, whose rulings are universally respected among the majority
Shia population of which he is the spiritual leader. But that support
is not forthcoming. The Shi'ites, after decades of oppression, feel
empowered by Saddam's overthrow. They can hardly wait for the next
elected government, which they expect to dominate. Sistani says
caucuses are undemocratic and is demanding elections for a provisional
Relations between the ayatollah and the US are frosty. He refuses to
meet US officials, even Bremer. He did agree to meet the UN team for
two hours at his home in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf last week.
But afterwards Lakhdar Brahimi, the head of the UN team, said Sistani
was still insisting on the elections. "We are with him 100% because
elections are the best way to establish a state that serves the
interests of its people," he said. But there was no agreement on a
timeframe for the vote.
UN officials now believe it will be impossible to organise elections
before the US-led authorities hand power to an Iraqi government in June
because there is no electoral law and voting lists cannot be compiled in
the present dangerous conditions. They say they expect the UN to put
forward compromise proposals, such as expanding the current Governing
Council or forming another body made up of a council of elders to try to
appease the Shias.
An alternative would be for the UN itself to run Iraq until elections
are held. But the UN is reluctant because of security fears. UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to give his opinion on the
elections on Saturday.
Whether the UN's proposals will be enough for the Shias is not yet
clear. Sistani's demands for elections have already prompted
demonstrations by tens of thousands of his supporters.
Sources say the ayatollah has not ruled out issuing a fatwa, or
religious ruling, against the American plan if necessary, which could
result in Shi'ites refusing to work with any new government.
Some see the spiral of decline as leading to civil war. In the 10
months since the overthrow of Saddam, rivalry and resentment among
Iraq's rival ethnic groups have escalated. The violence has already
claimed hundreds, if not thousands of lives.
The minority Sunnis, already bristling at the loss of their privileges,
cannot stomach becoming subordinate to the Shi'ites and the Kurds, whom
they have long dominated.
"The potential for a civil war is already in place," Gareth Stansfield
of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at England's University of
Exeter, said. "It does not need al-Qaeda to encourage it. It flies in
the face of Iraq's history of the past 80 years to imagine that the
Sunnis will accept Shi'ite domination or allow them to rule."
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