The Bush Administration is intentionally steering Iraq towards civil war. The elections are merely the catalyst for igniting, what could be, a massive social upheaval. This explains the bizarre insistence on voting when security is nearly nonexistent and where a mere 7% of the people can even identify the candidates. (This figure gleaned from Allawi’s Baghdad newspaper, Al-Sabah) Rumsfeld is using the elections as a springboard for aggravating tensions between Sunnis and Shiites and for diverting attention away from the troops. It’s a foolhardy move that only magnifies the desperation of the present situation. The Pentagon brass expected a “cakewalk” and, instead, they’ve found themselves mired in a guerilla war.
Everyone from Brent Scowcroft to Tom Friedman has speculated on the likelihood of civil war. Their comments are more reflective of the hopes of American elites than they are of realities on the ground. Sure, Friedman would like to see Muslims killing Muslims, but it won’t happen. Tom hasn’t guessed right on the war yet, and that’s not about to change. The same could be said for Rumsfeld. For a Sec-Def who regards “information as power”, Rumsfeld seems woefully blinkered by the true nature of the fighting. He seems incapable of grasping even the most basic elements of the conflict or the psychology that fuels it. Whatever happened to the military mantra, “Know your enemy”?
When you destroy a man’s home and kill and disgrace his friends, he’ll fight back. And, when you rob a man of everything he has, including his dignity, you leave him with one, solitary passion -- rage. This rage is now animating the resistance in ways that no one had previously anticipated. The world’s lone superpower is roped to the ground like Gulliver and the Pentagon high command is getting increasingly agitated.
Civil war can be messy. Inciting religious and sectarian hatreds tends to disrupt the smooth execution of business; like the purging of potential enemies and the extracting of vital resources. Nevertheless, Rumsfeld is nearly out of options; “divide and conquer” may be all that’s left. If we glance at the last three imperial projects, Kosovo, Haiti and Afghanistan, the very same strategy was applied. All three nations have been effectively carved up, delivered to US multinational corporations, and reduced to warlordism or anarchy. Their outcomes set the precedent for similar results in Iraq. Will Iraq be Balkanized along ethnic and religious lines?
That’s what the Generals are hoping, and their plan is already in full swing. The Marines deployed Shiite National Guards during the siege of Falluja with the obvious intention of exacerbating tensions between the two factions. The Kurdish Peshmerga was utilized in Mosul for the very same purpose. Also, there have been a number of suspicious bombings (particularly the attacks on Sunni clerics in Najaf and Kerbala) that are not at all consistent with the insurgent pattern, but suggest a clandestine (CIA?) operation to incite hostilities. Add to this the projected election results, which will tilt heavily towards the Shiites, and there’s a real potential for internecine violence. It’s easy to see how Pentagon planners might think that these provocations could auger a massive internal struggle. It won’t happen, though.
Whatever we may think of the Iraqis at this point, one thing is certain; they know who their enemy is. The element of surprise or deception has evaporated like the plumes of smoke dispersing over Falluja. They know who we are, and they know they want us out.
Rumsfeld finally seems to be grasping the seriousness of the predicament. The security situation has deteriorated so dramatically that even his support among elites is eroding. Last week foreign policy Gurus, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, fired off a salvo of criticism directed at the mishandling of the occupation. The normally circumspect Brzezinski was particularly savage, slamming the war as a sign of “moral decay,” a euphemism that will undoubtedly send shock waves through America’s boardrooms and think tanks.
James Dobbins of the conservative Rand Corporation was equally ferocious, stating bluntly that “The beginning of wisdom is to realize that the United States can’t win.”
Dobbins probably should have added, “Can’t win, but won’t leave,” as the appropriate adjunct to his first observation. American elites may disparage the conduct of the occupation, but they’ve tied the nation’s future to its success and won’t give up easily.
Rumsfeld Shifts Gears
There are signs that the recalcitrant Rumsfeld is beginning to get the message. Last week he dispatched retired General Gary Luck to Iraq to produce a detailed breakdown of force strength and vulnerabilities. When Luck returns he will appear before Congress and make an energetic appeal for more troops and stiffer resolve. He can be expected to draw a dismal picture of a failed state that threatens to destabilize the entire region unless America makes a greater commitment. Both the Congress and the media will play a role in calling on the American people for steadfastness in the face of a very long and bloody occupation. Many believe that Luck’s assessment will determine whether Bush will approach Congress to reinstate the draft.
Enlisting the skills of General Luck is an indication that Rumsfeld is giving ground to his critics; that he is no longer elevating his judgment above all others. His bungling of every aspect of the war has limited his ability to act unilaterally. He will either have to demonstrate some level of cooperation or step down. The war’s two main debacles so far can be directly pinned on Rumsfeld. First, he went in “too light” (without sufficient manpower to secure the peace) and second, he dismissed the 400,000 strong Iraqi military, the majority of whom now comprise the resistance. The final outcome in Iraq will certainly rest heavily on those two foolish choices.
The siege of a Falluja was a crossroads for the American occupation. The right-wing punditocracy insisted that the resistance in Falluja be crushed by any means possible, preferably overwhelming force. The Baghdad enclave of 250,000 was decimated by the relentless pounding of US aerial bombardment and a full-fledged ground assault that left over 700 civilians dead, 70% of whom were women and children.
In the first attack on Falluja Lt. Col. B. P. McCoy noted that, “We don’t want to ‘rubblize’ the city. That will give the enemy more places to hide.” McCoy’s injunction was ignored during the second (Nov 8) siege. The city has been both “rubblized” and rendered “uninhabitable” (according to the Red Crescent).
The Bush administration applied the “nuclear option” to Falluja; leveling the city to send a message that future resistance would be dealt with accordingly. The message was faithfully rejected.
If anything, Falluja has only strengthened the resolve of the anti-American forces and increased recruitment for the resistance. The violence has spread and intensified throughout the Sunni Triangle, with the number of attacks skyrocketing to 75 per day. Falluja has removed any doubt from the minds of young Iraqi men that a nonviolent settlement is possible. The flattening of a city of 250,000 confirms, in stark terms, that the war will be decided by force of arms. Falluja has removed whatever “gray area” there may have been before.
The numbers of insurgents are steadily on the rise since the siege. The strength of the current rebellion was estimated last week by Iraq’s Intelligence Chief, General Mohammed Shahwani. Shahwani told a Saudi newspaper that the “US was facing 40,000 hard-core fighters” and a support group of as “many as 150,000 to 200,000.”
Predictably, the story was buried in the western press, but the implications are clear. The Pentagon has been intentionally misleading the American people about the size and strength of the insurgency. (previous estimates were between 5,000 to 20,000) These new figures, which are now supported by many independent defense analysts, point to an insurgency that is numerically larger than the occupation and fully prepared to fight a long and gory guerilla war. This brings us back to James Dobbins observation “The beginning of wisdom is to realize that the United States can’t win.”
Falluja’s failure means that the prospect of destroying the rest of Iraq’s cities is more remote. Rather, success will depend on increasing the number of US troops and developing a long-term strategy for “incrementally” establishing security. The only other option is to deflect attention from the occupation forces by inciting widespread instability. A civil war may serve the short-term interests of the administration, but it could also provoke region-wide turmoil. It’s a risk that no sane person would consider. The determination to carry out the January 30 elections further proves that the administration has not veered from the reckless and delusional strategies that have thrust the mission to the brink of disaster.
Months ago, Baghdad correspondent, Andrew Cockburn warned that the United States was “in danger of losing the war” in Iraq. Since then the security situation has steadily worsened and vast swaths of the country have come under rebel control. Every promotional device the administration has used (the forming of the Coalition Provisional Authority; the transfer of sovereignty and, now, the elections) has backfired; bringing on larger attacks and stiffer resistance. Rumsfeld’s “high-tech” warfare has degenerated into death squads and torture chambers; a pitiable return to medieval combat. The civilian leadership, drunk with hubris and greed, never noticed the wave of insurgency looming in the distance. Now, they’re facing daily trauma and death without a clear plan for success. The Iraq mission is like a 21st century Striker-vehicle buried up to its axels and lolling in the desert sand. As the January 30 deadline approaches, there’s little sign that things will improve.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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