Iraq War Continues into Month 17
Dozens Killed, nearly 100 wounded in Multiple Clashes, Bombings
The events in Iraq on Friday and Saturday, stretching from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south, underline that the war in Iraq never ended, and that the country has now seen over seventeen months of virtually continual warfare, some of it in the form of bombings and other low-intensity guerrilla actions (though some bombings have been spectacular); but there have been entire months of pitched battles with organized militiamen in Sunni Fallujah, Shiite cities of the South, and very occasionally with Kurds in Kirkuk.
* US troops engaged in a fierce battle with Sunni Arab nationalists in Tal Afar, just west of Mosul in the north of the country, killing 13 and wounding “53 civilians.” The major fighting against the Sunni nationalist militia included the use of helicopter gunships and aerial bombardment by warplanes. One US helicopter gunship was hit by the guerrillas, with two crewmen wounded, and was forced to make an emergency landing. It was then attacked again on the ground, though US forces beat off the assault, killing two guerrillas. In another battle, guerrillas wounded 3 National Guard soldiers. This dramatic battle was not mentioned on the US cable news programs that I saw early Saturday afternoon, but was given extensive coverage on al-Jazeerah.
*A suicide bomber killed nearly two dozen people and wounded at least 36 in front of the police academy in the northern oil city of Kirkuk. Sunni nationalists have long attempted to disrupt the formation of a new Iraqi police force that might support the American- and UN- installed caretaker government. On the other hand, the police in Kirkuk are dominated by the Kurds, who form about 1/3 of the city and are deeply resented by the Turkmen and Arabs, who form 1/3 each, as well. Whether this act was Sunni nationalist resistance or ethnic infighting is therefore unclear.
*Iraqi National Guards supported by US forces conducted a major operation against Sunni nationalist forces in Latifiyah, arresting 200 men and suffering 12 policemen and 5 National Guardsmen dead.
*Two oil pipelines near Basra were bombed. An Iraqi official admitted that the attack would “greatly reduce” exports. The total losses to the Iraqi government over the next year are likely to be in the billions if this goes on. Another pipeline, to Beiji in the north, was also hit. The guerrillas are attempting to deny the interim government and its American backers the benefit of the petroleum income in reestablishing a strong central government, in effect keeping Allawi weak and penniless.
This is one reason US Ambassador John Negroponte wants to divert $3 billion of the $18 billion in reconstruction voted by congress last fall to building up security forces. If the oil money can’t be used for the purpose, American money could be. To date, however, attemptes to rebuild Iraqi military forces have stumbled on morale problems and a reluctance of even newly trained troops to fight other Iraqis on what they see as the behalf of the Americans.
The Government of India has asked the 5000 Indian workers in Iraq to come back to India, offering them help in doing so, because of the poor security conditions.
Not only have the Poles started making plans to end their major military presence in Iraq by January, but the Ukraine contingent is also signficantly sizing down this fall or winter. That is, Poland and Ukraine, and many other countries will probably be added to the below list provided by AP a couple of months ago:
Thailand: 423 troops leaving early on Aug. 31 instead of Sept. 20; 20 withdrawn on Aug. 10.
Norway: 10 currently in Iraq; 140 withdrawn on June 30. Cited reason: growing domestic opposition and peacekeepers needed elsewhere, such as Afghanistan.
Dominican Republic: 302 withdrawn on May 4. Cited reason: growing domestic opposition.
Honduras: 370 withdrawn on May 12. Cited reason: Troops were sent for reconstruction, not combat.
Nicaragua: 115 withdrawn on Feb. 4. Cited reason: lack of funds.
Philippines: 51 withdrawn on July 19. Cited reason: to save lives of hostages.
Singapore: 160 withdrawn on April 4. Cited reason: completed humanitarian mission.
Spain: 1,300 withdrawn on May 4. Cited reason: new government fulfilled campaign pledge.
Note that only 13 countries other than the US have 300 or more troops in Iraq, and several of them will probably insist on withdrawing by February 2005. The US will increasingly have to go it alone in Iraq next year, though the UK and Italy will probably continue to provide about half a division between them. (the US has the equivalent of about 7 divisions in Iraq).