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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 108

The Iraq Dirge

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

The trail of lies and half-truths that started from Washington before Iraq’s invasion has become unstoppable. The so-called liberators of Iraq refuse to see that their prevarication led to a disaster not only for Iraq but for America also, if not much of the western world. Amidst confusing and contradictory reports about the likelihood of US troop reduction in Iraq have been coming wishy-washy reports that the ‘surge’—the induction of extra US troops in Iraq—has been working.

The US commander on the ground in Iraq, Gen Patraeus says so as does the US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker. Even the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki has talked about ‘positive affect’ of the ‘surge’ in Baghdad. He told his parliament that violence had come down by 75 percent—a figure hard to digest. In any case, he did not advance any statistics to back his claim. The news from Iraq is always about suicide bombings and killings of people in large numbers—all about dirge, not surge.

Selective statistics might suggest that the scale of violence in Iraq came down in a particular week or month, but the sectarian and terrorist violence in the country continues to escalate, threatening to tear the country apart. Iraq has not been able to raise a credible and effective security force that can take on the murderers and thieves who rule the roost in many parts of Iraq. The question of sharing of oil resources continues to dog the Iraqis.

On top of all that the US-backed government of Shia leader Nouri al-Maliki now looks vulnerable as not only the minority Sunni and Kurdish groups but even the majority Shia groups have been expressing their unhappiness, sometimes by walking out of the government. A ‘key’ Sunni ally of the US in the western Iraqi province of Anbar, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, known to be engaged in fighting Al Qaeda, has been assassinated. This will jeopardise US hopes of banking on a snowballing anti-Al Qaeda wave among the minority Sunnis of Iraq.

The party of important Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr is the latest to announce withdrawal of support to the Maliki government. Since the group of 32 MPs owing allegiance to Muqtada al-Sadr has withdrawn from the United Iraqi Alliance for anyone to say on their behalf that they have no intention to pull down the government is meaningless.

The Muqtada al-Sadr group is sore about the ‘attitude’ of the Maliki government, which, they say, has not responded positively to its ‘demands’. The cause of the anger is believed to be the failure of Maliki to consult them over vital policy matters and the government’s decision to order an inquiry into the activities of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, which was widely blamed for August violence during a Shia pilgrimage to the Karbala shrine that killed 52 persons. The al-Sadr group wants to enjoy autonomy in running its affairs, especially its militia, and is not ready to be subjected to any scrutiny by the pro-US authorities in Baghdad.

The claims of the surge bringing positive results would have sounded credible if some other reports emanating from Washington and US commanders as well as diplomats and intelligence officials in Iraq had painted a reasonably optimistic picture of the current Iraqi situation. The heightened clamour for troop withdrawal heard in the US is related to the fact that the ‘body bags’ continue to arrive in the US and the troops in inhospitable Iraq are under undue strain that is taking its toll on their morale.

The US had set 18 benchmarks or goals for the Iraqis before troop pull out of any significance could be considered. The most generous assessment in the US has been that nine of them have been met. But it is the part that has remained unfulfilled that is important. The Maliki administration remains incapable of providing security to its people; Maliki himself has admitted it. The trust deficit between the Shia-Sunni-Kurd triangles has not narrowed. No satisfactory arrangement is in sight for sharing oil resources by this sectarian trio. The White House underplays the failure to meet the 18 benchmarks by saying that the more important thing is that many ‘objectives’ are being met.

The Iraqi people themselves—the factor that should matter most—are not very sure of how many important ‘objective’ have been met. The sense of insecurity and the miseries of daily lives for lack of many basic civic and infrastructure facilities do not make them very optimistic about their country or their own future. A recent poll conducted by UK-US-Japanese networks, the BBC, ABC and NHK, has revealed that 70 percent of Iraqis believe that security has deteriorated in the areas covered by the US military ‘surge’ in the last six months. 93 percent of Sunni and 50 percent of Shia respondents justified attacks on US-led forces in Iraq.

Almost 70 percent Iraqi believe that the American ‘surge’ has been an obstruction in continuing political dialogue and the task of economic development and reconstruction of the battered nation. The level of pessimism in the country was clear from the fact that the percentage of Iraqis who thought things were going to look better in the country has come down to 29 (percent) from 64 (percent) in the last two years.

After the new British prime minister decided to withdraw his troops from Basra, the US administration has perhaps started to realise the need to find ‘honourable’ ways for exit. Within two days of each other, President George W. Bush and his secretary of defence, Robert Gates, have spoken of reducing troops in Iraq. First it was Bush who said that nearly 30,000 US troops would be heading home and then Gates said another 30,000 would also be back on US soil, all within a year.

The present strength of US-led troops in Iraq is about 170,000. A drop of even 60,000 would still mean that the troop level in Iraq is high. Many analysts believe that a reduction of up to 60,000 troops could have been part of any plan to withdraw before next spring. There is a limit to overstretching the US army.

But the US finds itself in a Catch 22 situation. In the face of tremendous outcry at home, the US cannot plan any ‘surge’; nor can it pull out all its uniformed men and women from Iraq without causing more damage to the nation. A US Democrat was probably right when he said that the Bush administration has neither any plan to end the war in Iraq nor does it have any convincing rationale for continuing it.

- Syndicate Features -

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