Thursday, May 26, 2005

Heaven's Not Overflowing

I have to thank the band COC for the title of this entry, because I can think of little else to say about the current Iraq Occupation. Our American troops, gumshoe Iraqi police and the few coalition allies that haven't withdrawn are constantly attacking what is collectively known as the "insurgency". Rather than understand what has created and sustained this insurgency or appreciate its complexity, the US and fledgling Iraqi government are intent on cracking down on an unseen foe. This despite suggestions that these very maneuvers (especially in Fallujah and Baghdad) have encouraged insurgency recruitment efforts and systematic violence.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies puts it this way:
The US assumed for the first year after the fall of Saddam Hussein that it was dealing with a limited number of insurgents that Coalition forces would defeat well before the election. It did not see the threat level that would emerge if it did not provide jobs or pensions for Iraqi career officers, or co-opt them into the nation building effort. It was slow to see that some form of transition payments were necessary for the young Iraqi soldiers that faced massive, nation-wide employment. As late as the spring of 2004, the US still failed to acknowledge the true scale of the insurgent threat and the extent to which popular resentment of Coalition forces would rise if it did not act immediately to rebuild a convincing mix of Iraqi military and security forces.

The US failed to establish the proper political conditions to reduce Iraqi popular resentment of the Coalition forces and create the political climate that would ease the task of replacing them with effective Iraqi forces. It did not make it clear that the US and Britain had no economic ambitions in Iraq and would not establish permanent bases, or keep Iraqi forces weak to ensure their control. It did not react to the immediate threat that crime and looting presented throughout Iraq almost immediately after the war, and which made personal security the number one concern of the Iraqi people. It acted as if it had years to rebuild Iraq using its own plans, rather than months to shape the climate in which Iraqis could do it.
Many embedded news sources including Knight Ridder have consistently documented the upswing in insurgent violence in Iraq. The unfavorable trends in the Iraq war might lead one to believe that the Coalition is losing or yielding hard-fought ground. The truth is much simpler: the Iraqi people and their government alone can win the minds of the people. While there is still a scapegoat in Iraq, one that is hardly blameless in reducing the average Iraqi standard of living, there will be no peace.

In January, Knight Ridder identified the following key points:

  • The average number of U.S. soldiers wounded by hostile acts per month has spiraled from 142 to 808 during the same period. Iraqi civilians have suffered even more deaths and injuries, although reliable statistics aren't available.

  • Attacks on the U.S.-led coalition since November 2003, when statistics were first available, have risen from 735 a month to 2,400 in October. Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, the multinational forces' deputy operations director, told Knight Ridder on Friday that attacks were currently running at 75 a day, about 2,300 a month, well below a spike in November during the assault on Fallujah, but nearly as high as October's total.

  • The average number of mass-casualty bombings has grown from zero in the first four months of the American occupation to an average of 13 per month.

  • Electricity production has been below pre-war levels since October, largely because of sabotage by insurgents, with just 6.7 hours of power daily in Baghdad in early January, according to the State Department.

  • Iraq is pumping about 500,000 barrels a day fewer than its pre-war peak of 2.5 million barrels per day as a result of attacks, according to the State Department.
Now, the US moves closer toward the Syrian border. Secretary Rice increases her rhetoric against supporting countries. Random raids and checkpoints increase across Iraq, most notably the increased Iraqi police presence in Baghdad. By doing so, the US has simultaneously broken ties with Damascus and increased insurgent recruitment to unprecedented levels.

Will this be addressed? No. Because rather than attack the differing philosophies and various environs that sustain the insurgency, it is much easier to point to one key figurehead. And I guarantee you'll read many more blog entries that simply echo the headlines (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi wounded or not?), rather than address the long term solvency of the Iraq occupation. It becomes the "head in the sand" argument. "We're already there and things are bad. If we left it would just get worse."

I don't claim to have all of the answers to this situation, but it seems to me that only a speedy withdrawal or concerted public relations effort can possibly mitigate the violence in Iraq. The crushing of the rebellion spells the beginning of a civil war and onset of a failed democracy. The impact of that failed democracy (so prevalent in US rhetoric) could spell disaster for the US Middle Eastern policy.

As former General Wesley Clark put it back in November 2004:
[In Iraq,] there's no uniformed enemy force, no headquarters, no central command complex for the troops to occupy and win. At the end, there will be no surrender.

Instead, the outcome of the battle must be judged by a less clear-cut standard: not by the seizure and occupation of ground, but by the impact it has on the political and diplomatic process in Iraq. Its chances for success in that area are highly uncertain. Will Fallujah, like the famous Vietnam village, be the place we destroyed in order to save it? Will the bulk of the insurgents simply scatter to other Iraqi cities? Will we win a tactical victory only to fail in our strategic goal of convincing Iraqis that we are making their country safe for democracy?

To win means not just to occupy the city, but to do so in a way that knocks the local opponent permanently out of the fight, demoralizes broader resistance, and builds legitimacy for U.S. aims, methods and allies.
I really hope there is some way the US can regain some of its credibility in all of this chaos. But more than that, I hope all sides can negotiate some kind of cease-fire before Iraq becomes nothing more than a no man's land.

How painful it is to admit that one country's future is trapped between many diverse competing interests, none of which are willing to relent. Caught in-between, I pray the common Iraqi will see things more clearly and take the harder road towards peace.

Before the line between civilian and insurgent can be understood by the police, it must be understood and embraced by the people. Without that differentiation, the war is already lost.

UPDATE 5/26/2005: More than 40,000 Iraqi soldiers are to be deployed in Baghdad in a massive operation to hunt down insurgents, the Iraqi defence minister has announced.


At 9:02 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really have to disagree with you on this one. The "insurgents" are not some amorphous, spontaneous, volunteer organization. They are pretty well defined all around. You have your ex-Baathists, looking for a way out of the wrong corner they've painted themselves into, and you have your foreign terrorists, who have come to fight for the subjugation of Iraq to sexist, oppressive fascism.

The Iraqi liberation has done more for peace in the MidEast than any of the obviously failed "paper diplomacy" documents of the last 30 years.

About a year ago, the BBC had an excellent report on common Iraqi survey reports:

There has been great progress made since then. This should be cause for celebration, not an opportunity for re-vietnamizing the situation.

Many native Iraqis are blogging daily about their disdain for the criminal "insurgency."

I really wouldn't rely wholly on news services to give you the straight scoop. I work in the media business. Our job is to sell conflict, not report objectively or holistically. Reuters, AP and Knight-Ridder all receive prefabricated "press releases" from a variety of sources, including terrorists themselves, and report the juiciest bits.

You make a good skeptic, but a true skeptic occassionaly remembers to be skeptical of skepticism, too!


At 10:23 AM GMT-5, Blogger the prisoner said...

I must say that I am skeptical of Iraqi blogs when most of Baghdad (minus the ill-created Green Zone), Najaf, and Fallujah don't even have sanitation much less electricity. Then again, since many of them are unemployed and possibly not joining the insurgency, they might find time for a blog.

I have met some Iraqis that come through Emory and read many US soldier accounts. I don't care how much you want me to wave the flag on this one, I refuse to accept a false reality. Is the insurgency losing some of its support? I believe so. Is it losing its potency? Hell no.

Do I believe that the current technique of crushing this insurgency will work? No. Education, reform and a clear end of occupation are the only answers. I know some people in this administration may have thought, "You don't have to win their minds and hearts, just use force and rhetoric", but I think they are full of themselves.

Put yourself in Iraqi shoes for a moment, how can you totally support the US when they shut down your factory and completely reject the insurgency when you have a neighbor who is mislead to fight the occupation? Unfortunately, because of this, most Iraqis no matter what they tell pollsters (and I have my doubts about polls anyway) do nothing. Why? Because they're just as a afraid of a US bullet as an Iraqi car bomb.

And you are right, the insurgency does have its non-spontaneous elements which I think will survive the US occupation intact. What the US attacks are the idiots that don't know to flee a city a day before the US announces an offensive. What good is that?

In Ireland, it was these kind of tactics that created the violence of the IRA. You might as well give the insurgency guns and save themselves the trouble.

You can't free a people that feel oppressed by their liberator, and no liberator should lock down the freedom they have given. Do you really think the US would have supported the French staying any longer than they did after the revolution? Do you think the US was in chaos after the revolution? You better believe it.

Do I believe everything I read bad or good from Iraq? No. But I sure as hell wonder whether the US, rightfully or wrongly, is a symbol of tyranny or liberty in Iraq. It seems daily, the jury goes back into deliberation.


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