Small Victories

A U.S. general declares the Baathist insurgency broken. But is Iraq any safer?

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Last week, several days after a car bomb killed at least 20 people and injured more than 60 in one of the most devastating acts of guerrilla violence in Iraq so far, Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, told the Associated Press, “The former regime elements we’ve been combating have been brought to their knees.” George W. Bush struck a similar note in his State of the Union address last Tuesday, when he defended the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and claimed progress toward quelling the violent insurgency, with 45 of the former regime’s top 55 officials captured or killed.

It might be true that some indicators are pointing up in Iraq, but that’s hardly the whole story. Inconveniently for the White House, last week also saw the release of a verbal warning from the CIA that Iraq might be on its way to a full blown civil war. The Herald Sun noted that the “warning starkly contradicts the upbeat assessment given by President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address earlier this week. … The warning echoed growing fears that Iraq’s Shiite majority, which has until now grudgingly accepted the US occupation, could turn to violence if its demands for direct elections are spurned.”

In an article about the car bombing, the Washington Post wrote:

“In recent days, U.S. officials had reported a reduction in attacks on American forces, to about 17 a day from more than double that number in November. However, insurgents in central Iraq have launched a continuous stream of attacks, sometimes spectacular, taking many Iraqi lives. Car bombs have often been set off in areas between fortified U.S. compounds and the streets. In just the past week, a pair of bombs exploded in Baqubah, one at a mosque and the other at a police station. Eight people were killed. In December, a series of bomb attacks in various cities killed 53 people. Heavily armed U.S. forces are not immune. The insurgency has made increasingly sophisticated use of roadside bombs to attack convoys and surface-to-air missiles to shoot down helicopters. Eleven soldiers died in a pair of missile attacks within the past nine days.

‘This attack shows that the resistance is becoming more organized and dangerous. They have confidence in themselves,’ said Mouhan Hafidh Fahad, an Iraqi military affairs commentator.”

Maj. Gen. Odierno engaged in some political hair-splitting and made the concession that while former Baath Party loyalists no longer posed a major threat, the violence from “nationalistic threats” was still continuing. How this represents an advance or makes U.S. troops or Iraqi civilians any safer is unclear. Odierno defined the threat as being posed by “those that really just want Iraqis to run their own country,” and “elements that are going to try to use Iraqi nationalism to say we need to get the Americans and the coalition forces out of Iraq, and they will continue to attack us.”

As the CIA warned, the violence might even escalate further, because of Shiite resistance to the U.S. plan of transferring sovereignty. Shiites, who comprise some 60 percent of Iraq’s 25 million people, demand immediate elections, while the U.S. plans to select a new provisional legislature through 18 regional caucuses. Under the U.S. plan, the first direct elections wouldn’t be held until the end of 2005.

In the meantime, U.S. soldiers are fighting a fierce battle against the Iraqi insurgency, and experts say some of the tactics the U.S. employs might back-fire on them.

The Baltimore Sun writes:

“One month after the capture of Saddam Hussein, a stubborn insurgency continues against U.S. forces, fueled by foreign fighters and Iraqis angry about economic hardships and bitter about the American-led occupation, according to military officers, regional analysts and Iraqi exiles.

The country’s continued poor economic conditions and heavy-handed tactics of the U.S. military in hunting down the insurgents – from kicking down doors and inspecting women’s bedrooms to dragging away suspects with bags over their heads – are broadening contempt for the U.S.-led occupation among Iraqis, [Phebe Marr, a longtime U.S. scholar of Iraq] said. Such feelings could prolong or expand anti-American activity, she added.'”


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