Bush Sneaks In and Out of Baghdad Again
24 Dead in Kirkuk Bombings
Iraq’s civil war claimed at least 55 lives on Tuesday. Guerrillas detonated a coordinated set of car bombs in Kirkuk on Tuesday, killing 24 persons and wounding nearly 50. Among the targets were senior police officers, and the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (led by Jalal Talabani). Although the press is trying to tie this operation to the Zarqawi group, Kirkuk is such a complicated political scene that it is unwise to speculate on the identity of the guerrilla group that targeted the city. Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs are competing for the oil capital of the north, and Kurds have taken over the police force and are flooding the province with settlers, creating enormous discontents.
In other violence, an intelligence officer was assassinated in Karbala, guerrillas targeted a police convoy in Samarra with a bomb but killed 4 civilians and wounded 7 others; two university professors were assassinated, one in Baghdad and one in Basra, and 14 corpses were found in the capital.
This Reuters report has to be read carefully to see how parlous the situation in Iraq really is. The president of the United States, who supposedly conquered the country three years ago, had to keep his visit secret even from the prime minister he was going to visit, until five minutes before their meeting. That tells me Bush’s people don’t trust Nuri al-Maliki very far. In fact, apparently Bush’s people don’t trust Bush’s people very far– only Cheney, Rumsfeld and Condi are said to have known about the trip in the US. And, Air Force One had to land after a sharp bank, to throw off any potential shoulder-held missile launchers in the airport area. The president couldn’t go to the Green Zone in a motorcade, for fear of car bombs, but had to be helicoptered in. This ending says it all: “Bush left after night fell to return to Washington. The plane left at a steep angle with its lights out and the shades drawn.” See also this photo.
In almost surreal rhetoric, Bush said Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs must be curtailed. He said this after the Iraqi vice president and the head of the biggest bloc in parliament both went off to Tehran and praised Iran’s stabilizing role. If Bush thinks that Shiite Iranians are the problem in fanatically Sunni Ramadi and Adhamiyah, we’re in even bigger trouble than I thought.
Bush tried to define down victory to a general ability of people to go about their lives. He said it was unreasonable to expect to end “all violence.” But Mr. Bush, no one suggested that you end “all violence.” The goal here is to win the guerrilla war.
During a guerrilla war, people always go about their daily lives, except when a bomb is going off in their specific neighborhood. So if the goal is that Iraqis should be able to buy bread and go to school and drive to work, most of them have that already most of the time. It is just that little problem of some 12,000 people a year being blown up, assassinated, or beheaded and their heads wrapped in cellophane and stored in banana crates along the side of the road that remains.
In other words, Bush defines the main weapon in the guerrilla war, carbombings, as ineradicable, and declares that he can win that war without actually ending its main weapon. It is a cheap trick of rhetoric, a prestidigitation of the lips. “These are not the ‘droids you’re looking for.”
Meanwhile a new security sweep will be launched in an attempt to make Baghdad more secure. Let’s see if this one is more successful than Operation Lightning, a similar set of sweeps launched last year this time to no apparent lasting effect.
US troops are under enormous strain in Iraq. They cannot most often tell friend from foe. When they first arrived, they were encouraged to make friends with local Iraqis, but now often are told to keep to themselves, just because it isn’t clear who the guerrillas are. They are apparently constantly taking mortar or sniping fire, most of it ineffectual and so never announced to the press. If they go out on the road, they are in substantial danger of being blown up. Few units haven’t lost a dear friend and colleague. They are fighting for a local government that often seems not much to want them and clearly wishes them gone sooner rather than later (Maliki says at most 18 months). Some high ranking members of the government have been scathing about them. The Europeans see US troops in Iraq as a bigger threat to stability in the Middle East than is Iran. Some 60 percent of Americans think their being there was a mistake in the first place, which cannot be good for morale, which is slipping inside the military according to polls. They signed up to fight for their country and their country asked them to fight in Iraq, and in the military you do as you are told, so it is a raw deal for them to end up being so unappreciated when they are doing brave things every day. So I get it that they are frustrated. But, it just is very bad politics for them to sit around singing songs about killing Iraqis, and worse politics to videotape it.
It is hell to be stateless. 200 Palestinian refugees are stuck at a border camp, trying to flee Iraq for Syria. They fear going back to Baghdad. Some 20,000 Palestinians in Baghdad are now in danger; some fear the general violence and insecurity, others fear reprisals. Some Iraqis identify them with the former regime (stateless people are often forced into parlous political compromises). Palestinians were expelled from their country by Zionist settlers in 1948, who refused to let them back in or compensate them for their lost property. Israel continues to insist that millions of Palestinians remain stateless by refusing to recognize the Palestine Authority as a state. In the modern world, there are substantial similarities between statelessness and slavery.