FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Iraqi "Peace" in Tatters

by PATRICK COCKBURN

Mosul, Iraq

Iraqi and United States-led forces were last night preparing to launch a rescue mission for up to 150 Shia hostages held by Sunni insurgents.

The threat by Sunni militants in the town of Madaen, south of Baghdad, to execute the hostages unless Shias leave the area, intensified the growing sectarian fears.

The upsurge in violence across Iraq in the past four days has left claims made by the Pentagon that the tide is turning in Iraq and there are hopeful signs of a return to normality in tatters.

At least 17 Iraqis were killed during the day and two US soldiers were reported dead after a series of attacks.

Ironically, one reason why Washington can persuade the outside world that its venture in Iraq is finally coming right is that it is too dangerous for reporters to travel outside Baghdad or stray far from their hotels in the capital. The threat to all foreigners was underlined last week when an American contractor was snatched by kidnappers.

When I was travelling in the northern city of Mosul this week, my guards – Kurdish members of the Iraqi National Guard – said it was too dangerous for them to travel with me in uniform in official vehicles. They donned Arab gowns, hid their weapons and drove through the city in a civilian car.

Most violent incidents in Iraq go unreported. We saw one suicide bomb explosion, clouds of smoke and dust erupting into the air, and heard another in the space of an hour. Neither was mentioned in official reports. Last year US soldiers told the IoS that they do not tell their superiors about attacks on them unless they suffer casualties. This avoids bureaucratic hassle and “our generals want to hear about the number of attacks going down not up”. This makes the official Pentagon claim that the number of insurgent attacks is down from 140 a day in January to 40 a day this month dubious.

US casualties have fallen to about one dead a day in March compared with four a day in January and five a day in November. But this is the result of a switch in American strategy rather than a sign of a collapse in the insurgency. US military spokesmen make plain that America’s military priority has changed from offensive operations to training Iraqi troops and police. More than 2,000 US military advisers are working with Iraqi forces.

With US networks largely confined to their hotels in Baghdad by fear of kidnapping, it is possible to sell the American public the idea that no news is good news. General George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, said recently that if all goes well “we shall make fairly substantial reductions in the size of our forces”. Other senior US officers say this will be of the order of four brigades, from 17 to 13, or a fall in the number of US troops in Iraq from 142,000 to 105,000 by next year.

The real change leading to the US troop reduction is probably more in the US than in Iraq. The White House finds its military commitment in Iraq politically damaging at home. The easiest way to bring the troops home is, as in Vietnam, to declare a victory and full confidence in US-trained Iraqi forces to win the war. These soldiers and police supposedly number 152,000, but it is not clear who is being counted.

The figure may include the 14,000 blue-uniformed Iraqi police in Nineveh province, the capital of which is Mosul, with a population of 2.7 million. But Khasro Goran, the deputy governor and Kurdistan Democratic Party leader in Mosul, told the IoS that the police had helped insurgents assassinate the previous governor.

Mr Goran said that when guerrillas captured almost all of Mosul on 11 November last year, the police had collaborated, abandoning 30 police stations without a fight. “They didn’t fire on terrorists because they were terrorists themselves,” he said. Some $40m-worth of arms and equipment was captured by the insurgents. It is a measure of how far the reality of the war in Iraq now differs from the rosy picture presented by the media that the fall of Mosul to the insurgents went almost unreported abroad because most journalists were covering the assault by the US marines on Fallujah.

Despite the elections on 30 January, the US problem in Iraq remains unchanged. It has not been defeated by the Sunni Arab guerrillas but it has not defeated them either. The US army and Iraqi armed forces control islands of territory while much of Iraq is a dangerous no-man’s land.

After overthrowing Saddam Hussein in 2003 the US tried direct rule, dissolving the Iraqi army and state. This provoked the Sunni rebellion. By early 2004 there was a danger that part of the Shia community would also rise up. Elections were promised. The victors at the polls in January were Shia parties, mostly militantly Islamic and often sympathetic to Iran. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, visited Baghdad this week to stop Shia radicals taking over the Interior and Defence Ministries.

Iraq is now more sectarian. Sunnis boycotted the elections. The Kurds and Shias triumphed. The interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, despite heavy US support, got only 14 per cent. If the Shia hostages taken on Friday are executed or Shias are forced to flee, then we are closer to a sectarian civil war.

The Sunni insurgency is not going to go away. US generals say there are only 12,000 to 20,000 guerrillas. But the real lesson of the past two years is that, though many of the groups in the resistance are fanatical or semi-criminal, they will still be sheltered by the Sunni community.

If the new Iraqi government succeeds in establishing itself it will be a largely Shia state with no more interest than the Sunnis in retaining a US presence. Iraqis say they sense that the US wants Iraq to be a weak state, and this they are bound to oppose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail