US Rule in Iraq Collapsing?
US civil administrator Paul Bremer’s sudden, rushed trip to Washington earlier this week signalled that the White House is considering a radical rethinking of Iraq policy. As Josh Marshall notes, Rumors are flying that he himself may resign or be fired.
He and his colleagues in Washington are also clearly thinking of abolishing the Interim Governing Council and resorting to an Afghanistan model. This step would require some sort of Iraqi selection process for a Karzai-like president, who could appoint a cabinet and establish a legitimate government while the new constitution is being written. Az-Zaman newspaper, which is close to IGC member Adnan Pachachi, describes the plan as a “purge of the Interim government.”
Although the military situation is not ideal, the level of attacks on US troops is not a military challenge yet. I suspect that this frantic anxiety is mainly political, and is fueled in part by Karl Rove’s realization that if Iraq is still in the headlines next summer, it will sink Bush’s presidency. The US press is not interested very much in other governments, nor even in US troops serving in countries that have their own government. Note that attacks on US troops in Afghanistan seldom make the front page, even when there are casualties. This lack of press interest in Afghanistan was a by-product of creating the Karzai government.
Rove thus needs to move Iraq off the front page. By leaving Bremer in charge of the country, the Bush administration created a 51st state as far as the US press was concerned, and they covered it the same way they do New York. Moreover, this 51st state had a lot of newsworthy things going on in it, like daily attacks on US troops. Of course, the danger is that the US will fob rule of the country off on a failed state and the whole thing will blow up in the face of the Bush administration.
Which is not to deny that the dire security situation is also fuelling the panic. The Australian Broadcasting Company reported Wednesday, “The Coalition is facing attacks in various parts of the country. The Coalition headquarters in Baghdad has come under mortar fire at least five times in the past week. There’ve also been repeated ambushes in the volatile towns of Fallujah and Tikrit.”
The Washington Post reported that guerrillas hit the US HQ in Baghdad with rockets or mortars yet again on Tuesday, sending “leaders of the U.S.-installed Iraqi government running to basement shelters.” There were no injuries. “One source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said at least eight projectiles had landed in the area hit but only three exploded. At least one landed in a parking lot near the helicopter pad, and close to where U.S. contractor Bechtel Corp. is based.“
Not only are CPA officials forced to the basement for their own safety, but the number of attacks on US troops has risen to an average of 30-35 per day. The numbers are actually increasing month by month, and a new CIA AARDWOLF or special field assessment says that growing numbers of Iraqis are joining the resistance and concluding that the US can be defeated.
The US has started bombing the increasingly organized guerrillas in the Sunni Arab triangle, admitting that it is still at war in Iraq. The bad news is that small guerrilla bands can’t effectively be bombed, so it is mainly for show. It could also backfire against the US if they bomb innocent civilians.
Most challenges cannot be dealt with by air power. An angry mob in the Sunni town of Haditha set fire to the police station and another building on Tuesday (az-Zaman). What could US planes have done about that? They could hardly just strafe the civilian demonstrators.
I am suspicious of the number of daily attacks given out by the US spokesmen in Iraq. I see lots of reports in the Arab press of attacks in the south of the country, on Bulgarians, Ukrainians, and other troops, and wonder if they are even being counted. For some reason the attackers in the south appear to be very poor shots, and seem mostly to miss the target, failing to inflict any real damage. (Presumably they were low-level Shiite conscripts and did not get good military training, unlike the Sunnis further north). But the attacks in the South are ongoing, and sometimes they succeed (a Polish officer died and 6 Ukrainians were wounded last Friday). I suspect that the threshold for defining an “attack” in the publicly announced statistics may be raised artificially high, and lots of things we civilians would consider an “attack” are not being reported because they were clumsily executed.
So it simply is not true, as President George W. Bush alleged Tuesday, that “The violence is focused in 200 square miles known as the Baathist Triangle, the home area to Saddam Hussein and most of his associates.” First of all, the Sunni areas bounded by Fallujah, Baghdad and Tikrit are several thousand square miles, as the WP noted. But second, the attacks occur in Kirkuk, Mosul, Karbala, Basra and elsewhere in the country, as well.
Nor is Bush giving much of the real picture when he says “Foreign jihadists have arrived across Iraq’s borders in small groups with the goal of installing a Taliban-like regime” There are tens of thousands of ex-Baath Sunni Arab nationalists and Sunni radicals in Iraq, who are the real source of the opposition. A couple of hundred international volunteers are responsible only for a small number of the attacks. The Bush administration doesn’t want the US public to know that they are fighting the Iraqi people. That would not be as palatable as fighting al-Qaeda.