Thursday, September 16, 2004
It's Worse Than You Think*Emphasis added.
As Americans debate Vietnam, the U.S. death toll tops 1,000 in Iraq. And the insurgents are still getting stronger
U.S. forces are working frantically to train Iraqis for the thankless job of maintaining public order. The aim is to boost Iraqi security forces from 95,000 to 200,000 by sometime next year. Then, using a mixture of force and diplomacy, the Americans plan to retake cities and install credible local forces. That's the hope, anyway. But the quality of new recruits is debatable. During recent street demonstrations in Najaf, police opened fire on crowds, killing and injuring dozens. The insurgents, meanwhile, are recruiting, too. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once referred to America's foes in Iraq as "dead-enders," then the Pentagon maintained they probably numbered 5,000, and now senior military officials talk about "dozens of regional cells" that could call upon as many as 20,000 fighters.
Yet U.S. officials publicly insist that Iraq will somehow hold national elections before the end of January. The appointed council currently acting as Iraq's government under interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is to be replaced by an elected constitutional assembly—if the vote takes place. "I presume the election will be delayed," says the Iraqi Interior Ministry's chief spokesman, Sabah Kadhim. A senior Iraqi official sees no chance of January elections: "I'm convinced that it's not going to happen. It's just not realistic. How is it going to happen?" Some Iraqis worry that America will stick to its schedule despite all obstacles. "The Americans have created a series of fictional dates and events in order to delude themselves," says Ghassan Atiyya, director of the independent Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy, who recently met with Allawi and American representatives to discuss the January agenda. "Badly prepared elections, rather than healing wounds, will open them."
It's not only that U.S. casualty figures keep climbing. American counterinsurgency experts are noticing some disturbing trends in those statistics. The Defense Department counted 87 attacks per day on U.S. forces in August—the worst monthly average since Bush's flight-suited visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Preliminary analysis of the July and August numbers also suggests that U.S. troops are being attacked across a wider area of Iraq than ever before. And the number of gunshot casualties apparently took a huge jump in August. Until then, explosive devices and shrapnel were the primary cause of combat injuries, typical of a "phase two" insurgency, where sudden ambushes are the rule. (Phase one is the recruitment phase, with most actions confined to sabotage. That's how things started in Iraq.) Bullet wounds would mean the insurgents are standing and fighting—a step up to phase three.
Another ominous sign is the growing number of towns that U.S. troops simply avoid. A senior Defense official objects to calling them "no-go areas." "We could go into them any time we wanted," he argues. The preferred term is "insurgent enclaves." They're spreading. Counterinsurgency experts call it the "inkblot strategy": take control of several towns or villages and expand outward until the areas merge. The first city lost to the insurgents was Fallujah, in April. Now the list includes the Sunni Triangle cities of Ar Ramadi, Baqubah and Samarra, where power shifted back and forth between the insurgents and American-backed leaders last week. "There is no security force there [in Fallujah], no local government," says a senior U.S. military official in Baghdad. "We would get attacked constantly. Forget about it."
As much as ordinary Iraqis may hate the insurgents, they blame the Americans for creating the whole mess. Three months ago Iraqi troops and U.S.-dominated "multinational forces" pulled out of Samarra, and insurgents took over the place immediately. "The day the MNF left, people celebrated in the streets," says Kadhim, the Interior spokesman. "But that same day, vans arrived in town and started shooting. They came from Fallujah and other places and they started blowing up houses." Local elders begged Allawi's government to send help. "The leaders of the tribes come to see us and they say, 'Really, we are scared, we don't like these people'," Kadhim continues. "But we just don't have the forces at the moment to help them." Last week negotiators reached a tentative peace deal, but it's not likely to survive long. The Iraqi National Guard is the only homegrown security force that people respect, and all available ING personnel are deployed elsewhere.
Via The American Prospect Online.
Which calls to mind this quote quote:
My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.Based on that little piece of incompetence, I do not see how anyone would vote to let this Administration serve another 4 years.
Dick Cheney, Sunday, 14 September 2003 on Meet The Press