Tuesday, July 19, 2005

How Do We Stop The Slaughter?

Whenever the situation in Iraq quiets down for a couple of days, some shill for the Bush administration issues some variation on the "Mission Accomplished" statement Bush first made on May 1, 2003 and has been regretting ever since. The latest pronouncement came from Maj. Gen. William G. Webster who said last week that the United States had "mostly eliminated" the Iraqi insurgency's ability to "conduct sustained, high-intensity attacks" in Baghdad.

Unfortunately since Webster issued his partial victory declaration, Baghdad has exploded with violence. More than a dozen suicide bombers have blanketed the capital and surrounding areas with death this past week while Shiite police have retaliated by torturing and murdering Sunnis suspected of having ties to or sympathy for the insurgency. Insurgents have ratched up their campaign of assassinating any Sunni who works with the Iraqi government while Iraqi soldiers and police have become special targets for the suicide bombers and roadside bomb makers.

So is Iraq as bad off as it seems or is the news media ignoring the "good news" to focus on the bad? BBC writer John Simpson weighs in on this question and finds the situation in Iraq quite grave:

"Here in Baghdad, it's beginning to feel like a critical moment.

In the last week this city has seen 22 car bombs, with 10 on a single day - last Friday. Not far from Baghdad, at Musayyib, between Hilla and Karbala, nearly 100 Shia Muslims were killed.
The shadowy resistance movements seem to be operating on a new and much more ambitious level.

Last summer, and in the summer of 2003, there were similar peaks, though much lower ones: The ferocious heat seems to produce new reserves of anger and violence here.

As I flew in, sitting in the aircraft cockpit, Baghdad lay dark and irregular, like a blotch of ink, straight ahead of us. Below lay the ribbon of road from the south.

In the months after the US-led invasion of Iraq we used to drive up that road to get to Baghdad. By the beginning of 2004 that was already becoming much too dangerous, and we had to fly.

Notorious road

The pilots looked at each other, and the plane went into a fierce dive, down towards the military airfield on the south-west of the ink-blotch.

We straightened out, then banked so steeply to the left that everything loose skidded across the cockpit floor. Then a sudden turn, equally heart-wrenching, in the other direction.

During the hour-long flight the pilots scarcely spoke to me. Ever since an RAF Hercules went down north of Baghdad, six months ago, air crews have concentrated totally on the job of getting their planes in safely.

The plane door opened, and we clambered out. The air was as hot as an electric heater: 50C, even in the late afternoon.

The sun glared down angrily through the haze, reddish and inflamed like a nasty wound.

Ahead of us lay the most dangerous stretch of road in the world: the highway from Baghdad to the airport. Two car bombs had just been discovered along it.

Another change since I was last here, a few months ago: the Iraqi national police were out in force along the road, stopping cars of particular makes, and particular colours; that's how they found the two car bombs before they went off.

Yet the greater numbers of police haven't stopped the bombers; on the contrary, they have given the bombers a new target - the police checkpoints themselves.

I visit Baghdad at least four times a year, to see how things are developing. Since the fall of Saddam in May 2003, and the capture of Baghdad, after which major operations were declared over, I have been here eleven times.

Each time the security situation has been markedly worse than the time before.

'Endless' bombers

Briefly, after the election in January, which brought an Iraqi government to power, things seemed to improve; then, after some weeks of fewer bombs and fewer deaths, the level of attacks rose again.

Now it is higher than it has been at any time since May 2003. The supply of suicide bombers seems endless.

Two separate campaigns appear to be going on: the Baathist resistance movement which Saddam Hussein planned and provided vast stocks of weapons and money for, is targeting the Iraqi army and police, and to a lesser extent the American and British forces.

As far as anyone can tell, this is the larger and better equipped of the two main underground movements.

The other is the extremist religious movement headed (we assume) by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which announced last year that it was associating itself with al-Qaeda. Foreign Muslims in sizeable numbers have come into the country to support it.

Intelligence officials in Baghdad say this group gives the appearance of being more active, because it apparently has a policy of claiming responsibility for major attacks whether or not it has actually carried them out.

But to be honest, who does what is largely a matter of guesswork.

'Civil war'

Someone, though, is deliberately targeting Shia Muslims. Last Friday's attack in Musayyib was carried out by a suicide bomber driving a hijacked petrol tanker. It exploded outside the Shia mosque.

Both of the main streams of resistance, the Baathists and the supporters of al-Qaeda, are predominantly Sunni, and both seem to believe that they will benefit if the security crisis here turns into an outright civil war between Shias and Sunnis.

The January election, which for a time seemed to improve the situation, has actually made things more difficult in one way.

Since the Sunnis tended to boycott the vote, the result put political power into the hands of the two other main groups in Iraq, the Shia Muslims and the Kurds.

The US and British governments saw the invasion of Iraq as a liberation, a way of getting rid of a particularly nasty regime. Instead, things are getting much worse.

The casualty figures mean that on average as many people are now dying here every day as were killed in the London bombings nearly two weeks ago.

It has become a civil war, fought out with car bombs and shots to the head, while the foreign forces, US and British and the rest, look on, incapable of stopping it. This isn't how things were supposed to turn out here. "

If Simpson is to be believed, the situation in Iraq is as bad as it seems. So how do we change it? How do we end the slaughter?

It seems to me that leaving troop deployments at their current levels won't help end the slaughter. It is fairly obvious that we have not had enough troops to really take the fight to the insurgency and we would probably need at least 100,000 more to make a dent in the problem. It also is obvious that we don't have those kind of troop numbers to add to Iraq nor the political will to add them. Preznit Bush likes to play a tough guy on television, but he's really been a coward when it comes to leveling with the American people about the situation in Iraq. He's never going to suggest adding more troops nor saying we made a mistake by not having enough there in the first place. Instead he's going to spin everything as positively as he can and say "Don't believe your eyes and what you're seeing from Iraq; believe my words and what I'm telling you is going on in Iraq." So adding more troops to Iraq is not a viable solution.

Many on the left suggest leaving the country, but pulling our troops out of Iraq won't end the slaughter either. Surely the insurgents will be energized by the defeat of the United States (and make no mistake - it would be a defeat on the level of Vietnam no matter how Preznit Bush, Karl Rove or Brit Hume try to spin it). If the United States took out Saddam to help stabilize the Middle East, as one of the post-war rationales goes, then leaving the country with a full-fledged, energized insurgency (or worse, a civil war) is not going help the cause. Instead one could envision the Iraqi government falling pretty quickly and being replaced by some version of the mullahs in Iran. This would not be a positive outcome for the United States and the world, to say the least.

So what's the answer? I wish I knew. Hell, I wish our leaders knew. But they don't. BushCo spin the Iraq war the best way they can, shout down critics (even Republican critics like Chuck Hagel) and try to divert America's attention from the slaughter. Some Democrats call for a pull-out, some call to stay the course, but no one really knows what to do.

The problem is that the solution to Iraq seems to be between "worse" and "worst". We left "bad" behind a long time ago and I'm not sure "good" was ever in the equation despite the Bushies optimism that democracy could flower in Iraq. Certainly the ineptitude with which the Bushies handled the "post-Mission Accomplished" phase ended any chance for a positive outcome.

Now we must find a partial solution that minimizes the damage to the United States' reputation and ends the slaughter as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately I don't think the guys running the show are capable of doing either.

But they sure do look good in their Top Gun flight suits.

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