Violence Kills 50
Health, Food, Security Situations Spiral Down
Sunni guerrillas blew up a small Shiite mosque in Baquba northeast of the capital on Sunday. Guerrillas killed another two US GIs and it was confirmed that another two had died when their helicopter was shot down. The brother of a major secular Sunni Arab leader, Salih Mutlak, has gone missing. There was the usual quota of bombings and shootings around the center-north of the country, which left some 50 persons dead.
In Basra, the British forces arested 14 members of the Mahdi Army of the nationalist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Immigration Sattar Nawruz maintains that 1,000 Iraqis are being displaced from their homes every day, and that 40,000 have been displaced since the bombing of the Askariyah Shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22. That is a rate of 365,000 a year, or a million persons displaced over three years if it is kept up. I initially greeted these enormous figures with some skepticism, but I’m beginning to think that there is something to them, and that a sea change has occurred in Iraq, which has moved further toward full-scale civil war.
Just what we need in this situation — more Iraqis than ever are packing heat. And, , the FT reprints an LA Times piece by Megan Stack saying, they are forming ever more neighborhood militias to counter the Shiite ones. I saw this sort of thing happen in Lebanon in the mid-1970s. The subsequent fighting went on for a decade and a half.
The UN oil for food program has continued to provide staples to most Iraqi families, but will be phased out by the end of 2006 as a “socialist” legacy. Despite the talk of staples “stabilizing,” the price of foodstuffs has skyrocketed. Nor is a share for Iraqis in some of their oil wealth socialism. The Alaskans get a direct dividend from their petroleum, and the food aid was the closest thing the Iraqi public had to that. If the end of the program produces, as is likely, hardship and even hunger, there will be big urban disturbances. I lived through one such in Cairo in January of 1977. The gloaming was polluted with the bottles and stones thrown at government buildings by angry crowds chanting against the International Monetary Fund. That will be the final indignity, if the Americans actually manage to starve Iraqis to death with their policies.
Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post warns that a major reconstruction project to build or rebuild clinics in Iraq is faltering in a major way:
‘ The contract for 142 primary health centers, awarded in the flush, early days of reconstruction in Iraq, was expected to put quality medical care within reach of all Iraqis. Dirty water was one of the top killers of babies in Baghdad hospitals, and the health care system was in serious decay after two decades of war and international sanctions. Instead, after two years and roughly $200 million, the contract to U.S. construction giant Parsons Inc. has run out of money, with no more than 20 clinics now expected to be completed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says. Parsons, according to the Corps, will walk away from more than 120 clinics that on average are two-thirds finished. Auditors say its failure serves as a warning siren for other U.S. reconstruction efforts coming due this year. ‘
Half the $18 billion voted by Congress for Iraq reconstruction had to be spent on security (and obviously it didn’t buy much security), and the other $9 billion will all be gone by the end of 2006. The Bush administration won’t ask for any more. Since the US Coalition Provisional Authority essentially stole $9 billion from Iraq to run itself and the country the first year, basically the $9 billion actually spent on reconstruction by the US was little more than a repayment of the money taken (quite illegally under the law of Occupation), and the actual US investment in Iraq is zero. While the American public is being taxed to pay a bill for Iraq mounting toward $1 trillion (and Americans are nowadays staring the tax man in the face), that appears to go mostly to finance continued search and destroy missions that are probably mostly failures as counter insurgency.
Charles J. Hanley examines the complex issues around whether and under what circumstances US air power will remain in Iraq after the ground troops are withdrawn. Everybody thinks it is a bad idea to have the Iraqis independently directing air strikes on putative enemies of the state, which seems to imply that if the US is to provide air support to Iraqi troops, it will have to be through embedding Americans to point the lasers and paint the targets. But just embedding US military personnel does not solve the problem, since they will still find it difficult to gauge the legitimacy of a mission. There is a danger of the Iraqi military settling tribal feuds with stealth bombers. As Hanley says, that kind of thing happened in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, it is desirable that somehow big militia armies be prevented from fighting set piece battles as the US draws down. Such battles, fought by the Mujahidin and then the Taliban, may have killed over a million persons in the 1990s after the Soviets and the Americans, by mutual agreement, both walked away from Afghanistan after turning it into a huge arms depot. Forestalling such a vicious and genocidal civil war won’t be easy, and may prove impossible, but someone needs to give some thought to how it can be practically prevented. As regular readers know, I think a new international force, perhaps from the Arab League, is needed under UN auspices. US air power alone cannot do the job, as Hanley’s article makes clear.
Peter N. Kirstein argues for a complete and total and immediate US withdrawal from Iraq. That would be fine with me, but only if somebody can help provice stability to the place. It isn’t just going to be all right. Iraq is not Vietnam, where there was a clear nationalist-Communist force that was relatively popular and could take over everywhere. It is more like Lebanon or the Balkans. Nor is it like Vietnam in the sense that its falling apart would have few international consequences. The neighbors could be drawn into a new regional war (a proxy war between Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran is possible). And if the oil installations and pipelines in the Gulf started being bombed, the world economy could go into a tailspin. I do agree with Kirstein that Cheney’s nightmare of a terrorist al-Qaeda mini-state in Anbar province is impossible. Iran, Turkey, Syria and Jordan would not put up with it, and they are powerful enough to put paid to any such thing in their neighborhood.
Kurdish journalists are protesting the Draconian sentence of 18 months imprisonment imposed on Austrian-Kurdish writer Kamal Qadir for daring criticize Kurdish politician Massoud Barzani. For more, see my posting last Wednesday, with the useful comments from a reader about where to write to protest.