by Tom Engelhardt April 27, 2005
"An overstretched military? You bet. Things going terribly in Iraq? No kidding. Why only yesterday, Jill Carroll and Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor reminded us that, with 140,000 troops (and untold numbers of mercenaries) in Iraq, the Americans can't defend a crucial six-mile stretch of highway between the two lodestars of the American occupation -- Baghdad International Airport, a vast, fortified military encampment, and the Green Zone in the heart of the capital, another vast, fortified encampment. Carroll and Murphy write:
"The danger of the airport road also speaks to the wider problem of securing a country in the face of a dispersed and committed insurgency blended within the civilian population. Millions of cars traverse Baghdad's roads every day, and just a handful of them are carrying suicide bombers. For the Iraqi government and US forces, it's a needle-in-the-haystack problem with few practical solutions. There is limited US military manpower for adding checkpoints, but even if it was logistically possible, stopping every car on Baghdad's roads would bring the city to a grinding halt and make the airport journey even longer than it is now... The airport road is a direct link to the US headquarters in the secured Green Zone. But rather than risk the road, US diplomats fly by helicopter from the airport to the Green Zone."
As Patrick Cockburn of the British Independent commented last week, the inability to stop attacks along this stretch of highway has "become a symbol of the failure of the US in Iraq. Heavily armoured US patrols, prone to open fire unpredictably, are regarded as being as dangerous as the insurgents." On this highway, in the last week, five foreign "contractors" and the young aid worker Marla Ruzicka all died and others were wounded. The Americans undoubtedly dream of bringing in Iraqi troops, sooner rather than later, to help with the security task. Unfortunately, these highly touted, newly trained troops have evidently been deserting their posts in significant numbers in embattled parts of the country. "On the Syrian border, US troops in the Sunni city of Husaybah report mass desertions," writes Oliver Poole of the British Telegraph.
"An Iraqi unit that had once grown to 400 troops now numbers a few dozen who are 'holed up' inside a local phosphate plant. Major John Reed, of the 2nd Marine Regiment, said: 'They will claim that they are ready to come back and fight but there are no more than 30 of them on duty on any given day and they are completely ineffective.'"
In the last months, the Americans (as happened in the latter part of the Vietnam War) have also hunkered down in their bases, attempting to reduce casualties, among other things. In response, the insurgents have recently been launching more sophisticated operations, including, for the first time, serious attacks on isolated bases.
In the meantime, Baghdad continues to be an occupied city -- even at the level of symbolism. A report, translated from the Arabic and appearing at Watching America, an interesting new site featuring pieces about the U.S. from around the world, states:
"Iraq's new president has said he will not reside in the Presidential Palace, which for many Iraqis is a symbol of the country's sovereignty. Jalal Talabani said that the interim government has agreed to rent the palace to the Americans for two years. The presidential complex on the banks of the Tigris River is a maze of palaces, green lawns and orchards... President Talabani said that the Americans 'might' evacuate the palace when the lease expires."
Sovereignty anyone? In order to gain legitimacy, the Iraqis who were elected on January 30th would need to put some real distance between themselves and the American occupiers. However, as Middle Eastern expert Robert Dreyfuss comments in a canny piece at Tompaine.com, "doing so... is impossible, since the newly elected regime wouldn't last a week without the protection of U.S. forces." In any case, the new government, such as it is, will be a familiar one. "[V]irtually all of its leading actors," Dreyfuss comments, "are retreads from the IGC, which was appointed by L. Paul Bremer, and from Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, the exile-dominated coalition that included Chalabi, Talabani, Abdel Aziz Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and other officials and members of the just-elected National Assembly."
To the frustration of the Bush administration, the Iraqis have proved incapable for almost two months of forming a government, in part because of the nature of Article 38 of the "interim constitution" that Bush officials so cleverly imposed upon them, as Justin Raimondo, columnist for Antiwar.com pointed out recently. And, of course, they too must meet inside the Green Zone where, Rory Carroll of the Guardian observes, "the 10,000 Iraqis who also live in the zone need passes to enter and must negotiate several checkpoints, as if they are in quarantine." Even the legislators are not immune from the indignities of occupation. As Carroll reports:
"Last week an assembly member named Fattah al-Sheikh said he was roughed up and humiliated by US troops on his way in. One allegedly grabbed him by the throat, another handcuffed him, and a third kicked his car. 'I was dragged to the ground,' he told parliament, weeping. 'What happened to me represents an insult to the whole national assembly that was elected by the Iraqi people. This shows that the democracy we are enjoying is fake.'"
Juan Cole offered the following on this incident: "[It] will seem minor to most Americans and few will see this Reuters photograph [of the legislator wiping away his tears] reprinted from al-Hayat... But such an incident is a serious affront to national honor, and Iraqi male politicians don't often weep." Naturally, Brigadier General Karl Horst of the 3rd infantry division "expressed regret" and promised "a thorough investigation"; but we've just seen, in the case of kidnapped Italian journalist Guiliana Sgrena and Nicola Calipari, the agent who died on the Baghdad Airport road after rescuing her, how such investigations generally turn out -- even when those who have suffered at American hands are citizens of the administration's second closest ally, Italy, with its government in desperate shape and its deployment in Iraq at stake.
This seems to be more or less the state of things -- impunity and quiet desperation -- as the Bush administration tries to keep the world it dreamed of dominating under some kind of control; and yet, as Michael Schwartz has made clear, it faces a daunting task simply keeping boots on the ground in Iraq. By the way, General Eric Shinseki's prewar comments -- which more or less got him laughed out of Washington by the neocons -- that we would need "several hundred thousand troops" to succeed in a post-war, occupied Iraq have often been quoted by critics, who invariably point out how right he was. I've never, however, seen anyone explain where exactly those 200,000-300,000 extra troops were going to come from. What we can now see is that, before the invasion of Iraq ever began, the Pentagon had already traded in those boots-on-the-ground for its high-tech army. (This is why, as the Boston Globe reported recently, ill-prepared Air Force and Navy personnel find themselves assigned to duties like "protecting supply convoys traveling along Iraq's violent roadways" -- and dying.)
It wasn't simply that Rumsfeld was wrong in his decision. After all, to do otherwise than he did, he would have had to strip the empire of troops. I suspect, given the numbers, that he had little choice -- of course, he and his cronies also believed in those strewn flowers and that "cakewalk" -- and that Shinseki's "several hundred thousand" statement was his way of saying exactly what they didn't want to hear: Don't do it, guys! So much for retrospect. As for the future, the Bush administration, backed into a military corner, may turn its thoughts to a future draft."
This is one of many articles about the war in iraq I found in this site.
The name of the site is Iraq Watch
Iraq Watch is a ZNet subsite providing alternative news and analysis of past, present and ongoing events, conflicts and crises in Iraq.
You can find it at "http://www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/Iraq/IraqCrisis.cfm"