As Usual In War Reporting I Already

*As usual in war reporting, I already have to take back some of what I said yesterday. It seems increasingly clear that the Bush administration rushed into war with Iraq before its military was really ready. All the forces have been thrown against Baghdad, to which they have raced, leaving the Shiite south insecure. Rear-guard battles have had to be fought at Umm Qasr, Basra and al-Nasiriya even after those cities were thought to have been neutralized. Looting and internal fighting between Saddam loyalists and locals appear to have become endemic in these cities. US forces had to fight two “sharp” battles at al-Nasiriya, a city they have now decided to skirt. We lost nine of our boys there, probably to Republican Guard units positioned to keep the Shiites down. The British are still only at the southern outskirts of Basra. The Rumsfeld plan of “rolling’ deployment, such that further reinforcements are on their way to Kuwait even after the war began, seems to have gone badly astray, denying the US anything like effective control of the South.

Quite apart from the deleterious military implications of this vacuum, it has potentially severe humanitarian implications. The Fourth Geneva Convention requires the US to provide security to areas under its military occupation, which is obviously cannot do at the moment. And, Iraqi food stocks are reportedly down to only 6 weeks worth. Unless Umm Qasr can be quickly secured and the roads be made safe, so that food aid can be shipped in, one could see hunger develop in some parts of Iraq. The war is already interfering with the harvesting of winter crops and the planting of spring ones. Some 60% of Iraqis are dependent on outside food aid because of the “food for oil” program under UN sanctions against Saddam.

*An estimated 70,000 marched against the US war in Lahore, Pakistan (vastly exaggerated numbers ten times that were floated by the organizers, though AP said it was 200,000. Crowds are easy to over-estimate). The fundamentalist religious leaders denounced the Iraq war as a crime against humanity and a plot against Islam. The Iraq war is universally unpopular in Pakistan, as in most of the Muslim world. The difference is that with the return to quasi-parliamentary government, Pakistan has not attempted to prevent these demonstrations, which so far have been peaceful. If 200,000 Egyptians or Jordanians could come out for rallies, they certainly would. There are two big dangers here. One is that the fundamentalists will parlay their leadership of the protests into genuine national political standing and ultimately manage to come to power. (These people are unrepentent supporters of the Taliban and al-Qaeda). The other is that anti-Americanism will become so widespread and vehement that the Pakistani government will find it difficult to continue cooperating in the war on terror. The Rumsfelds and Wolfowitzes think you can have your cake and eat it, too. I am not so sure.