Sunday, December 18, 2005

Patrick Cockburn on the Occupation

The New Left Review is running this interview with Mr. Cockburn, where he comments on the state of Iraq:

The incompetence of the US arrivals didn’t help. You would have thought they would at least have got the stock exchange, which had naturally languished under Saddam, going again. But Washington sent in a 24-year-old with strong family connections to the Republican Party. He forgot to renew the lease on the building for it, and there was no stock market for a year. After about six months, Iraqi stockbrokers were so fed up they sounded like Islamic militants in Fallujah.

And also:

After all, they’ve created the perfect breeding ground for al-Qaeda-type operations among the Sunni in Iraq, which never happened in Afghanistan. Although al-Qaeda were in Afghanistan for years, they never had a popular base there and found it very difficult to operate, both before the American attack and now. In Iraq they’ve got a population that is sufficiently sympathetic and they’ve built up a sort of network. They can exploit that sympathy and they’re strong enough to terrify a lot of the others.

More by Mr. Cockburn on the Iraqi debacle here, here, and here.

Also on Iraq-
The National Journal: Shattering Iraq, Macleans: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Knight-Ridder: Iran Gaining Influence, Power in Iraq Through Militia, Bloomberg: Bush's Strategy, Iraq's New Army Challenged by Ethnic Militias, UPI: Iraq's Grim Lessons.



Blogger Management said...

A panorama of Iraq two and a half years after the Anglo-American invasion. Britain’s leading reporter on the country talks about the life conditions of the population; the springs of the resistance; the relations between Sunni and Shia communities; the position of the Kurds; the performance of the US military; and the historical precedents and possible outcomes of the second Western seizure of Iraq.



How many times have you been to Iraq, before and since the Anglo-American invasion?

I first went to Iraq in 1978, and I’ve been there I suppose fifty or sixty times. Sometimes for as long as three months, at other times for a fortnight or so. In all I have spent a bit more than half my time in Iraq since the Occupation. I was there before, during and after the invasion, initially based in Kurdistan since I couldn’t get a visa to Baghdad, because I and my brother had written a book on Iraq in the nineties. So when the us-led attack began, I was in the North. I was in Kirkuk and Mosul when they fell, and as soon as the road south was open, I drove down the main highway from Arbil to Baghdad. By the time I left the city, looting was still proceeding apace. The Information Ministry was being set on fire as I set off to Jordan, thick clouds of smoke rising over Baghdad and driving west you could already see all these battered little white pickups, which are very typical in Iraq, loaded with loot, going along the main highway and then turning off the road to Ramadi and Fallujah.

When you returned, resistance had already started?

Yes, one of the surprises of the resistance is just how swiftly it developed. I think this has never quite been explained. The speed with which it took off was very striking. The Americans were starting to suffer casualties as early as June, within a couple of months of the invasion. Occupations often do lead to resistance against them, but it’s difficult to think of another example of it happening so quickly. After the British captured Baghdad in 1917, it took three years before the rebellion against them started. During the Second World War, the resistances in Europe or Southeast Asia all took much longer to get going than the present insurgency in Iraq.

You’ve observed life in Baghdad over a two-and-a-half-year period now. What have been the changes in the conditions of existence of most people there, from the middle class to the poor?

One of the main reasons most Iraqis wanted to be rid of Saddam was the degradation of life because of the un sanctions against Iraq, which destroyed most of the economy, coming on top of the effects of the Gulf War in 1991 and the eight-year war with Iran. There was a widespread sense among Iraqis that they couldn’t take it any more—they wanted some form of normal life to return. I think it took about two months for them to realize that the American Occupation wasn’t going to deliver this. The electricity supply was poor from the start, and it stayed poor. Looting didn’t stop. At first, most Iraqis looked on the disasters at the time of the fall of Saddam as a sort of one-day or rather week-long wonder. Then they discovered it just rolled on—in fact it has never really come to a halt since. They began to realize that everything in life was now chronically insecure. It took a bit of time for me to realize how dangerous it was getting quite early on—because it’s got so much worse since, I tend to think of those first months as almost halcyon days, when one could jump in a car and drive up to towns north of Baghdad, like Samarra, or west to Ramadi and Fallujah. But actually it got pretty risky from the start, which wasn’t the way Iraq had been before, even during the first Gulf War. During the American bombing in 1991, I remember going from Baghdad to Mosul, and because we’d been sold bad petrol, the car broke down, so we just got out and hitched lifts right across central Iraq up to Mosul, without any sense of danger. So it took a bit of time to realize the degree to which the insurgency, and banditry, were spreading. There were already assassinations that summer. I’d go to places where American soldiers had been attacked, or killed or wounded, and a couple of hours later I’d find crowds still rejoicing, jumping up and down and dancing around bloodstains on the road or the wreckage of a vehicle. The Occupation became unpopular pretty fast.

Economically, how have things gone?

For the middle class, what dominates life is insecurity, as basic law and order have broken down. Many of the wealthiest Iraqis, terrified of kidnapping, have left the country. First the rich went, then the fairly well off. Now you have people leaving who are probably making $300 or $400 a month—not much money. But the lack of any safety, and the lack of jobs, is producing a flight to the neighbouring countries: first Jordan and Syria, now—as they become full up—increasingly to Egypt. Some benefits have accrued to the professional classes: for instance teachers and civil servants, who got practically no money under Saddam, are now getting several hundred dollars a month. A lot of people who stopped being teachers are now going back to the job. But prices have also gone up. If you owned property in Baghdad, values at first increased—though they’ve come down a bit now—because previously there was a ban on non-Baghdadis getting residence in the capital.

Just after the fall of Saddam there was also an enormous influx of cars, particularly second-hand vehicles. But a huge number of these were stolen, and then taken off for sale in Kurdistan or Iran. To cross the street in Kurdish towns became a hazard—you risked your life, with shepherds who’d just bought a car for $600, which had been stolen in Baghdad, driving around, wondering which way to turn the wheel. The initial complete breakdown of all rules led to a certain economic activity. For example, if your car was stolen, you could go to the main stolen car mart, which at that time was in Sadoun Street, and get a reduction if you were trying to buy back your own car. It was very unwise to make a fuss, because the vendors were all armed; and you needed to get there quickly, before it was sold on to Iran, or taken to Kurdistan. This was quite open, and known to everybody—apart, conceivably, from Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority. But this upsurge of market activity tended to peter out towards the end of 2003, when people began to realize that the insurgency was getting more and more serious, crime was steadily increasing, and that the Americans had taken over control of various parts of the economy. The incompetence of the us arrivals didn’t help. You would have thought they would at least have got the stock exchange, which had naturally languished under Saddam, going again. But Washington sent in a 24-year-old with strong family connections to the Republican Party. He forgot to renew the lease on the building for it, and there was no stock market for a year. After about six months, Iraqi stockbrokers were so fed up they sounded like Islamic militants in Fallujah.

Do professionals who are now more regularly and better paid regard their higher salaries as an acceptable trade-off against greater insecurity, and so the present situation as a net improvement?

It goes both ways. Some, particularly if they are Shiites coming from quieter areas, might consider it a reasonable trade-off; the Sunni generally not, particularly if they come from parts of west Baghdad, which is notoriously dangerous.

Who has unambiguously benefited from the Occupation?

The Kurds have generally done well out of it. If you go to the top of a tall building in Arbil or Sulaymaniyah, you can see lots of cranes and construction activity going on—quite a lot of Turkish–Kurdish companies are coming in, which is probably intentional on the part of the Kurds, to propitiate the Turks. Whereas in Baghdad, if you look across the city, despite all the billions that have been spent there in the last two and a half years, the only cranes visible are a few rusting ones around the gigantic mosques that Saddam was building when he was overthrown. Aside from that there is nothing.

What has been the experience of those who aren’t middle class: workers and the poor?

It’s become more and more negative. The un sanctions led to widespread impoverishment in the nineties, creating a great mass of unemployed and semi-employed people who survive only because of the state ration, scarcely enough though that is for a family. When the invasion destroyed the Baath regime, there was already a desperate need for jobs, outside maybe a few cities in Kurdistan. Many people expected a transformation of the economy because of the end of sanctions. But it never happened. So now you have this enormous population of despairing, jobless males ready to turn their hand to anything. They queue up to join the army, despite the danger of being blown up outside the recruiting stations, or loot any building that they can get into, or join kidnapping gangs. This is one of the reasons it’s so easy to raise a militia now—there are so many people who just want a job of any kind, doing anything. Only in parts of Kurdistan is there much choice: there the locals prefer to work on a building site than join some local militia, where you get less money and risk being killed.

You’ve spoken mainly about Baghdad and the part of the country around it. What about the far south around Basra—is the situation substantially different down there?

There’s a bit more economic activity, but it’s still very insecure. The poverty in Basra is even greater than in Baghdad. In much of the big area between the two, you find a reversion to the situation in the early nineteenth century, when villages often developed along the main road essentially for the purpose of robbing travellers. Now once again, the route is dotted with robber villages taking a toll on trucks passing through. In the worst places, they kidnap the lorry drivers and seize the goods. I always found that one of the best ways of getting a sense of the situation in different parts of the country was to go to the truck depots in Baghdad and talk to the drivers. They can tell you who controls which part of the road, which bandit gangs are at large, where the most dangerous side-roads and villages lie. They need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all this, because while conditions differ in each part of the country, overall they have become incredibly dangerous. Just before the us presidential election in 2004, the prime minister at the time, Iyad Allawi, cheerfully announced on a visit to Washington that 14 out of 18 Iraqi provinces were completely safe. Everyone in Iraq knew it was a complete lie, but precisely because it was wholly untrue, no journalist could prove otherwise without risking being shot or decapitated. That pretty well remains the situation today.

Iraqi infrastructures were steadily deteriorating under the impact of sanctions. Have they remained about the same, or altered since the Occupation—supplies of electricity and water, particularly?

Electricity has got worse in Baghdad. After the Gulf War, Saddam was able to get the electricity system working again quite effectively, although the power stations had been heavily targeted by American missiles and bombs. After the Anglo-American invasion, this didn’t happen, and Iraqis now invariably tell you this shows that the Americans are either incompetent or sabotaged the grid on purpose. Actually, there are a number of reasons for this failure by the Occupation. To begin with, when the Americans stormed into the country, contracts for various projects to increase electricity supply had been signed, or were about to be signed, by the Baath government. These were all ignored by Bremer, and fresh contracts were signed with American companies, which meant that nothing very new was built for a couple of years. Then, when construction did get under way, there was staggering corruption. This is true of all economic projects, but particularly of infrastructural works—there would be three lines on a piece of paper for a $50 million contract. The fragmentation of the country has also contributed to the power shortages. In Basra they’re not supplying the national grid in the way that was done under Saddam, so the capital and some of the other provinces have suffered. Finally, of course, there are resistance attacks on the pylons, and archaic as much of the maquis seems to be, you can see that someone with expertise has very carefully worked out what are the weak links in the economy.

In the first winter most Iraqis probably didn’t expect things to get that much better. But we are now heading into a third winter, and electricity has recently been two hours on, four hours off in Baghdad. All public or other buildings of any size—ministries, hotels and the like—have to run massive generators of their own. In the streets you see lots of small, generally Chinese-made, generators that will power a lamp or a television, but aren’t enough for deep-freezers or even fridges, which in a country as hot as Iraq means that people can’t store food. So they have to buy food on a daily basis, which is more expensive than buying it when it’s cheap and keeping it in the fridge or the deep-freezer. Water supplies have intermittently been poor, and almost all the water is tainted. Over the last year, there have been sudden complete breakdowns, of a week or ten days, when there is no water in different parts of Baghdad, probably the result of sabotage. Overall, the quality of the water is particularly bad in southern Iraq, but most people don’t have supplies of clean water anywhere, which is one of the reasons that the death rate, particularly among babies and small children, has been so high for the last fifteen years.

Have conditions changed a lot for women?

If you watch young teenage girls coming out of a school now, most of them are wearing headscarves. You can sometimes work out when this is genuinely religious, because the hair is concealed, and when it is a safety precaution, and you can see some hair. A lot of this is fear of retaliation if piety is not displayed. But there’s also a terror of kidnapping at all levels, and a belief that if kidnappers see a girl wearing a headscarf, they’ll think she comes from a traditional family; and if she comes from a traditional family, maybe it has strong tribal links, and it could be dangerous to abduct her, because that would invite revenge. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. So far as women’s rights go, they were already being reduced in the 1990s, when there was a comeback of religion as the economic situation deteriorated, and the regime became more and more discredited. The Baath government tried to jump on the bandwagon by purporting to become more Islamic itself. Under the Occupation, women’s rights have not, at least theoretically, declined much further. But if regional or provincial law takes precedence over federal law in the new constitutional set-up, then there’s no question that the position of women in any Shia region or super-region will worsen substantially as regards inheritance and divorce.

From your description, would it be correct to think that a great deal—50 per cent or more—of the havoc in Iraq today derives from the United Nations blockade of the country, which destroyed the fabric of the society over a very prolonged period? The Baath regime was ruthlessly repressive, but political repression and social dissolution are not the same sorts of process. Presumably no-one dared launch out on a kidnapping spree under Saddam. So long as a very tough police system was in place, the effects of this un-induced erosion were contained or concealed, but once it was removed, the full extent of the disintegration of the social fabric under the pressure of sanctions became visible. So the invasion, knocking away even a residue of the kind of state that could have controlled the situation, released an avalanche of anarchic impulses and despairs. Then the next blow was that the foreign occupation itself, installed without any planning or knowledge of the terrain, generated no substitute for a local state. The result of un and us actions is thus something like a Hobbesian landscape today?

Yes, that’s a good way of putting it. Because things are so formidably bad now, the destruction wreaked by sanctions over a longer period is rather masked. Their effects were less dramatic than the extraordinary number of people murdered in the streets of Baghdad today. But the malnutrition, the enormous increase in infant mortality, the collapse of the economy that occurred in the 1990s, have all reduced Iraq’s standard of living, which had been a bit below that of Greece, to one that is on the level of Mali and the poorer West African countries. Sanctions produced, even before the invasion, a huge floating mass of people ready for anything. The first real expression of this phenomenon was the looting in Baghdad and all the other cities in Iraq. I was in Mosul when it was being looted. In the morning there was a rather cheerful atmosphere. Then gradually people realized that this was not going to be such fun, as absolutely everything—not just from shops, but from banks, offices, schools, hospitals, museums—was being stolen. And this was happening all over Iraq.

Moving to the prospects for Iraq as seen by the American high command or intelligence agencies, as opposed to the beleaguered teacher or the destitute former worker, has the military situation been deteriorating in the last year, or is it tactically stable?

I think the us position has deteriorated a bit. The roadside bombs have become more sophisticated, and in recent months carefully planned assassinations of senior and not so senior government officials, military officers and the like, based on good intelligence, have been increasing. The Sunni districts of south and west Baghdad are often partly under the control of the resistance at night. One of the reasons it’s difficult for the government to prevent this is that these suburbs are connected to Sunni regions outside the city, so insurgents can just move in from Sunni areas on the Euphrates, due west of Baghdad, through Abu Ghraib, or the Sunni towns to the south of Baghdad, which are also very militant. You can say that the whole of west Baghdad is contested. East Baghdad, with the exception of one big enclave at al-Adhamiyah, is Shia, who overall make up some 70–80 per cent of the inhabitants of the city—nobody knows the exact figures.

The initial us reaction to the insurgency was to say that it was just the work of ‘dead-end’ remnants of Saddam’s regime or a few foreign fanatics. This was a complete misunderstanding, but the American command believed it. So the situation on the ground was always worse than they imagined. I remember in April 2004 being caught in an ambush on the road from Baghdad to Fallujah, because the us military command refused to admit it was under the control of the resistance, and was still sending convoys of petrol lorries down the road, trucks driven by terrified drivers from Ohio and Mississippi who had been taken on as contract workers, and were regularly being hit by rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine-guns—you could see great columns of oily black smoke rising along the route. The us and British policy is to create an Iraqi army and police force, but these regularly melt away or go over to the other side when any serious fighting starts. In Mosul in November 2004, where the us had built up the local forces to great fanfare, the resistance launched an uprising and within the first day about 3,000 police just went home or changed sides, thirty police stations were captured, and $40 million worth of equipment was captured. Ironically the good thing, from the point of view of the White House, was that Mosul had become so dangerous that in the us it went largely unreported that most of the second-largest city in Iraq had fallen to the insurgents. It was as if the fall of Hue to the Vietcong in 1968—and other events traumatic to the us in Vietnam—had passed virtually unnoticed, because no journalists could go there without being murdered.

The efforts of the us to build up an Iraqi army loyal to it have so far been extraordinarily unsuccessful. The Iraqis who are eager to join it for the money, once they’re getting paid, are frequently uneager to fight. At the moment the army and paramilitary police are meant to be 80,000-strong, but may only be 40,000, because the commanders regularly take the pay for their battalion, and are supposed to distribute it to their men, so it’s much in their interest to claim that they have 600 when they only have 300 men. When Kurdish intelligence tracked Arab units going to places like Kirkuk they found in one case that where there were meant to be 1,200 men, in fact there were only 400 soldiers. So it’s still impossible to know how much of the Iraqi armed forces actually exist, or whose side they’re likely to be on. The British army found that the police in Basra were either neutral or hostile. Initially they claimed that just rogue elements within the police were opposed to them when two British soldiers were captured, but it’s clear that the whole police force is hostile, or potentially hostile. Two and a half years after the invasion, members of the government will tell you that if the us left tomorrow, most of west Baghdad would fall to the insurgents.

So let’s come directly to the resistance. You’ve said the rapidity of its response came as a great surprise, and is historically very unusual. Should this lead us to revise our understanding of the Baath regime? The general image of it was of an exceptionally ruthless dictatorship, that in its early years did display a certain modernizing dynamism, with some redistributive capacity and administrative competence, so that it was not without a real social base; but that in later years, after the failure of the wars in Iran and Kuwait, it became a completely isolated apparatus whose only resources were terror and a pinch of clan solidarity at the top. The idea, in the title of a popular book on the subject, was that only fear held it in place. In your view, is this still a convincing description, or does the resistance suggest that it was never a fully accurate picture—that, fearsome as Saddam’s regime was, it still had dedicated militants and some reserves of real support in the country? Perhaps an analogy would be the German and Soviet dictatorships, both of which could draw on a lot of tough popular support when the war was going badly for each, in 1941 and 1944–45. Is it possible something like this might have held true for the Baath, after the fall of Saddam?

The base of Saddam’s regime—this was also true of its immediate predecessors—really lay in the Sunni countryside, not among the urban Sunni, who had supported the monarchy. And of course the regime was notoriously dominated by the Tikritis, and by Saddam’s own clan. It was highly tribalized. The resistance in turn has clearly come, once again, primarily from the rural Sunni. By the end of the regime, they were decreasingly attached to Saddam, because the benefits of his rule were going too exclusively to the tight circle around him. But when Saddam and the Tikritis were destroyed, a second echelon of Baathists, who may not have even much admired Saddam, came to the fore, and seem to have been the basis for the insurgency from quite an early stage. Their resistance has been reinforced by tribal loyalties, and was greatly helped by Bremer’s dissolution of the army and the Baath party.

That had a very big impact. I remember being in Hawijah, a big Arab town in west Kirkuk province, and the very pro-American mayor, who the locals kept on trying to assassinate, explaining to me that he’d have to close the hospital because he was required to dismiss all the doctors, because they were Baath party members. The headmaster in the local school had been kicked out because he was a Baath party member, and replaced by a Turcoman from Kirkuk, who was too frightened to take up his position. The local boys told me they had gone to the former headmaster and said they were planning to burn down the school as a form of protest, and he was trying to dissuade them. The dissolution of the Iraqi state had a massive social impact on all Sunni areas, particularly rural ones. But I doubt whether the reaction to it was primarily an indication of loyalty to Saddam, even if many of the same people who were supposed to be the basis of his regime have been the basis for the insurgency. In the resistance there has never been a call to restore Saddam.

One of the things the us underestimated here was the strength of traditional loyalties. Kanan Makiya advised the White House it would be very easy to hold Iraq once the regime had gone, because there would be a tabula rasa—the Americans and the Iraqi opposition could get the Iraqis to do virtually anything they wanted. I think the opposite was always the case. Iraqis had so many loyalties aside from loyalty to the state: regional, communal, tribal—and national. For there is an Iraqi nationalism which, although manipulated and to some degree discredited by Saddam, still remains quite a potent force. From a fairly early stage, the nationalist resistance must have been making specific agreements with Islamic groups, funded from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, which had always been present in western Iraq, and soon provided a ferocious cutting edge to the insurrection. From August 2003 onwards, mass bombings begin: al-Hakim, head of sciri, was killed by a car bomb in Najaf, the un building was demolished, the Red Cross attacked. Each of these had precise strategic objectives. The un envoy de Mello was in Baghdad to help Bremer put together a presentable regime for international endorsement. Washington did not much want the un in Iraq, but thought it could use it. The resistance saw the un could be used as cover for the Occupation, and targeted it to isolate the us, preventing the Americans and the British from spreading responsibility for the invasion.

But do you think then that the social figure of a Baath militant had ceased to exist by 2003? You said there was a second layer of the party or state that sprang into action against the Occupation. But why did they take the risk of fighting back so violently against an apparently overwhelming force? There seem to be two possible interpretations of the speed of the resistance. One is that this was a traditionally violent society, with a sea of weapons lying around anyway, and once the state was decapitated, a decentralized insurgency spread like brushfire much as banditry did alongside it, in a kind of rural version of the urban looting you describe. The other explanation is that although the regime appeared to collapse like a house of cards, some preparations had in fact been made for a guerrilla war once the Americans had taken Baghdad—the reason the resistance could get going so quickly was because an underground organization, with a great many weapons and quite a lot of skills, had been laid down in advance.

There must be an element of truth in this, because otherwise effective fighting couldn’t have taken off so rapidly. A vestigial organization that would have been set up by Saddam before his fall must have been responsible for the distribution of money, arms and indication of early targets. Then, of course, almost immediately the us army enraged most of the Sunni population, and I think all rural Sunni, by search-and-destroy raids in villages, shooting at demonstrators, arrests and theft of money. Within a few months, even the limited number of people in Sunni areas who rallied to the new government were getting very frightened, and either pulling out, or being killed. By November 2003, Washington realized how serious things were getting, and suddenly started to make concessions to try to damp down the resistance before the presidential election in the us the following year. But the degree of organization in the resistance shouldn’t be overestimated. It is in the nature of guerrilla warfare that some things need to be initiated and a few things tend to be organized, but the fact that the groups doing the fighting are chaotic and fragmented may be militarily beneficial. Where there is no chain of command to be disrupted, and no headquarters to be eliminated, a resistance movement is very difficult to wipe out.

There is another factor. The us government and the Iraqi government always claimed that the insurgency was fomented from abroad. They would denounce Syria, Iran and, in a quieter tone of voice, Saudi Arabia. They exaggerated the foreign role in supporting the resistance, but this does not mean it was not there. None of Iraq’s neighbours, with the possible exception of Kuwait, wanted the us to succeed in Iraq. The availability of relatively safe havens was important for the swift development of a guerrilla movement.

That brings us to another paradox of this resistance, which is if there was a scheme for a fall-back to a guerrilla, capable of organized distribution of arms, money and technical skills, why does there appear to be a lack of any political front to the resistance? This seems to be another historically unusual feature of it. Where is the equivalent of the nlf in Vietnam, the fln in Algeria, the pkk in Turkey? Normally an effective guerrilla movement requires some political instance. Sometimes there are several rival ones, as in the Greek or French resistance. Their function is to articulate specific political demands, to explain and project the aims of the guerrilla, and sometimes to negotiate for it. What explains the apparent absence of this kind of front in Iraq?

Maybe this is one consequence of its having developed so fast. It is very striking that there has been, as it were, no Sinn Fein. But one should note that as a serious political force in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein developed long after the Provisional ira. There was a Provisional Sinn Fein from the moment the Provisional ira was created, but it was only really from the hunger strikes in 1980—a decade after the Provisional ira was created—that the Provisional Sinn Fein became a significant player. But you’re right, this is a remarkable feature of the Iraqi resistance. Another aspect of it, related to this, is that it remains curiously archaic politically. I don’t mean just that ‘neo-Salafism’—fundamentalist Sunni Islamic militants dedicated to war against Iraqi Shia as well as foreigners—is an important strand within it. I am also thinking of its approach to the media. Even in Lebanon during the civil war, up at least till the kidnappings by Hezbollah started in 1984, it was safer to be a journalist than anything else, because however ferocious the gunmen you came across, they nearly always had a press officer keen to talk to you. The same was true in Northern Ireland—very few journalists were killed. It is not so true in Chechnya but even there, limits held on what journalists had to fear. But Iraq was the first insurgency I’ve covered where the guerrilla has from the beginning shown no desire to cultivate the media at all. The resistance has paid a heavy price for this. One of the reasons Fallujah could be so largely destroyed by the Americans was that there were no television cameras inside the city, because militants threatened to cut the heads off anybody who went in. Even Saddam had learned that when it comes to hostile air attack, cameras are more useful than anti-aircraft guns.

That raises the question of the role, not of Sunni youth in the countryside or Baath officers or cadres dotted around, but of the jihadi component of the resistance. This too seems to have emerged very rapidly, without the prior background of the other forces. Where does it come from?

Neo-Salafist militants existed in Iraq during the latter days of Saddam’s rule, and were persecuted. The suicide bombers themselves are mostly foreign. Saudis are the largest component, providing perhaps half of them. But the infrastructure for these attacks is mainly Iraqi. At some point there must have been an agreement between ex-Baathists and neo-Salafi to launch a suicide-bombing campaign, with the aim of creating an atmosphere of permanent crisis. It’s very effective in doing that.

Why do you think this is effective? Some of the attacks have been carefully targeted, assassinating one of the presidents of the Council that Bremer set up, but a lot of them seem to be random killings in markets or mosques, without much rhyme or reason, beyond sectarian fanaticism.

These are certainly products of Salafi bigotry. But as political weapons they are effective, because they undermine the authority of the government, since everyone can see it can’t stop these bombs. In the longer term, of course, they’ve ensured that a united armed resistance based on Iraqi nationalism will not emerge. Nearly all Arabs in Iraq—this is not true of Kurds—say they want the Occupation to end, and when the Americans were first besieging Fallujah in April 2003, there was a lot of sympathy for its people among the Shia. I remember going down to the blood bank in Baghdad, and lots of Shia as well as Sunni villagers were turning up in old buses, not to speak of functionaries from the Oil Ministry. But then the suicide bombers from Fallujah repeatedly attacked Shia civilians in Baghdad, so when the us marines stormed the city six months later, most of the Shia were cheering them on. They wanted Fallujah destroyed. So there’s no doubt that these attacks have deepened the sectarian divisions in Iraq. But they have also made it difficult for the government to establish its authority, by exposing its inability to provide people with any security. They’ve had a major psychological effect on everyone.

You say it was the suicide bombings that turned the Shia community against the resistance, implying this was a turning point. But how far does that square with the chronology? After all, the Shia political leaders and religious hierarchy had decided much earlier to collaborate with the Occupation, when they could have refused to do so. If in the summer of 2003 they had said to the Americans, we’re delighted Saddam has gone, but we don’t want you here either: we give you six months to clear out—what could the us have done? The Americans were in no position to take on a combined resistance from the Sunni and the Shia, and they knew it. In fact, in April 2004 just such a common front was developing, when Muqtada al-Sadr called for a rebellion to oust the us, and raised the flag of revolt in Najaf, with wide popular support in Baghdad and points farther south. What did Sistani and the Shia politicians around him do? They worked hand in glove with the us high command to put down the revolt, at the very time Sunni resistance was at its strongest in Fallujah. No doubt Sistani felt his authority within the Shia community threatened by Muqtada. But the logic of his choice was clear-cut. Surely the real turning point was this deliberate option for collaboration with a foreign occupation, when the chance of putting an end to it was plainly there, as the Americans knew and said?

The Shia clergy seem to have decided what they would do quite early on, well before the war. I remember talking to Sayed Abdul Majid al-Khoei in 2002, and the lesson on which he dwelt, as Sistani’s aides would do later, was the mistake the Shia had made in rising against the British in 1920, when they were crushed. This time they resolved to take the Americans at their word, and promised not to support any armed resistance to the Occupation, so long as the occupiers did what they said they would, which was to hold elections the Shia were bound to win. Initially, the Americans didn’t think they needed much help in Iraq. After all, they were prepared to bring the Turks into Kurdistan, and they certainly imagined they could do without the Shia. In the summer of 2003 they were cancelling elections, and even appointed a Sunni governor in Najaf. He was later arrested for various crimes. Then the Americans saw they could scarcely hold off a rebellion by the 5 million Sunni, and realized they had no hope of withstanding another rebellion by the 16 million Shia as well. It was only in April–May 2004 that they realized they had to hold elections, as Sistani wanted. The question now is whether Sistani will call for an end to the Occupation after the elections in December. He has refused to meet anybody from the Occupation since the beginning—even the us ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who as an Afghan by birth is nominally a Muslim.

Yet if the Americans could see that there was no way they could control the 16 million Shia, added to the 5 million Sunni, the Shia clergy must have been able to see it just as clearly, if not considerably more so? The question is: why, instead of telling the Americans their bluff was called and they should get out as fast as they could, did they plunge deeper and deeper into collaboration with the Americans? They may think they’re playing their own game, but there’s no getting round the fact that they’ve acted as the instruments of a foreign occupation waging war against their compatriots. It is difficult to take the excuse of 1920 very seriously—the British were in a position to crush the rising against them, whereas the Americans themselves admitted they had no hope of doing so in 2004.

This wasn’t necessarily obvious to the us or the Shia hierarchy at the time. Remember, the effectiveness of the resistance came as a surprise to Iraqis just as much as the rest of the world. Before the war, many of the Shia were fearful that the Americans might not actually invade, but simply foment a change at the top of the regime, leaving the Shia to face continuing Sunni rule, headed by some pro-American general. They remain fearful of that to this day, afraid they will be outwitted at the last minute, and somehow the Sunni will remain in charge. Their priority has always been to oust the Sunni from power. It’s only this year that they’ve really started contesting control of the Ministry of the Interior, which actually has more troops and police than the Ministry of Defence—there are ferocious battles within the first as to who controls what. The fear was that if they had turned on the Americans much earlier, they would end up with basically a Sunni regime, because the Sunni were so much part of the state. They also felt—and they were quite astute in this—that if they took the Americans at their word, which the Americans didn’t really expect, then they could get elections, which they’d win; that they could ally themselves with the Kurds, and ultimately the Americans would rely on them, and they could get rid of the Americans when they wanted. I don’t think this was necessarily a stupid plan.

An implication is there won’t be any price to pay for pursuing this course. But isn’t it storing up a terrible future for Iraq? The calculations you describe are purely sectarian: the objective is to build Shia power at any cost, if necessary on foreign bayonets and the ruins of Sunni pride. What kind of stability can be expected of a regime constructed along these lines? A leadership that was determined on this course from the start, as you describe it, is hardly in a position to complain of Sunni sectarianism, which came later. Given the overwhelming numerical preponderance of the Shia, it seems clear that the best course was the opposite of the one adopted: to extend a generous hand to the Sunni community from the start, in common resistance to the Occupation. This was what a wing of Shia opinion wanted—to cooperate with compatriots, not the foreigners—only to be quashed by a furtive deal between Sistani and the Americans. The hatreds this kind of collaborationism generates, as we know from Europe, do not pass quickly.

But it was also a question of what kind of a deal was possible with the resistance. Quite early on suicide bombers were directing a lot of their attacks against the Shia, for reasons of pure bigotry. The most militant religious Sunni see the Shia, or indeed Christians, as heretics who are just as dangerous as the Americans. At one point in 2004 the Americans had entered or damaged a mosque in Mosul, and the response of the local jihadi was to blow up two Iraqi Christian churches—one Assyrian and one Armenian—as if this was a perfectly reasonable reaction to American provocation. One has to remember that another peculiarity of the insurgency is it has never been a straight nationalist movement, even if the sympathy on which it can draw has everything to do with nationalism. It has always had a strong religious component.

So would it be your view that the responsibility for the sectarian divisions in Iraq today lies overwhelmingly on the Sunni side, and that the Shia clergy are largely guiltless?

There’s no doubt that elements in the resistance have exacerbated religious differences, and that the Shia clergy have largely prevented retaliation for Salafi attacks. They probably also thought these were a trap, to blow all political developments out of the water by provoking sectarian animosity. Within the Shia community, the traditional religious leadership has been more coherent than the political leadership, which has always been very divided, and has dubious support. Sistani himself—and the Iraqi clergy in general—have always wanted to keep a certain distance from politics, not to take direct control of the government. In this they differ from the Iranian clergy, who decided to run the state themselves.

What then is the relationship between Shia and Iraqi identities? At the height of Saddam’s regime, a quite strong Iraqi identity certainly existed. On the whole, Iraqi troops fought like lions in the misbegotten war with Iran, so the many Shias among them must have had some patriotic idea of Iraq as their country. But is there any longer a widespread Iraqi identity, or have rival religious identities trumped it?

I wouldn’t go quite so far. The Shia fought well against Iran only from 1982, not from 1980. When Saddam was invading Iran, they surrendered in tens of thousands; once the Iranian army started crossing into Iraqi territory, they started to fight. So there were clearly red lines there. Has this national feeling disappeared today? Not really—I think it continues to be there. A typical Shia conception of Iraqi identity doesn’t properly exclude the Sunni, but it mingles Shiite and Iraqi elements in a way that makes the boundaries between loyalties to a single religious community and to the nation very uncertain. If you say to people ‘are you anti-Sunni?’, they will reply ‘absolutely not’. But when they start talking about various Sunni areas, they will say, ‘they’re all Baathists there’. Similarly, when you talk to Sunni, they will say ‘We and the Shia are one people, we’re all Iraqis. But the problem is the Ministry of the Interior, where they’re all Iranians—just like the Badr Brigade’ (the militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq). You hear this sort of thing again and again. So there is an Iraqi identity, but it’s shifting and shadowy—at times very important, at times much less important. It’s not a guarantee of comity between the two major Arab communities in Iraq.

What line do the various Shia politicians take on this?

The Shia religious parties that came in, as it were, on the back of American tanks—the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party, but particularly sciri—represented those Shia who didn’t take part in the war against Iran, but were a minority that was actually allied to Iran. When they were put into power, they were able to rewrite Iraqi history to portray the repression of the Shia under Saddam—real enough—as a virtual extermination campaign. For some of their leaders it may have looked like that, because Saddam had murdered their families. Of course, such claims also serve political ends by sharpening sectarian identities. But there is no unanimity among the Shia leaders about the line to be taken today. Jaafari clearly thinks a Shia nationalism exists, to which they can appeal, as if the Shia were almost an independent nationality. Others, like Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister and cia agent, are trying to woo centrist votes, both Shia and Sunni. So even at the most practical level there’s still a division of opinion within Iraq as to exactly how far the two main communities have separate identities, or how far a vestigial Iraqi nationalism still unites them. The outcome is undecided. It could go either way.

How are these confessional divisions reflected in the layout of Baghdad?

The Sunni dominate the south and west of Baghdad, with a dense hinterland of Sunni towns and villages outside the city. The Shia are concentrated in the east and north, on the other side of the Tigris. But there is no rigid segregation; minority enclaves are dotted around here and there, rather like in Belfast. Al-Adhamiyah is a traditional Sunni area in the east, and to the north there are some distant Sunni suburbs, which are important because they can cut the main road. In the centre of the city is Haifa Street, which used to be a notorious hotspot of resistance and probably still is. In parts of the west you have hard, traditional Shia areas like al-Kadhimiyah, site of one of the great Shia shrines. So there is a patchwork. But the sectarian complexion of the city is changing, and the different parts of Baghdad more and more contain a single community. Shia are leaving the southern and western suburbs. People are even exchanging apartments because they consider the area where they live too dangerous for them. Another feature of the situation is that the Sunni don’t necessarily accept that they make up only 20–30 per cent of the population. They often believe that they are the largest community in the country, or even that they form a majority of Iraqis. So whereas in Northern Ireland, people had quite a good sense of what their proportion of the population was in an area—or at least, if they got it wrong, they wouldn’t believe that they were in a majority where in fact they were in quite a small minority—in Iraq there are no accurate figures of any kind, so you meet quite a lot of Sunni who say that they are in the majority in Baghdad and believe it.

The primary objective of the resistance is clear enough—to drive the Americans out of the country. What would happen afterwards hasn’t figured much in any of the declarations of its various wings—they don’t seem to feel they need a plan. But what about the assorted Shia leaderships? Is there any sign among them of a coherent idea of the future of the country? Just before the elections in January, a demand that us troops depart mysteriously disappeared from the programme of the Shia front, presumably on Sistani’s say-so. Do they reckon to sit on foreign bayonets for the foreseeable future?

It was not Sistani who got the parties to drop the demand for a us withdrawal, it was the us embassy. It is a striking feature of the post-invasion governments that they are probably more dependent on the Americans than they need to be. It’s a sign of the extreme weakness of the Arab—as distinct from Kurdish—opponents of Saddam’s regime, that they now find it very difficult to do without the Americans. The feebleness of the government may even exaggerate the effectiveness of the insurgency. It’s pretty extraordinary how weak it is, after two and a half years of massive military support from the us and a huge income stream from oil. As far as the eye can see, there is one gigantic example of corruption after another—not just the pocketing of 15 or 25 per cent commission on every big contract, but the entire military procurement budget vanishing into bank accounts abroad. It’s a common sight to see units of the Iraqi army, crammed into pickups normally used for transporting cabbages or cauliflowers, travelling in convoy with American heavy armour at the front and the rear. They make sitting targets for the resistance. But this is a country which produces oil revenues of $2.2 billion a month.

The heart of the opposition under Saddam was always very Kurdish, and looked Kurdish. At times the Kurds tried to mask this with a lot of Arab representatives, because they wanted to show that there was broad opposition to Saddam; but it was always true that the Kurds were running the show. One of the things that has become very apparent in the last two and a half years is the complete failure of the leaders of the old Arab opposition, when handed power by the Americans, to create a coherent government. Ministers and their henchmen—many of them long-term residents abroad—are continually out of the country. Not only is there stupendous corruption, but often they haven’t even bothered to cover their tracks very much. They assume these are likely to be short-lived governments, so the logic is to make as much money as they can, and then get back home, somewhere outside Iraq. This mentality has made them completely reliant on the Americans. They believe they cannot do without them. Most of these politicians are petrified at the idea of the Americans going.

How far could they rely on their own armed militias, if the Americans went? Given the population balance, would they be in a strong position if they handed out lots of modern weapons to young men in the Shia community?

Well, yes, but they want to have the militia units in the army. Of course, that terrifies the Sunni community and deepens sectarianism. According to the officials in the Iraqi Defence Ministry, of the 115 Iraqi battalions the Americans claim have been created, 60 are essentially Shia, 45 Sunni and 9 Kurdish. The loyalty of these units is unclear. For instance, some of the officers in the First Brigade in west Baghdad say that the way the units are distributed depends largely on what Muqtada al-Sadr says. They take orders from him, not from the Ministry of Defence. The army Chief of Staff is a Kurd, but Kurdish units in the army are loyal to the Kurdish leaders, not to the government in Baghdad.

More broadly, is it possible that behind the scenes much of the Shia leadership is making the following calculation? We have the great bulk of the oil revenues in the South, and a big majority of the population as a whole. We can let the Kurds run the far North. The Sunni are camped in the middle of the country. We can’t hope to dominate this not very wealthy zone. But what we do have is an overwhelming majority—two-thirds or even four-fifths—of the population in Baghdad. We need the capital. Why don’t we just hold what we have in the South and ethnically cleanse Baghdad? If there’s only about a fifth of the population to push out in order to secure the city, it shouldn’t be too difficult?

Well, so far, they’ve behaved quite responsibly. It’s true that Shia death squads are now operating in the city, but a lot more Shia continue to be killed by Sunni than vice versa. Retaliation against the Sunni has been quite limited, on the instructions of the religious hierarchy.

Yes, the Shia aren’t killing the Sunni in great numbers—they are letting the Americans do so. The toll in the Sunni community is, after all, vastly higher than in the Shia. Why take such a responsibility now, if you have high-tech proxies to do it for you?

There is some truth in that, but it’s not mass sectarian killing, which is what could have happened. Sometimes a Sunni farmer will be picked up and found dead, but it doesn’t look like a coherent campaign. The death squads have focused on former Baathists. Some of this is quite open. Police commandos in Baghdad, who are almost all Shia, seize people and leave their corpses in the street. They don’t conceal it. Former pilots of the Iraqi air force are also being targeted, in revenge for once having bombed Iran. How many have actually been killed is unclear—certainly not in the industrial numbers that Sunni believe. Many of them now live under assumed names or flee the country.

If this is still a minor feature of the scene, does that mean you think the Shia leaderships hope to confirm their coalition with the Kurds after new elections, extend a warm hand to the Sunni and tell them they should be grateful for a continued American presence? It doesn’t seem very convincing.

No, but the Shia are growing in strength. They have won elections; they will dominate the next National Assembly. They have got the constitution they want. The next question might be whether Sistani will call for a timetable to end the Occupation over, say, an 18-month period—and if so, how directly. There are various gradations in his communications with the outside world. If he did something like this indirectly through his aides, the issue could be fudged. But if he issued a fatwa directly saying the Occupation must end over a certain period, or calling for peaceful demonstrations against it, that would immediately create a crisis. For at the end of the day, the bulk of the army and the security forces, such as they are, would follow him. The us and Britain know that whatever the Shia politicians say or do now, if a call went out from the Grand Ayatollah after the upcoming elections for an end to the Occupation, then it’s over.

But so long as the Shia leaders, having once thrown in their lot with the occupiers, themselves lack a military force capable of crushing the maquis, aren’t they more or less forced to go on relying on the Americans? They must fear retribution for collaborating so openly with a foreign invasion. From their point of view, it is the Americans who are holding it at bay.

Yes, but the presence of the Americans and British also ensures that the resistance continues. The Kurds were able to destabilize Iraq for half a century after it was created, and they were never in as strong a position as the Sunni because they were not located in the central part of the country and never dominated the state apparatus as the Sunni were to do. The Sunni command the northern and western approaches to Baghdad and they are entrenched, for the moment at least, in the city itself. They are in a much more powerful position. They can certainly prevent Iraq from being stabilized, just as much as the Kurds did. But like the Kurds in the past, that doesn’t mean they can prevail. But it also doesn’t mean they won’t go on fighting. At the moment the resistance comes in two forms: those who are fighting primarily for nationalist reasons, to liberate the country from the Americans, and those who are fighting primarily for religious reasons, who see Iraq as the perfect battleground against the forces of darkness, which includes not only the Americans, but the Shia, the Christian minority and anyone else they dislike. If us troops did start to pull out, the first kind of resistance will no longer have the fuel it needs for its mass support.

Elections, on the other hand, aren’t going to undermine that support, as the us hopes. The Sunni will no doubt go to the polls in December, but it will be much like Sinn Fein and the Provisionals in Northern Ireland—the gun and the ballot box. This is perfectly realistic. The resistance knows that the reason why the us ambassador spent so much time over the summer trying to cultivate Sunni leaders and bring them into the constitutional process, and even at the last minute had the—basically us-drafted—document modified to lessen Sunni anger at it, was that the Americans are frightened of the insurgency. So the Sunni community, like the Catholics in Northern Ireland, relies at some level on the armed resistance for its political weight. Sunni standing in the elections check with all the different elements of the resistance in their area that it’s all right for them to do so, as they obviously want to stay alive. All sorts, including the Zarqawi element, said ‘Go ahead’. The election itself is really just the opening of another front from their point of view. They will fight and talk at the same time.

The Sunni communities have lost their previous high position in the state. They have been battered by American bombers, tanks, marines—punishment from which Shia areas have been exempt. On top of all this, the oil has fallen under the control of either the Kurds or the Shia—the Sunni don’t have a drop. In these conditions, what are the chances of any kind of an Iraqi state being held together? Don’t they point to a break-up of the state along the lines urged by Peter Galbraith, the American adviser to the Kurds, who supervised the disintegration of Yugoslavia as ambassador in Zagreb?

There are a lot of pressures towards the disintegration of Iraq, but there are pressures against it too. It is not a certainty. The Kurds are divided in their own minds as to what is the safest thing to do. Many of them think ‘this is the high tide for us’ and they should take advantage of it. That is why they want written agreements in the constitution about their status. Before the war the us was planning to invade Iraq from the north, after doing a deal with the Turks who were going to send 40,000 troops with them. They were telling the Kurds to shut up and stand to one side. But the Turkish parliament blocked the plan. So the Kurds were in luck. But at some point the Americans may need them less than they do now. The Kurds were small fish and now they’re bigger fish, but they’re still smaller fish than the other fish, or rather sharks, around them: the Turks, the Syrians, the Iranians, a potential Arab regime in Baghdad.

Let us say the Shia set up a super-region in the South, controlling the great bulk of the oil wells, with Iranian backing. Why should they be satisfied this? After all, a majority community like the Iraqi Shia want to take over the whole of the state. But what would a Shia regime do with the Sunni towns and villages in western Iraq? Could they occupy them? That’s what Saddam tried to do with the Kurds. It never worked, and after all he had more going for him than the Shia. So all these possibilities remain shadowy. There’s still lots to fight for. The Kurds now control a larger area than ever before, and they’d like the Americans to stay more than the other two communities would. But if the Americans decided to get out, where would that leave them? Would the Sunni and the Shia Arabs unite against them at some point? So everything remains fundamentally uncertain. There’s no stable balance of power between the three communities. This is a big difference if you compare the situation in Northern Ireland. Past a certain point, everybody in Ulster knew what the balance was between Catholics and Protestants and British, and the role of the Americans—it really wasn’t going to change much, either politically or militarily. In Iraq there’s no certainty like that. The potential strength of each community and the role of assorted foreign backers could change overnight. That’s one reason why the fighting is likely to go on.

What are Kurdish objectives?

The Kurds were always the most potent part of the opposition to Saddam, and today the most effective group of people within the Iraqi state are the Kurds, who part of the time want to set up their own state. Many of them want to do that. This leads to a lot of complications. The Kurds would like to have a proper intelligence service in Baghdad, combating the insurgency. But at times they think that if they set that up, it might become part of a new centralized Iraqi state and be used against them in the future. So they have two incentives pointing in opposite directions and different Kurds take different decisions, some looking to the central government and some not.

The political character of the set-up in Kurdistan is very little discussed in the press. The region is divided into two zones, controlled by rival clans, the Barzani and the Talabani dynasties, each with their own party. Is there any political distinction between their fiefdoms—is one more urban and the other more rural?

In theory the puk, which is the Talabani organization, is meant to be more progressive and less feudal than the kdp, which is the Barzani outfit. In fact both of these mini-states are rather like emirates—you have the government and then the family—but with party structures modelled along Communist lines tacked onto them. Each region has its own dialect, and there are tribal differences between them. The Talabanis are traditionally allied to the Iranians because their territory abuts onto Iran and the Iranians generally backed them in the civil war between the puk and the kdp in the 90s. The Barzanis are fearful of the Turks because their territory goes along the border with Turkey. This area, in the north of Kurdistan, where Saddam destroyed most of the villages and towns, is extremely impoverished. It feels very much like Gaza, with many refugees driven out of other areas of Kurdistan living in jerry-built concrete houses. The puk has traditionally been more powerful around Kirkuk, where the oilfields are located.

So the Talabani clan has the upper hand now—also greater presence in the central government?

I’m not sure how true that is. They look fairly evenly balanced. The foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, is kdp. The deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh, is puk, but they get on well. Of the two leaders, Jalal Talabani wanted to be president of Iraq, in exchange for which he conceded a lot on the ground to Massoud Barzani, who is president of Kurdistan. But despite all this talk of unity, the parties have repeatedly fought each other over the last 35 years, so there are limits to the extent they can cooperate. At the moment they see that it is much in their interest to stick together. But will that always be so?

What about the military forces at the disposal of these Kurdish leaders—are the peshmerga divided in their allegiance to one clan or the other? How far can they be used for out-of-area operations against the resistance, say in al-Anbar province or elsewhere—are they at great risk there, or quite effective?

The peshmerga are pretty effective. When other units of the Iraqi Army were refusing to fight in Fallujah, the Kurds had no compunction about doing so. Nowadays few of them even speak Arabic. Before the Gulf War, Kurds were drafted into the army, where they had to learn a certain amount of Arabic. That’s no longer true, and there isn’t much incentive for them to learn it today, since so many Kurds want to emigrate to English-speaking countries. I remember talking to a number of peshmerga just before the American invasion and on one occasion asking them how many spoke Arabic. Out of a hundred men, it was about three.

So they can operate like Gurkhas in Arab areas, very tough fighters who have almost no contact with the local population? Looking ahead, if the Americans scaled down their operations, would the Kurdish leaders be quite happy to use these battle-hardened forces to crush the Sunni insurgency?

Up to a point, yes. Such operations have been initiated in al-Anbar or in Mosul.

Further south too?

There are Kurdish units in Baghdad, but at a certain point you’d run out of Kurdish troops. The Kurdish leaders don’t want a civil war in which their forces might suffer massive casualties. Moreover, many of the new institutions at the centre, like the Iraqi Constitution, are in good part Kurdish creations. They don’t want to blow everything up.

Historically, how would you compare Iraqi and Turkish treatment of the Kurds? Saddam’s expulsions and massacres in Kurdistan were quantitatively much worse than the Turkish state’s repression of its Kurds. Yet the Iraqi Kurds often had some kind of nominal role in the state, their identity was accepted and their language respected, while in Turkey their very existence was denied, and their language banned. What explains these contrasts?

Militarily, the Iraqi Kurds were always a more potent force, and so more of a threat to Baghdad, than the Turkish Kurds ever were to Ankara. They also had more powerful foreign allies, since they were backed by the Iranians during Iran–Iraq War. That meant Baghdad at times had to make some concessions to the Kurds. During the War, the Iraqi army needed to operate in Kurdistan, so it had to rely on the cooperation of Kurdish tribes allied to the regime, which put limitations on what it could do. Saddam always said he would allow an autonomous Kurdistan, but that was typical of his way of operating—he would make rather liberal agreements, while relying on his secret police to erode any minimal autonomy up there. That was in the quieter spells. Of course, when things got rough, it was different. The ferocity of the regime in Baghdad was always greater than that of the government in Ankara. Saddam’s campaigns of repression are said to have left 300,000 dead. If you gaze across the Kurdish countryside, it looks like the more barren parts of the Scottish Highlands. If you get an old map, you can see that it was once full of villages. Some 3,800 of them were destroyed.

What’s the role of Israel in the region today? Seymour Hersh has published a circumstantial account of extensive cooperation between the Kurdish parties and Israeli intelligence and commando units in Kurdistan. What’s your view of such reports?

I’m sceptical. Traditionally, the prime reason for the Kurdish leaders to cultivate the Israeli connection was Jerusalem’s influence in Washington. But now they have a direct American connection themselves. If they needed weaponry or training in the past, they certainly don’t now. Not even money.

Might the Kurds not reckon that the Israeli special forces are far more proficient than the American? They may also think that the Americans are here now, but in two or three years’ time they could be gone. But the Israelis would still be around.

Yes, but the Israelis are also a potential liability. The Kurds would risk alienating their prime allies in Iraq, the Shia parties, who are after all religious formations, if it were known that they were collaborating too much with the Israelis. Prior to 1975, they were quite closely allied to the Israelis and the Iranians but then, as they see it, there was the great betrayal of the Algiers agreement. I don’t know exactly what their relations are at present, but their prime reason for cooperation has gone—they don’t need the Israelis to mediate between them and the Americans. They want to keep on friendly terms with the Israelis, but not at the expense of alliances within Iraq. Maybe in the future they’ll need them in Washington, so they also don’t want them as opponents. But to have them operating too visibly in Kurdistan would be very much to their disadvantage.

On occasion you’ve argued that part of the lesson, or perhaps the main lesson, of the us occupation of Iraq is the folly of the Americans thinking that they could go it alone. But one could ask, what have the us actually lost by going it alone? The United Nations has rubber-stamped the invasion, and ‘coalition forces’ now enjoy a formal mandate from the Security Council. In practice, American actions have met with virtually no opposition from what is politely called the international community. Should we imagine that the us would be much better off militarily if it had managed to muster more auxiliaries, as it did in the Gulf War? It’s difficult to see that the Egyptian, French, Syrian, Saudi contingents made much difference to Desert Storm, or indeed that a nato fig-leaf, with German troops fronting for the Pentagon, is that decisive in Afghanistan.

Militarily it wouldn’t have made much difference, but politically it would have. Suppose that after the overthrow of Saddam the us had immediately given authority to the un, and if—instead of being occupied by one nation and ruled by one nation—a multi-national force had come, with Brahimi rather than Bremer at the helm. I don’t think such a rapid resistance would have been ignited.

You think it would have been like Haiti—ship in some Brazilians, and it would all feel so different? The us has its Italians, Poles, Mongols, British, Ukrainians, Georgians, Japanese there already. Can one imagine anyone in the resistance saying, ‘Well, the un—that’s quite another matter. We can trust their good intentions’?

At present, all the Sunni support the resistance in some degree. That’s five million people—you have a very handy base to support the fighters with that amount of sympathy. Quite a lot of the Shia don’t feel so differently, although they don’t very much like the Sunni. What created this sympathetic climate was primarily a straight imperial occupation by the us. I think if the un had taken over, it would have been quite widely said that this was a mask for the us, but there nevertheless wouldn’t have been the same intensity of hostility among Iraqis. It was that which gave such swift wings to the insurgency.

You’ve compared the American invasion of Iraq to the Anglo-French expedition to Egypt in 1956, but also to the Boer War, as comparable failures of imperial power.1 Certainly, the trumping-up of pretexts leaps to the eye as a common feature of these adventures—the Jameson raid, Eden’s ‘separation of the combatants’, the weapons of mass destruction. In each case there was a clumsy attempt to camouflage a military aggression that backfired. But other than that, aren’t the differences more striking? The Suez expedition was not undone by Egyptian resistance, it collapsed because the Americans pulled the rug out from under a secondary imperial power, by precipitating a run on the pound. The Boer War may have made the British look fumbling and isolated, but in the end they won it, and went on to victory in 1918—they weren’t so much of a busted flush as yet. If your analogy held, the us wouldn’t necessarily be staring defeat in the face in Iraq.

The point of my comparison with the Boer War was that London thought it was going to be a walkover—a demonstration of imperial power to show that Kruger and his men were incapable of impeding British policy. But the time it took to defeat Boer resistance, and the resources that had to be mobilized to do so, revealed that the British were vulnerable. The Empire was not as strong as it looked. That was the message the Irish and the Indians took from it—exactly contrary to the one Britain had wanted to send. That’s very much the lesson on display in Iraq today.

Certainly the us has been unable to crush the resistance. On the other hand, it has suffered very small losses itself—historically speaking, less than a thousand soldiers a year is a bagatelle. Americans murder each other at the rate of a thousand a month without anyone noticing. The number of wounded is larger, but still far below Vietnam. So while the war isn’t popular, bipartisan support for it remains largely intact. Leading Democrats continue to call for more troops to be sent there, not less. What explains this strange combination of intense popular resistance and minimal actual losses? One would have thought it must be related to the attitude of the Shia and the Kurds. It’s not easy to think of another historical case that combines a national resistance of this speed and ferocity with collaboration by elites who command the loyalty of 70–80 per cent of the population with the occupying power. Without this social base for indirect American rule, in part active and in part passive, wouldn’t the us be paying a much higher price for its adventure?

In most wars—other than the slaughter of the two World Wars—it’s the dramatic political impact of casualties rather than the actual numbers that are significant. In Iraq, casualties matter partly because Bush declared the fighting over in May 2003, yet soldiers go on dying. So the domestic effect of two or three Americans being killed per day is almost as great as if it were twenty-five; people can still identify with two or three even if they know that it isn’t that great a number compared to the American population. After all, even the number of Americans dead or wounded in the Second World War was a pretty small proportion of the population. It’s not realistic to compare losses in the field to deaths by accidents or disease. In Northern Ireland, every so often British ministers would say ‘more people die on the roads than are being shot or blown up’, but this made little impression. A car accident and a roadside bomb have different political consequences. The flu epidemic after the First World War is said to have killed more people than the war itself but nobody contends that the flu had greater political influence.

So far as the other side of the picture goes, the dislike of ordinary Shia for the Occupation isn’t that much less than that of ordinary Sunni. You may have a Shia political elite that is prepared to cooperate with the us, but in the long term I don’t think the Shia as a whole will, and it seems unlikely the religious hierarchy would. The Americans are too different, and nobody actually wants to be occupied. So it’s not 70 or 80 per cent support, it’s really only the Kurds who are long-term allies of the Americans and even they must be chary of ending up as faithful Gurkhas in a us imperium. I think Iraq has been a disaster for the Americans, because in 2003 they said that they would do the exact opposite of what they did in 1990–91, when Bush Senior vested enormous efforts in constructing a coalition against Saddam and holding it together. Two and a half years after his son’s invasion, the us only controls pockets of Iraq and it’s suffered 17,000 dead or wounded in the army. The Americans said that they could win a clear military and political victory in Iraq and this they have very visibly failed to do.

Certainly the fair promises of a democratic Iraq and a liberal Middle East seem unlikely to be realized. But there is another possible way of looking at the Occupation. A hard-headed proponent of the demolition of the Baath regime might say: ‘Yes, we are not going to build a democratic Iraq in the image of Germany and Japan as we said we would, but what have we done instead? We have effectively destroyed, probably forever, the one Middle Eastern state that had the potential to be dangerous to us. Iraq was the only place that combined a large population and territory with a great deal of oil, and which had a government, loathsome as it was, that was ten times more independent of the United States than any other Arab regime, with the exception of its cousin in Syria. It was a genuinely independent state, that we couldn’t tell what to do. That’s finished now. The back of a united Iraq has been broken. The result may not look very pretty, and there’s bound to be a lot of sectarian strife—what will replace the old order is something more like an enlarged Lebanon. But when has that ever been a serious stumbling-block to us? Look where we’ve got to now, with Syria on the ropes too. The real effect of our thrust into the Middle East this time will be to break down the barriers that closed this region to our normal ways of shaping societies abroad, keeping it a residual zone that had yet to be fully integrated, like the Soviet Union before 89. Now we’ve battered all that down. It’s true that it’s been an ugly process, that is still far from complete, but as you can see from international acquiescence to it, at the end of the day, we will be the winners.’ What would be your reply to this kind of reasoning?

Could the invasion of Iraq eventually work out as a sort of victory for the us? It might, but I think that the chances are going down. After all, they’ve created the perfect breeding ground for al-Qaeda-type operations among the Sunni in Iraq, which never happened in Afghanistan. Although al-Qaeda were in Afghanistan for years, they never had a popular base there and found it very difficult to operate, both before the American attack and now. In Iraq they’ve got a population that is sufficiently sympathetic and they’ve built up a sort of network. They can exploit that sympathy and they’re strong enough to terrify a lot of the others. Lebanon was a smaller deal. You could have a political vacuum there, but not in Iraq with its very large oil resources and an enormous border with Iran. It would be the first Shia Arab state since the Fatimids in twelfth-century Egypt. What would the effect of that be on the Shia eastern province of Saudi Arabia? How frightened will the ruling family be in Bahrain, where there is a Shia majority? It’s very difficult to see such a scenario achieving stability. It might just happen. In the nineteenth century the British found if you went into Afghanistan aiming at total imperial control, it was frightfully dangerous because this was a country which was completely fragmented, but all those different fragments would suddenly target you if you tried to rule them all. Various British expeditionary forces were defeated or wiped out. But the nature of Afghanistan was such that if you settled for 30 per cent of power, the different groups would all then tend to look to you.

Could this happen in Iraq? Conceivably, but it would presume a sophisticated, coherent us policy, which hasn’t emerged in the last three years. A us sense of omnipotence, common in the first year of the Occupation, has disappeared. But in Iraq the Americans have always tended to assume they were in a stronger position than they were. Taking up my analogy with South Africa, at a certain point the British decided that they had to reach an agreement with the Boers, that if they limited their aims they could effectively ally themselves with a new Afrikaner state under British dominion. For quite a time that worked. But this was because they realized the limitations of their power. Will Washington arrive at the same conclusion? There’s very little sign of that yet.

Another objection would be to say that what the Americans have really done is less to prepare the ground for another, controllable Lebanon, than to deliver this large country into the hands of the Iranian regime. What’s your view of the popular wisdom that Iran is really the winner out of all this?

The Iranians clearly are the winners so far, and this will probably continue. In 1991, fear of benefiting Iran was a prime reason why George Bush Senior ended the war so quickly. Khalilzad, the present American viceroy in Baghdad, who was then head of policy planning in the State Department, warned at the time that if the us, after winning its victory and getting Saddam out of Kuwait, went on to overthrow him, the real victors would be the Iranians. Today it’s pretty bizarre that the one place where optimistic announcements by the White House regarded with derision by the rest of the world—that the Iraqi elections are a major turning point, that the referendum is a terrific success, that the Constitution is a solution to the problems of Iraq—are immediately applauded is in Iran. The us occupation is opening the door to a regional Shia government, and a Shia government which sees its identity as Shia, rather than Iraqi. This is much in Iran’s interest. It now has a weakened Iraq on its western border, in which the Americans have a big stake. If the us puts too much pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme, it can squeeze the Americans in Iraq. It’s much more in Iranian interests to fight the us in Baghdad than in Tehran. They know how vulnerable the Americans are in Iraq. So I think that they have clearly been the beneficiaries. Supposing that the invasion had been a tremendous success, and there were a rock-solid pro-American regime under the control of the us in Baghdad, then the Iranians would be very nervous, caught in the pincers of Washington’s control of Afghanistan on one side and Iraq on the other. They now seem much more confident.

In defensive terms, it’s clear that the basic Iranian interest in Iraq is to make sure of an insurance policy. If the West—not just the us, but also the eu—escalates pressure on Tehran to help Israel keep its nuclear monopoly in the region, the Iranians can turn up the heat on America by helping rather than hindering the resistance. But beyond that, are there good reasons to suppose that a Shia regime, either national in Baghdad or regional in Basra, would be any closer a friend of the Iranian regime than Ghaddafi’s Sunni regime in Tripoli is of Mubarak’s in Cairo or the Moroccan sultanate is of the Algerian military? Confessional unity hasn’t prevented these states from waging war on one another.

The sciri leaders, who will probably provide the next prime minister, were long-term residents of Iran, where the party was founded. Will that intimate connection last? Will they always heed the Iranians in future? The Iranians are normally very good at betting on all parties—they even supply some matériel to the resistance. They are unquestionably in a powerful position right now. That won’t change overnight, or any time soon. Of course, who knows what will happen if the us unleashes Israeli bombers against them.

What do you think is the least unlikely of the various possible outcomes in Iraq?

That the conflict will go on, because there are so many friction-points. In that respect, the situation resembles Lebanon in the late 70s: it’s unlikely everything will come into balance, because everyone has something to fight for. Conceivably, Sistani might propose an agreement with the Sunni to force the us to go—making a deal with the resistance that if the Sunni leadership gets rid of the Salafi, the Shia will get rid of the Americans. But would the Sunni agree, since they would find themselves under a Shia government? It’s dubious. Would the Shia politicians agree? They are convinced of their own weakness, perhaps exaggeratedly so. They fear they would lose control if the Americans went. Conceivably, the us might itself decide to leave. But that too looks dubious. American pretensions were so high to begin with, their lies so grotesque, that it’s difficult for them to back out now. One of the reasons why Iraq appears—and is—such a disaster for the us is because of what the Americans claimed they could do to begin with. They are desperate to do better, but the insurgency is getting more and more sophisticated.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Baghdad Diary
Iraqis are Naming Their Babies "Saddam"



The centre of the book trade in Baghdad is al-Mutanabi Street, which runs between the Tigris and Rashid Street, now shabby and decayed but once the city's commercial heart. The bookshops are small, and open all the time; on Friday there's a market, when vendors lay out their books in Arabic and English on mats on the dusty and broken surface of the road. Most are second-hand. In the 1990s, after the first Gulf War, I used to walk around the district looking at books, often English classics once owned by students. Difficult words were underlined and translated into Arabic in the margin. There was plenty of stock as the Iraqi intelligentsia, progressively ruined by sanctions, sold off their libraries.

The market was carefully monitored by a section of al-Amn al-Amm, the General Security Service, led by Major Jammal Askar, a poet who used to write verses in praise of Saddam. He oversaw the banning of books on modern Iraq, mostly histories and memoirs written by exiles, and works by Shiite and Sunni clerics. Even so, books, often printed in Beirut, were smuggled in through Jordan, Syria and Turkey. 'You could bribe the officials at the border to let in religious books, but not political books,' one bookseller said. 'We used to take off the covers and replace them with the covers of Baath Party books which they approved of.' Often only one copy was brought in, photocopied a hundred or more times and then sold covertly. The Amn al-Amm, its operations on the street led by a certain Captain Khalid, launched repeated raids to find out who was selling them.

In 1999 my brother Andrew and I wrote a history of Iraq after the first Gulf War called Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein. It was later republished in Britain as Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession. I knew the regime wouldn't like it because of its sympathetic treatment of the Shiite and Kurdish uprisings of 1991 and its account of the feuds within the ruling family, and decided after publication that it would be wise to keep out of Baghdad for a few years. When it became obvious that the White House was determined to overthrow Saddam Hussein, I applied to the Iraqi Information Ministry for a visa, although I was worried about how safe it was to do so. Saddam Hussein wasn't short of critics, and possibly the regime didn't know or care what Andrew and I had written about them. On the other hand, Saddam had hanged Farzad Bazoft, an Observer journalist, as a spy in 1990. When the Kurds arranged with Syria to let me cross the Tigris in a tin boat into Kurdish-controlled territory in northern Iraq, the problem resolved itself.

It turned out I was right to be nervous. After the fall of Baghdad, the new deputy mayor, a book collector, gave me a copy of Out of the Ashes in a copperplate long-hand translation into Arabic specially made by the Mukhabarat--Iraqi Intelligence. He said it had been found by looters in the house of Sabawi, Saddam's half-brother who was once the head of al-Amn al-Amm. It turned out that the book was well known to the booksellers in al-Mutanabi Street and had sold well--mainly, they said, because 'it gave an account of the uprisings in 1991 and of the relationship between Saddam and the US.'

One Friday, halfway along al-Mutanabi, I met Haidar Mohammed, a man in his mid-thirties with nervous, darting eyes, who had been the main seller of my book. He was known in the street as Haidar Majala, meaning Haidar 'Magazine', because he pretended that he was only interested in selling magazines. He said that he found life flat since the fall of Saddam, 'because in the old days, when I had to take a customer down an alleyway to secretly sell him a book and we both knew we could go to jail, life had a taste to it.' The first copy of Out of the Ashes he bought was an Arabic translation made in Beirut and smuggled into Iraq by a man called 'Fadhel', who other booksellers believed was later hanged. Haidar used a photocopier to make 50 copies and sold them to relatives and close friends for two dollars each. He then made another 200 copies and sold them quickly as well. He said: 'Once when a man who had bought the book was arrested in Kerbala I disappeared for three weeks, but he didn't give me away and only told them that he'd bought it on the street from a man he didn't know.'

Haidar, who had been selling books in Baghdad and Najaf since 1994, was finally arrested in November 2000, when he was caught by Captain Khalid with a book by Saad al-Bazzaz, an Iraqi editor, once a Saddam loyalist, who had gone into exile and published an expose of the regime. 'I pretended I was a little simple and did not know what the book was about,' Haidar said ruefully. 'The judge accepted that my story was true so he only gave me two years in prison, though this was extended to three years when they found out I had deserted from the Army.'

The booksellers of al-Mutanabi are relieved that Major Askar and Captain Khalid have disappeared, but are wary of talking of the future. These days they are selling books by Shiite clerics as well as big pictures of Hussein and Abbas, the Shiite martyrs. When I asked a group of booksellers standing beside Haidar what they thought would happen, one said, without much confidence, that 'Saddam Hussein was difficult to overthrow, but the Americans will be easier to get rid of.' Iraqis have had difficulty in adjusting to the pace of events since the beginning of this year: the bombing of Baghdad, the fall of Saddam, the looting, the broiling summer without electricity, the banditry and now the sporadic guerrilla attacks and car bombs. New problems appear almost daily. As we walked away from the book market a Kurd came up to us. He had just heard that the US had invited 10,000 Turkish troops into Iraq. 'I want to tell you the Americans are going to betray us again just as they did in 1975 and 1991,' he said.

Paul Bremer, the chief US civilian administrator who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority, has been claiming, somewhat ludicrously, that life in Baghdad is back to normal. An energetic and arrogant man, who wears a smart New York suit with army boots protruding from the bottom of his trousers, he is inclined to speak of 'the extraordinary progress made since liberation'. With each car bomb or attack his tone gets shriller: 'The terrorists know that the Iraqi people and the Coalition are succeeding in the reconstruction of Iraq.' Bremer is keen to sell Iraq as a success, and so, of course, is the US President, who mentioned recently that satellite television antennae were sprouting over Baghdad. It is true that the streets look cleaner and the heaps of rubbish are disappearing: 180,000 street cleaners have been hired at three dollars a day. Some of them are assiduously painting curbstones white and yellow. The electricity supply is better and there are fewer power cuts than there were at the height of the summer heat. There are thousands of US-recruited police back on the streets, so Iraqis are less frightened of being robbed, raped or murdered than they were three months ago. They no longer lock themselves in their houses or refuse to send their daughters to school for fear of kidnappers. But they don't compare the situation today with what things were like during the first two terrible months after the US captured Baghdad: they compare it with life as it was 12 months ago under Saddam Hussein. And for most Iraqis life has not improved. For many it has got worse.

The overwhelming political and economic fact is that 70 per cent of the labour force--12 million people out of a total population of 25 million, according to the Ministry of Labour--are out of work. Engineers try to make a little money selling glasses of tea to passers-by from a table on the pavement. Men stand all day in the markets trying to sell a bunch of blackened bananas or a few cracked plates. As under Saddam Hussein, it's only the ration of basic foodstuffs provided almost free by the state that fends off starvation. There is a horrible desperation in the hunt for work. A Russian company asked a man who was trying to get a job as a driver about his qualifications. He said he felt he should get the job because, quite apart from his great experience as a driver, he had a live grenade in his pocket. He then showed the grenade to the Russian interviewing him and threatened to remove the pin unless he was immediately taken on.

By allowing the state to dissolve and disbanding the Army, the US, in its ignorance, has brought about a revolutionary change in social and ethnic relations in the country. Everyone who was part of the Sunni-dominated Administration has lost out, which isn't surprising; but the Government was the only big employer. 'The first mistake occurred when they disestablished the Army and police forces,' said Nouri Jafer, the labour under-secretary in the interim government created by the US-appointed Governing Council. 'This created more unemployment because Saddam Hussein had more than a million in the security forces.' So far, the new US-trained Army has just one battalion of 700 men in a force which will eventually grow to 40,000. Former conscripts and soldiers queue for hours trying to pick up a final pay-off of $40, and there are often riots. Even former members of the Intelligence service have demonstrated to demand their jobs back. One man, almost in tears, said he had travelled seven times from his home city of Kut, south of Baghdad, and had still not been paid. 'If the US would just pay the salaries of those who have recently lost their jobs I promise you that resistance attacks would go down by 50 per cent,' Nahed al-Ghazi, a sheikh in a village north of Baghdad, who had just had a grenade explode in the forecourt of his house because of his supposed pro-American sympathies, told me.

The losers after the convulsions of the last six months are becoming clear. The winners are not. Ethnic relations are rapidly deteriorating. The Sunni, who ruled the country under the Ottomans, the British, the Hashemite monarchy and Saddam Hussein, are frightened by their loss of power. The Shia, the community to which more than 15 million Iraqis belong, hope that their moment has come. But they fear that the US will impose a constitution they do not like and delay an election they would inevitably win. Thanks to the refusal of the Turkish Parliament to allow its territory to be used by the US Army to invade Iraq, the Kurds seemed for a few months to have got what they wanted. They regained their lost lands in the north. They captured the oil city of Kirkuk. But, with the US inviting in 10,000 Turkish troops in the hope of keeping American casualties down, they, too, now see betrayal around every corner. They want Iraq to be a federation in which Iraqi Kurdistan will enjoy something close to independence. Recent meetings between the Kurdistan Democratic Party leader, Massoud Barzani, and Bremer have been chilly. When Bremer said that in a unitary Iraq the Kurds would have their own language and culture, Barzani replied: 'But we already had that under Saddam.'

Iraqis jokingly call those who have done well out of the collapse and occupation hawasimi or 'finalists'. This is a reference to Saddam's prewar claim that Iraqis were about to witness 'a final battle with the Americans'. Newly recruited policemen are hawasimi, said with a slight sneer. (The same word is used about those who are obviously much better off since the looting of Baghdad.) The US is hopeful that the new police force will be the front line against resistance attacks, but when I asked a policeman, who had just caught a car thief in al-Masbah Street, if he was doing anything to stop assaults on Americans, he replied: 'That isn't really our job. What we do is provide security for ordinary Iraqis.' When police in the town of Hawaija, west of Kirkuk, shot dead a Fedayeen they were warned by local tribesmen to stick to their policing duties if they wanted to stay alive.

The changes in the physical appearance of central Baghdad since mid- summer leave no doubt where power lies. Ever more elaborate fortifications are being built to defend Saddam Hussein's old Republican Palace where Bremer and the CPA live and work, inside a sort of Forbidden City. It is now surrounded by grey prefabricated concrete walls, with red painted warnings forbidding drivers to stop next to them. The few entrances are protected by tanks and rolls of razor wire. New notices have gone up saying it is not permitted to swim in the Tigris outside the palace, presumably for fear of underwater saboteurs. The British Embassy, abandoning its spacious enclave, has fled inside the Rashid Hotel, its entrance guarded by Nepalese soldiers. In future, it will work from a villa inside the Republican Palace. The attack on the Baghdad Hotel in October led to a new frenzy of construction, with every hotel now sealed off by armed guards. The guards at the hotel where I live say they do not like the concrete defences because they give the impression that something suspicious is going on inside. Since the latest bombings, the US Army has set up a multitude of checkpoints around Baghdad, producing enormous queues of traffic.

It may not be enough. When there was an explosion in the Foreign Ministry, just outside the office of the General Council's interim foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, it was first blamed on a rocket-propelled grenade. But it turned out to have been caused by half a kilo of explosives with a timer--which could have been left there only by a member of the Foreign Ministry staff, about a thousand of whom were inherited from the old regime. 'We have got the number of suspects down to 80,' one of Zebari's security men said triumphantly.

The Americans in Baghdad live in conditions of extraordinary isolation. An Iraqi friend spotted a group of visitors from the US holding a party in a hotel at which the waiters were all wearing turbans reminiscent of the Raj. He went up to one of them and said: 'I would like to shake you by the hand.' Gratified, the American did so. 'Now,' my friend said, 'you can go home and say you met at least one real Iraqi.'

The overall mood of Iraqis has darkened over the last months as they have come to feel that, with the UN on the sidelines, they are dealing with an old fashioned colonial regime. Even Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Kurdish politician and a member of the Governing Council, said: 'The Council has little power. On important issues, like inviting in the Turks or sending 30,000 Iraqi policemen to train in Jordan at a cost of $1.3 billion, the Coalition acts first and tells us afterwards.' In fact, protests over Ankara's intervention may have caused the Turkish Government to have second thoughts, though that would be a tribute more to the influence of the Kurds on Washington than the authority of the Governing Council.

The guerrilla attacks are almost entirely confined to the Sunni heartlands north of Baghdad, though they are better planned than they were and are spreading further north towards Kirkuk and Mosul. In early October I went to Baiji, an oil refinery town with a population of 60,000, some 145 miles north of Baghdad, where I was told there'd been an uprising. I was sceptical, suspecting the account was exaggerated, but in the main street a crowd of a thousand was holding up pictures of Saddam Hussein and chanting: 'With our blood and with our spirit we shall die for you Saddam.' The previous morning, the local Iraqi police had fired at demonstrators who were demanding the dismissal of the US-appointed police chief and wounded four of them. More protestors gathered and burned down the mayor's office. The police--300 of them--fled to a nearby US base, where the American officers told them to go back or be sacked. The police refused, saying they would be killed if they did so. The US military command has been trying to leave these confrontations with protestors to Iraqi police to deal with, but finally their tanks moved gingerly back into Baiji, most areas of which remained in the hands of the protestors. In the weeks since, there have been pin-prick guerrilla attacks on US troops with home-made mortars, mines, bombs and Kalashnikovs.

The reasons behind the brief uprising in Baiji are common to all the Iraqi provinces immediately north of Baghdad. There is anger over the loss of jobs in the Army, Security Forces and Civil Service. 'Half the teachers in the schools have been dismissed because they were Baathists and there is no one to teach our children,' one man complained. Prices have risen because cheap Iraqi kerosene and bottled gas are being smuggled into Iran and Turkey. Protestors set fire to two Turkish road tankers in the main street. Above all, there is the day to day friction with the occupation forces. 'My nephew Qusai went onto the roof to fix the TV antenna and the US soldiers shot him dead,' Faidh Hamid told me. A US patrol had beaten an elderly man half to death with their rifle butts because they thought a mortar had been fired from the window of his house--a Swedish journalist embedded with the US patrol had watched in horror as the beating took place. A 75-year-old merchant was trying to recover $16,000 in Iraqi dinars and $4500 in gold taken from his house in May during a US raid. He showed me the petition he had sent to Baghdad: an official had scribbled a note along the bottom saying the money was being permanently confiscated because a Fedayeen had been found in his house, something the merchant denied.

The US has the military strength to retake a town like Baiji easily enough. But the friction points between occupation forces and Iraqis are so numerous and diverse that there will always be fresh crises. The US lacks allies not seen as its pawns. In Baiji, the local office of the Iraqi National Accord, one of the members of the Governing Council, had been set on fire. There is a self-defeating crudity about the occupation's methods. US troops routinely tie up those they detain, force them to lie on the ground and put bags over their heads.

Saddam Hussein should not have been a hard act to follow. Iraqis know that he ruined their country with his disastrous wars against Iran and Kuwait. But in Baiji a clerk at the local registration office for births and deaths said he noticed that over the last couple of months parents of newborn babies had started to name them 'Saddam'.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Brutal Punishment of Villagers
US Troops Bulldoze Crops


Dhuluaya, Iraq.

US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops.

The stumps of palm trees, some 70 years old, protrude from the brown earth scoured by the bulldozers beside the road at Dhuluaya, a small town 50 miles north of Baghdad. Local women were yesterday busily bundling together the branches of the uprooted orange and lemon trees and carrying then back to their homes for firewood.

Nusayef Jassim, one of 32 farmers who saw their fruit trees destroyed, said: "They told us that the resistance fighters hide in our farms, but this is not true. They didn't capture anything. They didn't find any weapons."

Other farmers said that US troops had told them, over a loudspeaker in Arabic, that the fruit groves were being bulldozed to punish the farmers for not informing on the resistance which is very active in this Sunni Muslim district.

"They made a sort of joke against us by playing jazz music while they were cutting down the trees," said one man. Ambushes of US troops have taken place around Dhuluaya. But Sheikh Hussein Ali Saleh al-Jabouri, a member of a delegation that went to the nearby US base to ask for compensation for the loss of the fruit trees, said American officers described what had happened as "a punishment of local people because 'you know who is in the resistance and do not tell us.'"

What the Israelis had done by way of collective punishment of Palestinians was now happening in Iraq, Sheikh Hussein added.

The destruction of the fruit trees took place in the second half of last month but, like much which happens in rural Iraq, word of what occurred has only slowly filtered out. The destruction of crops took place along a kilometre-long stretch of road just after it passes over a bridge.

Farmers say that 50 families lost their livelihoods, but a petition addressed to the coalition forces in Dhuluaya pleading in erratic English for compensation, lists only 32 people. The petition says: "Tens of poor families depend completely on earning their life on these orchards and now they became very poor and have nothing and waiting for hunger and death."

The children of one woman who owned some fruit trees lay down in front of a bulldozer but were dragged away, according to eyewitnesses who did not want to give their names. They said that one American soldier broke down and cried during the operation. When a reporter from the newspaper "Iraq Today" attempted to take a photograph of the bulldozers at work, a soldier grabbed his camera and tried to smash it. The same paper quotes Lt. Col. Springman, a US commander in the region, as saying: "We asked the farmers several times to stop the attacks, or to tell us who was responsible, but the farmers didn't tell us."

Informing US troops about the identity of their attackers would be extremely dangerous in Iraqi villages, where most people are related and everyone knows each other. The farmers who lost their fruit trees all belong to the Khazraji tribe and are unlikely to give information about fellow tribesmen if they are, in fact, attacking US troops.

Asked how much his lost orchard was worth, Nusayef Jassim said in a distraught voice: "It is as if someone cut off my hands and you asked me how much my hands were worth."

9:47 PM  
Blogger Management said...

A Failure of Historic Proportions
The Iraq Wreck


A friend representing a French company in Washington recently went with some trepidation to Paris with the unwelcome news that he had been told by the Pentagon that there was absolutely no chance of his employers getting a contract inIraq

He was not looking forward to report total failure of his well-paid efforts but to his relief the chairman greeted the dire news with prolonged laughter saying: "Don't worry. Let's just wait a year or two and then it will be American companies which won't be able to do business with the Iraqis."

This could be discounted as the evil-minded French watching with delight as the US, with Tony Blair loyally chugging behind, sinking deeper into the Iraqi quagmire. But the quite correct perception that theUShas already failed in Iraq is becoming the common consensus in Iraq as well as much of the rest of the world.

It is a failure of historic proportions. The aim of the war in Iraq was to establish the US as the world super power which could act unilaterally, virtually without allies inside or outside Iraq. The timing of the conflict had nothing to do with fear of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and everything to do with getting the war won in time for the run up to next year's Presidential election in the US.

The US failure to win a conclusive victory in Iraq is like that of Britain in South Africa during the Boer War. Like the US Britain went into the war filled with arrogant presumptions about an easy victory. As the conflict dragged on, with a constant trickle of casualties from attacks by the elusive Boers, nationalists from Dublin to Bombay drew the conclusion that the British Empire was not quite as tough as it looked.

But the speed of the American failure in Iraqis still extraordinary. President Bush started off the year with a powerful army and a deeply and rightly unpopular opponent in the shape of Saddam Hussein, always detested by most the Iraqi population. The Iraqi army was a wreck, its officers and men barely fed, its aging tanks without spare parts for a dozen years.

From the moment US troops entered Baghdad the victors seemed to go out of their way to alienate every section of Iraqi society. The Sunni Muslims who ruled the country under the Ottomans, the British and Saddam Hussein were marginalised. The army and the security forces were disbanded, ensuring that opponents of the US occupation would have an endless supply of recruits and sympathisers.

The Shi'ite majority in Iraq always loathed and feared the previous regime but is intent, for the first time in history, on taking power themselves. They believe it would be a mistake as happened during the uprising against the British in 1920 to be in the frontline against the occupation (Iraqis remember these lessons of history even if the US and Britain do not). But they will not wait forever.

The Kurds are the only Iraqi community who want a long term US presence, knowing that historically the Kurds have always lost out because they never had a great power as an ally. But even the Kurds are suspicious, recalling that just before the war the US was happy to let the Turkish army loose in Iraqi Kurdistan in return for Turkey letting US troops use its bases to invade northern Iraq.

I was in Washington as a visiting fellow at a think tank for the first six weeks of the year before having to leave suddenly to take advantage of a fleeting opportunity to get into Iraq before the start of the war. I was continually struck by the ignorance and extraordinary arrogance of the neo-cons, then at the height of their power. They had all the intolerant instincts of a weird American religious cult, impervious to any criticism of their fantasy picture of Iraq, the Middle East and the rest of the world.

Iraqis not pre-approved by the neo-cons but willing to explain how their country really worked found appointments with senior officials mysteriously cancelled at the last moments, sometimes while they were sitting in the officials' waiting rooms.

This should be the real charge against Tony Blair's government. It is not that it did not understand what was happening in Baghdad but it did not sufficiently take on board the strange happenings in Washington. There is nothing peculiar about Britain supporting the US come what may since this has been a priority of British foreign policy for nearly a century. But it should have been realised much earlier in London that this is a very different and more dangerous US government from any of its predecessors.

The extent and irreversibility of the American failure is not yet appreciated outside Iraq. The tentative effort to internationalise the conflict by bringing in the UN or raising a pro-occupation Iraqi military force are still only slogans with no real willingness on the part of the US to share power in Baghdad.

This may be long in coming. The US occupation authorities remain extraordinarily isolated within the Iraqi capital, impervious to the dire reality around them.

One Iraqi friend recently saw a group of US dignitaries eating and drinking in a luxury restaurant in a hotel. Whoever had organised the party had confused Iraq with the Indian Raj and dressed all the waiters in turbans.

My friend went up to one of the American VIPs and said: "I would like to shake you by the hand." Surprised and gratified the American shook hands warmly. "Now," said the friend,"You can go back to the US and say that you actually met one real Iraqi in Baghdad."

9:48 PM  
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Shattering Iraq

By Paul Starobin, National Journal
© National Journal Group Inc.
Friday, Dec. 9, 2005

Civil war. Surely this is an adjectival misnomer of the first rank. Of all of the various types of war, civil war -- that is, a violent conflict waged between opposing sides within a society -- has generally been the least mannerly and the most savage. "By nature without rules of engagement and retaliation, civil war is a cauldron of wanton and unpremeditated violence with little, if any, ideological leaven," historian Arno J. Mayer of Princeton University wrote in The Furies, his masterful account of the civil wars that followed the Jacobin revolution in France and the Bolshevik upheaval in Russia. Why are civil wars inherently brutal? Because, Mayer said in a recent telephone conversation, they are at bottom about "vengeance."

By just about every meaningful standard that can be applied -- the reference points of history, the research criteria of political science, the contemporaneous reporting of on-the-ground observers, the grim roll of civilian and combatant casualties -- Iraq is now well into the bloody sequence of civil war. Dispense with the tentative locution "on the verge of." An active, if not full-boil, civil war is already a reality. The principal combatants are drawn from the Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab communities, which together comprise about three-quarters of the Iraqi population of 26 million. In this picture, U.S.-led coalition forces tend to be viewed by "rejectionist" Sunni Arabs as protectors of the Shiites, who dominate the new, U.S.-backed, Iraqi government and who operate militias with close ties to the new Iraqi regime.

The Bush administration does not say that Iraq is in a civil war -- but then again, the administration does not say Iraq is not in a civil war. In the battle of words in Washington over defining the conflict, the White House studiously avoids any use of this ominous-sounding term; President Bush didn't use it in his November 30 speech at the U.S. Naval Academy on his strategy for "victory in Iraq." But in the White House's frankest appraisal, to date, of the situation, its new "victory" blueprint acknowledges that Iraqi Sunni Arab "rejectionists," and not Saddam loyalists or Qaeda-linked terrorists, are "the largest group" opposed to the new Iraqi government. This analysis is consistent with the civil-war paradigm of the conflict. Still, the White House prefers to talk about Iraq in the more limited, and less scary, vocabulary of insurgency and counterinsurgency.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, months ago began reviewing the question of whether the Iraqi conflict could be seen as a civil war. Back in the spring, Army Col. Bill Hix, then the chief of strategy for multinational forces in Iraq, initiated a conversation with two political science professors at Stanford University about applying the civil-war prism to Iraq. The discussion centered on the questions of how, and how quickly, a low-grade civil war can become full-blown. The Stanford duo, James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin, told Hix, who left his position in August, that civil wars have often occurred despite the presence of "foreign stabilization forces," and they encouraged him to look at past civil wars in such oil-rich countries as Algeria, Angola, and Nigeria. "I understand that by your metric, we are already in the midst of a civil war," Hix replied to the professors in a May e-mail, "but for reasons that are both operationally convenient and, I also think, valid ... I disagree."

Indeed, focusing the lens of civil war on Iraq omits some aspects of this exceedingly complex conflict. Foreign jihadists drawn to Iraq to kill U.S. soldiers as part of a project to establish a new caliphate in the Middle East are not really civil-war combatants. Still, the civil-war prism can explain a lot -- and also offer some prospective guidance. In the elections set for December 15, Iraqis will choose members of a permanent parliament. And if Sunnis participate widely, the elections could start repairing the hurts between warring factions in Iraq, and thereby reduce the level of violence. But it is also possible, and given the history of civil war, perhaps more likely, for the elections to stoke the flames. Democracy is not an antidote to civil war, because elections in fragile societies are often polarizing. In recent history, civil war broke out after contested elections in several post-Soviet republics; and in the United States, the 1860 presidential election turned out to be a prelude to civil war. Indeed, historian David Herbert Donald of Harvard famously blamed the American Civil War on "an excess of democracy."

The worrisome sign in Iraq is that political parties are already organizing principally along religious and sectarian lines. Moreover, the new Iraqi security forces, including the army, are composed of militia elements that "retain their original loyalties or affiliations," as the Pentagon acknowledged last July in a sentence buried in a generally upbeat report to Congress on "measuring stability and security in Iraq." Such units, if made combat-ready, "might very well turn these very arms against each other," notes Pavel Baev, who is a senior analyst for the Center for the Study of Civil War at the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo. So, what does history teach about how civil wars end? Baev's answer is not especially hopeful. "A military victory on one side," he replied.

What Is Civil War?
If men and women are all, in the end, brothers and sisters, it might be argued that all wars are civil wars -- except for any future ones that might be fought against extraterrestrials. And some historians define civil war in very broad terms. The British historian Paul Johnson labels the First World War a civil war between combatants who shared, if not a common country, largely a common (in that case, Western) culture. He has a point -- certainly the First World War had more of a civil-war aspect than, say, the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, in which two starkly different societies quarreled over imperial stakes.

But the habit of scholars is to divide the universe between wars fought between states and wars fought within states. Left out of this equation altogether is genocide -- because it is presumed to be one-sided -- and "unorganized" violence, like rioting. Marquee interstate conflicts, such as World War II, tend to captivate us. But as the Stanford experts Fearon and Laitin demonstrate in "Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War," a paper published in the February 2003 American Political Science Review, civil wars are more numerous and tend to last longer. And over the past 50 years, civil wars have collectively killed a much greater number of people.

Between 1945 and 1999, analysts showed, about 3.3 million battle deaths occurred in 25 interstate wars, whose median duration was about three months. Over this same timeframe, about 16.2 million people in 73 states died in 127 civil wars, whose median duration was about six years. The roll call includes the familiar -- Afghanistan, Somalia, the Balkans, and Lebanon -- as well as other highly lethal wars that for one reason or another received scant media attention. In that second category are a spate of conflicts in obscure places like the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Georgia.

Civil war these days tends to be thought of as a mostly non-Western, developing-world event. But while Africa, the Middle East, and the impoverished regions of Central Asia and the Caucasus have been prone to civil wars in recent decades, the sweep of history reveals no such cultural predisposition. Civil wars -- such as the 17th-century English civil war, which inspired Thomas Hobbes to write Leviathan -- were once prevalent in Europe and arguably, as in the British Isles, helped to cement the power of pro-parliament forces and end rule by monarchy.

America's Founders certainly did not view civil wars as foreign to Western culture. Nor did they see democracy as a barrier to civil war. "Men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious," Alexander Hamilton observed in No. 6 of The Federalist Papers, which (along with his companion essays in Nos. 7, 8, and 9) broadly argued that civil war was virtually inevitable among the weak states of the new America unless the states sought union in a robust constitutional compact.

It is a commonplace that civil wars result from irreconcilable differences of the ethnic, religious, or tribal sort. But the assessment by Fearon and Laitin does not support this view. They point out that many states are culturally diverse but do not fall prey to civil war. The causes of civil war, in their analysis, reside in politically weak and corrupt central governments, which tend to breed societal rifts. In this model, it is a failed or failing state that is highly vulnerable to civil war. And it is only when armed conflict looms that diverse communities -- whether Sarajevo in the late 1980s or Baghdad in 2003 -- start to break down along lines of religion or ethnicity.

"All states are like rocks, with fissures in those rocks," says Mark Stoyle, a historian at the University of Southampton in England, who is the author of the recently published Soldiers & Strangers: An Ethnic History of the English Civil War. "If the state is hit by a hammer blow, it will break along certain lines." That is what happened in 17th-century Britain under the disputed reign of King Charles I, Stoyle observed, and in his view, what is happening now in Iraq.

The Iraqi Civil War, 2004-?
Of course, not all civil wars are alike, and Americans might be forgiven, based on their knowledge of the U.S. Civil War, for not seeing anything quite like a civil war taking place in Iraq. "The [U.S.] Civil War was fought mainly as a conventional war between two well-organized states and their well-organized armies," historian James McPherson of Princeton noted in an e-mail. "I think it would be barking up the wrong tree to draw parallels or similarities between Iraq and the American Civil War."

But against the backdrop of history, it is the U.S. Civil War, not the one now taking place in Iraq, that stands out as anomalous. Civil wars typically lack a Fort Sumter moment -- it is usually hard to identify a precise beginning. Characteristics of the civil war in Iraq -- the prevalence of militia bands, the "ethnic cleansing" under way in various communities, the suspected existence of government-connected death and torture squads -- bear likenesses to civil wars fought in places such as Lebanon in the 1970s; Guatemala in the 1980s; and Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia in the 1990s. "What we have in Iraq is an unconventional civil war," says Juan Cole, a Middle East history professor at the University of Michigan and keeper of a well-read blog on events in Iraq. Cole added that present-day Iraq reminds him of Lebanon in the late 1970s, when that country's civil war was conducted largely by neighborhood-based militias.

It is not possible, at this early and indeterminate stage, to offer a seamless chronicle of the civil war that Iraq is experiencing. But a rough narrative, taking note of the milestones and the dynamic that are propelling the civil war, can be assembled. It is a story not so much of a country's liberation, but of its fragmentation.

The "hammer blow," to use the historian Stoyle's term, was the U.S.-led attack on Iraq in March 2003, which shattered Saddam's regime, drove him from power and put the United States in charge as the provisional authority. Washington did not intend to create the conditions for civil war -- the White House seemed to believe that it could decapitate the regime by removing Saddam and still preserve order. But that was not to be. The decapitation created a power vacuum, which began filling up with a complex brew of resentments and ambitions.

An obvious target of resentment, particularly for Iraqi Sunni Arabs used to running things in the country, were the U.S. soldiers. But American troops soon came under attack from not only determined Sunni partisans, but also Shiite Arab militants such as the recruits from the slums of Baghdad who pledged allegiance to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr. Indeed, the Iraqi conflict at first looked like a classic anti-imperial or anti-occupier insurgency, with the U.S. in the same role that the British had played in Iraq decades earlier and the French had in Algeria. Something like an Arab nationalist revolt, fanned by the flames of anti-American media coverage in the Arab world, seemed to be under way.

But by the end of 2003, close observers of Iraq were seeing in the conflict a localized, sectarian element that was separate and apart from Arab or Iraqi nationalist stirrings against the United States as occupier. For three decades, W. Patrick Lang has been an Arab specialist in the U.S. government, in positions including intelligence officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency and the first professor of Arabic language at West Point. Now a consultant in the private sector, Lang has visited Iraq some 20 times over the years. Less than a year after the U.S. invasion, "it became clear," Lang said in a recent interview, that a civil-war-like conflict was under way. (Stanford political scientist Laitin says he would backdate the onset of civil war, more formally, to the point of legal transition from foreign occupation to self-rule: the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government in June 2004.)

At the root of the civil war, Lang says, are Sunni Arabs contesting for control of an Iraq in which Shiite Arabs feel newly empowered. Like Bosnia under the Austro-Hapsburg Empire, Lang says, pre-invasion Baathist Iraq was a kind of "ecumenical melting pot." And even though Sunnis were largely in control, secular Shiites occupied important posts in institutions like the police force, the civil service, the universities, and the army. It was "a pressure-cooker approach to forming national identity," Lang says, and "we interrupted this process of amalgamation.... By taking the lid off this pressure cooker, we have allowed these various elements to resolve themselves into their basic form." Some 20 cities and towns around Baghdad, once mixed, are segregating along Shiite and Sunni lines, according to a recent New York Times count.

As the journalist Anthony Shadid illustrates in Night Draws Near, his nuanced account of post-invasion Iraq, it is not only Iraq's Shiite community that has recovered a kind of missionary religious identity since Saddam's fall. In the "vacuum" that resulted "when nearly every institution that had ruled the country for a generation was overthrown," Shadid writes in his book, "religious influences that had been sweeping the Arab world for decades but had lain underground in Iraq emerged into the open and began to fill the void" among young men in Sunni towns like Khaldiya. It was not the desire to return Saddam to power or avenge his fall, Shadid says, that was motivating a new cadre of Sunni fighters. It was the "strains of political Islam."

Also into the void in Iraq came Sunni Arab fighters from neighboring countries such as Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. There was a sectarian cast to their struggle as well. After all, the rising terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordan-born militant Sunni Islamist who has links to Al Qaeda, had explicitly authorized the killing of Iraqi Shiites under the banner of holy war. He has taken credit for the murder of a senior aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, and formed a special unit, the Omar Corps, aimed at eradicating the Badr Brigade, the Iranian-trained armed branch of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Shiite community's top political party. Thus, the ancient schism between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam has been revived -- a rift that dates back to the decades after the Prophet Mohammed died in 632.

And beyond the newly contested matters of political power and religious authority is the question of wealth, represented by Iraq's enormous reserves of oil. The oil prize can be a potent stimulus of civil war. It was an important ingredient in the Angolan civil war, which began in 1974 after the end of Portuguese colonial rule and ran on for 27 years, killing some 500,000 people. In the Arab world, the Sunnis, representing both the political and the financial establishment, are used to controlling the oil. In Iraq, Saddam's fall immediately threatened that control, with both the Shiite Arab communities in the south and the non-Arab Kurdish community in the north seeing oil resources as key to their political and economic resurgence.

"From the point of view of the Sunni Arab hinterland," extending from Iraq to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, "a result of the American war in Iraq was a gigantic theft of a core Sunni territory," says Ian S. Lustick, a Middle East specialist who teaches political science at the University of Pennsylvania. And this "theft," Lustick says, is the primary motivator for Sunnis to take part in civil war. Much as Paul Johnson saw World War I as a civil war within European culture, analysts such as Lustick see Iraq as the focal point of a larger civil war within Arab and Islamic culture.

The Veiled Shiite Response
Iraq's Shiites, especially those of a religious bent, were the perennial losers in the prewar society ruled principally by secular Sunni Arabs. In Iraq under Saddam, Shiites who did not accept his dictatorship were routinely tortured and killed, and their political parties were gutted. In post-Saddam Iraq, the Shiites look like winners, since they make up about 60 percent of the population and are thus favored by virtually any kind of democratic formula.

But democracy is not, in itself, might. Determined to protect a much-enhanced status that was essentially gifted to them by the U.S.-led invasion, the Shiites are mobilizing to fight the Sunni Arabs if need be. And at least some Shiites are already engaged in violence, including reprisals against the Sunni Arab population.

But while the self-promoted exploits of the Sunni Arab fighters garner regular headlines, the violent measures of Shiite warriors are difficult to discern. This is not a surprise: Having gone heavily to the polls and invested in the rhetoric and procedures of democracy, the Shiite community has every reason to hide any sectarian attacks that its side commits.

Nevertheless, a pattern of such attacks is apparent, going back at least two years. On December 9 of 2003, an explosion at a Sunni mosque in the Hurriyya district of western Baghdad, a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood, killed three Sunnis. The imam said that rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the mosque. On December 24, in a predominantly Shiite part of Baghdad, four Sunnis leaving a mosque were killed in a drive-by shooting. Such incidents led Nicholas Blanford, a Beirut-based journalist touring Iraq at that time, to write about the country's "shattered communal peace."

Arab media sympathetic to Iraq's Sunnis have portrayed violence directed against them as organized by Shiite "puppet" police and national guard forces. These media focus on the Badr Brigade as the main culprit; one such anti-Shiite source, in a typical allegation, said that Badr Brigade infiltrators of the police and guard "have set up death squads to target Sunni activists."

A very well-respected source, the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, asserted in a report on Iraq in October: "The last six months have also seen an upsurge in murders being carried out with a distinctly sectarian motive. Although radical Sunni jihadists originally drove these trends, militias and death squads on both sides of the sectarian divide -- those aligned with the insurgency and [with] the government -- now carry them out."

Death squads aligned with the government? That phrase draws a knowing nod from any historian of modern civil war. In Iraq, the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry steadfastly denies existence of any such squads. But the ministry, which is headed by Bayan Jabr, an ex-leader of the Badr Brigade, was recently embarrassed by American troops' accidental discovery of an apparent secret torture chamber in the basement of a ministry building in Baghdad.

Most of the 170 or so detainees were reportedly Sunni Arabs. The supervisors were said to be Interior police with ties to the Badr outfit, and evidence of torture included malnourished captives and skinned corpses. An Iraqi student told Reuters that he "was hung blindfolded in excruciating positions and called 'a Sunni dog' by ... Shiite interrogators."

The Iraqi Army
The makeup and base loyalty of the new Iraqi army is an even more fundamental matter. "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," Bush says with respect to U.S. troops. OK, but which Iraqis will be standing up? Despite American efforts to recruit Sunnis, the Iraqi army is at present a divided organization of Shiite-dominated units, including some tied to the Badr Brigade and Kurdish regiments connected to the Peshmergas of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Back in September, a Los Angeles Times reporter found Iraqi soldiers chanting, "Long live [Shiite Ayatollah] Sistani!" after they were given control of the Shiite shrine city of Najaf. In mid-October, Knight Ridder reporter Tom Lasseter offered an account of a week spent with the 4,500-member 1st Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Division. "The soldiers are overwhelmingly Shiite," Lasseter wrote, and "they're seeking revenge against the Sunnis who oppressed them during Saddam Hussein's rule." He noted that the brigade's top officer routinely reviewed major decisions with a local Shiite cleric aligned with Sistani.

Lasseter concluded his piece with this observation from a sergeant major with the brigade: "Your country had to have a civil war," the Iraqi soldier told the American journalist. "It will be the same here. Everything in this world has its price. In Iraq, the price for peace will be blood."

In a follow-up piece a week later, Lasseter quoted a "senior U.S. military official in Baghdad": "Maybe they just need to have their civil war. ... In this part of the world, it's almost a way of life."

Brendan O'Leary, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania who is a constitutional adviser to the Kurdish government, lived in Iraq for the first six months of 2004 and revisited this year. "There is a civil war among Arabs in Iraq, in my view," he said in a recent interview, and "the real problem is this: There is no Iraqi army."

Although the Iraqi civil war is principally an affair between Arabs, there is a Kurdish dimension as well. The Kurds, who are predominantly Sunni but ethnically separate from Arabs, have historically lacked their own sovereign state and are resolved to include in their Iraqi sphere of control the oil-rich area in and around the northern city of Kirkuk. In a Balkans-style tableau, the Kurds, who themselves were once the victims of a vicious ethnic-cleansing campaign at the hands of Saddam, have mounted their own initiative to reassert a dominance by numbers over the local Arab and Turkomen communities.

After Saddam's capture, violence there has been persistent, including murders of local Kurdish officials, but also killings of Sunni Arabs in clashes with Kurdish militias. Sunni Arabs tend to view U.S. troop operations in this area in conjunction with Kurdish units as part of the Kurdish drive for control. In The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq, the journalist George Packer identifies volatile Kirkuk as the likeliest spot for the breakout of large-scale civil-war combat. "The obsession with ethnic identity had become the ultimate legacy of Saddam's rule, his diabolical revenge on his countrymen," Packer writes in his recently published book.

A Widening of the Civil War?
At this juncture, the war dead from the Iraqi conflict, now 32 months long, include more than 2,100 U.S. soldiers, according to the Pentagon, and at least 27,000 Iraqi civilians, according to a tabulation, based on media sources, by the Iraq Body Count project, a U.K.-based group.

There is no way to say, even roughly, what share of these deaths can be attributed to civil warfare, as distinct from other types of violence. What can be said is that by historical standards, the Iraqi civil war, whether dated from Saddam's capture in December 2003 or from the post-occupation shift to the Iraqi interim government in June 2004, is in a relatively early stage. Fragile governments like the new Iraqi one frequently struggle long and hard to defeat determined resisters. A possible reference point, for example, is the civil war that broke out in 1992 between the repressive, post-colonial government of Algeria and Islamic radical guerrillas. Violence, including wholesale massacres of villages, flourished despite elections in which the government won a large popular majority; in 2000, many armed insurgent groups disbanded as part of a national reconciliation, but even afterward, some confrontations with government units continued.

It is painfully evident that U.S. forces, as powerful as they are, cannot stop the civil war. Ian Lustick of the University of Pennsylvania compares the U.S. role, in this sense, to the Israeli occupiers of 1980s Lebanon, who achieved their objective of destroying the base of the Palestine Liberation Organization but who were then powerless to stop ensuing fighting between Shiite, Druze, and Christian bands.

What if the U.S. withdraws its forces? One possibility is that Iraqi Shiites, marshaling the security forces of the government, would in fact be able to crush the Iraqi Sunni rejectionists or at least stop the rejectionists' vicious campaign of urban terrorism. But the price could well be the end of any hope for a genuine Iraqi democracy. At a recent seminar on "new perspectives on insurgency," sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy, Kalev Sepp, a former U.S. Army Special Forces officer and a counterinsurgency expert who has been an adviser in Iraq, offered an analogy drawn from Uruguay in the 1960s and early 1970s.

At that time, Sepp noted, the government was battling the Tupamaros, a leftist guerrilla organization specializing in Iraq-style bombings, kidnappings (including of prominent foreigners), and assassinations. The government declared a state of "internal war" and decreed that the presence of more than one guest at a dinner party could be considered an illegal political gathering; the regime, which was controlled by the military, also used mass arrests and torture to defeat the Tupamaros."It's not that difficult" to defeat urban-terrorism movements, Sepp said, but "urban terrorists do often achieve their goal of making their targets abandon democracy." This pattern could indeed repeat in Iraq: Some Iraqi Shiite leaders are already begging Washington to permit them to take off the gloves in dealing with Sunni guerrillas.

Another scenario that could play out after withdrawal of U.S. forces is even darker. Analysts such as Cole believe that the wider Arab Sunni world would not stand idly by while Iraqi Shiites thrashed outnumbered Iraqi Sunni fighters. He predicts that, with the U.S. out, Sunni fighters from Saudi Arabia and Jordan would likely pour into Iraq to support their brethren. Their intervention could, in turn, spur an armed intervention from Iran, a Shiite-dominated country of non-Arab Persians, in support of Iraqi Shiites. (The British government believes that sympathetic Iranians are already offering unofficial military assistance to Iraqi Shiites.) The result would be a kind of Middle East version of the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, sucking in foreign powers from all sides.

Yet another wild card in this post-U.S. pullout scenario is the possible intervention of Turkish troops to deter any thoughts that Kurdish leaders in Iraq might have about including ethnically Kurdish sections of Turkey in a newly independent "Kurdistan." Such an aggressive action seems unlikely, given Turkey's political priority to join the European Union and not antagonize Western leaders, but it cannot be ruled out.

Mesopotamia's Choice
Perhaps the best judges of what might happen should the United States abruptly depart are the Iraqi people themselves. And on this score, their assessment is frightening. "I think you would get overwhelming assent from Iraqis that should American troops be precipitously withdrawn from the war, civil war and escalation of the sectarian conflict already under way would become virtually inevitable," John Burns, the Baghdad-based war correspondent for The New York Times, told PBS's Charlie Rose in a November 28 interview. An intermediate possibility is that U.S. ground troops leave Iraq but the Pentagon maintains air power to back up Iraqi government ground forces. But this is tricky: With Iraqis on the ground presumably calling in targets, the U.S. would be, in effect, hostage to their recommendations of places to hit and would still likely be seen, as it is today, as an abettor of one side in a sectarian conflict.

Is there really nothing, on the political-diplomatic front, that Washington and the international community can do to stop the logic of civil war in Iraq? Looking past the December 15 elections, some optimists are focusing on the possibility of turning Iraq's makeshift constitution, which remains a work in progress, into a guardian of a new political, economic, and social order.

One step, which might be called the "breakup" option, is promoted by such experts as Peter W. Galbraith, who as ambassador to Croatia in the mid-1990s helped to end the war between Croatia and Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia by reintegrating a piece of Serb-held territory into Croatia. "As Yugoslavia broke up in 1991, the first Bush administration put all its diplomatic muscle into a doomed effort to hold the country together, and it did nothing to stop the coming war," Galbraith recently wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

His recommended solution, given his view that "George W. Bush broke up Iraq when he ordered the invasion in 2003," is a radically decentralized Iraq that would accommodate a secular Kurdistan in the north, a Shiite Islamic state in the south, and a Sunni area in the middle, each having its own military. The military aspect of this proposal is crucial: The current situation, in which the Sunni-Arab-dominated chunk of Iraq is patrolled by a hated, Shiite-dominated army, strikes many analysts as an obvious formula for increased violence. Not all of Iraq's Sunni Arab fighters are hard-line rejectionists; some might lay down their arms in return for regional autonomy.

Galbraith's proposal is a post-Tito-Balkans-style prescription for stability. It is a seductive idea; but unlike the former Yugoslavia, post-Saddam Iraq is in a way cursed by its oil prize, a lure for all the major factions. A "Sunni-stan" wedged in between a northern Kurdistan and a southern "Shiite-stan" might be cut off from the oil fields -- which could add yet another motivation for aggrieved Sunnis to take up the gun.

Both the New York Times editorial page and the Bush White House -- not usually in agreement -- envision a broken-up Iraq as a nightmare. Alexander Hamilton probably would agree. Drawing on the political philosophy of Montesquieu and the fractious history of Greek and Italian mini-states, Hamilton writes in Federalist 9 that the alternative to a strong union is "an infinity of little, jealous, clashing, tumultuous commonwealths, the wretched nurseries of unceasing discord and the miserable objects of universal pity or contempt." Is it so much a leap across time and culture to imagine a dismembered Iraq as just such a place?

Although analogies to the Iraq civil war can illuminate, they have their limits. Nobody can "solve" the war, including Washington, without first understanding its unique dynamic. But that particular dynamic has so far proved elusive. The resort to metaphor, however useful, is also an indicator of how tough the Iraqi conflict is to grasp on its own terms.

As for the more general idea that civil wars are, in essence, about vengeance, as the historian Arno Mayer suggested, that insight does seem to apply to today's Iraq. This is a grim, but not hopeless, notion. After all, the human desire for score-settling is powerful but not inexhaustible. It will be up to the Iraqis to decide when to stop the torturing and killing -- up to them, and to their neighbors in the region, to choose something other than civil warfare.

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10:30 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Iraq: see no evil, hear no evil

Despite the country's ethnic tensions, the American military has come to rely on battalions of Kurdish soldiers in the Iraqi army


"You are the light and salvation of Kurdistan, the hope of the Kurdish people." So goes the marching song at the Faish Habur military training base in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region. For the 300 or so Kurdish soldiers kicking up dirt on the parade grounds, the words are more than a simple metronomic guideline for keeping in step -- the sentiment is the reason they joined the army in the first place. Although this is an Iraqi army training facility, you will never see an Iraqi flag flying here. And the song, written to honour the memories of fallen peshmerga -- "those who face death," Kurdistan's legendary freedom fighters -- says nothing about a federal Iraq.

This is one of the realities of modern Iraq: it is a divided nation on the brink of civil war. What holds it together is a foreign occupying force whose presence is, paradoxically, fracturing it even more. Facing a growing insurrection, American forces are solidifying whatever friendships they have. Hence Faish Habur, which is a U.S.-administered facility. At its front gate, though, are three flags: one Kurdish, another for the KDP (representing the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which administers this area of Kurdistan), and one American. And the battalions based here are 100 per cent Kurdish, and meant to be deployed to fight the insurgency, because the Kurds are a friendly asset making up a substantial part of the Iraqi army, and one the American military has repeatedly used. "The U.S. doesn't have a lot of friends in Iraq," says David L. Phillips, former senior fellow and deputy director of the Center for Preventative Action at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "It's being forced to use whatever allies it can find."

There have been dubious alliances. During the first siege of Falluja in April 2004, after the bodies of four U.S. contract workers were burned and strung up on a bridge, the Americans turned to an ex-Baathist general and his battalion of former Saddam loyalists, all Sunni-Arab Muslims, to quell the persistent violence in the city. More recently, U.S. military advisers have set up a commando unit, attached to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, hand-picked from former Republican Guards, and again all Sunni Arabs led by another former general from Saddam's army. But the lesson learned from the fiasco in Falluja (the Iraqi battalion lasted only days before it joined the insurgency), and more subtly from the brutality of the commandos, is that the Kurds -- themselves independence-minded -- are the only group the Americans can trust fully.

"They are our No. 1 ally in Iraq," says a U.S. officer from a military transition team (MiTT) at a forward operating base in Tal Afar, a city of approximately 300,000 in northwest Iraq, 420 km from Baghdad. (American-led MiTTs are scattered throughout Iraq's fledgling army, providing on-the-ground logistics support and training to Iraqi units.) Speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media, the officer admitted Americans are depending more and more on the Kurds to take over the fight against the Sunni-led insurgency. "It's common sense. With Kurds, we don't have to worry about infiltrators or men who are only here for the money and are a risk for desertion. The Kurds are here to fight. And they're damn good at it."

With domestic support for the Bush administration and the war effort in free fall, and the American death count steadily rising, nothing would be more welcome than an opportunity to lower troop levels in Iraq. A lot depends on the effectiveness of the Iraqi army, which has been put to the test in recent months. Iraqi soldiers have performed reasonably well, according to many of the U.S. troops who support them, although the glowing praise is reserved for the army's Kurdish elements. "We don't even bother with our own guards," says another officer with a MiTT attached to a small Kurdish Iraqi army unit near the al-Sarai neighbourhood of Tal Afar, near the Syrian border. "The Kurds provide us with all the security we need."

Al-Sarai was considered the most dangerous neighbourhood in Tal Afar before operations began there in early May of this year. "Kurds were the first to sweep through the area," says Maj. Jameel, commander of the Iraq army unit. "It was a battalion from the First Division. When people talk about this division, they refer to it as the Kurdish division of the Iraqi army. We basically control Tal Afar." The major, a Kurd whose men now occupy a former Baath party office in the city's southern suburbs, says the ties between the Kurds and Americans are so close now that he feels more like part of the American army.

This intimate relationship has been a source of some tension for Arab recruits. "I've talked to the Americans about this," says one Arab officer based at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Tal Afar. Agreeing to speak on condition of anonymity, he says there is growing frustration among the Arabs in the Iraqi army, but admits the Americans are not interested in changing the situation. "Unfortunately, the tactic is working. The Kurds have been brutally efficient in bringing peace to Tal Afar and Mosul. But there will be consequences."

Already, fissures are forming. One evening at a forward operating base in al-Sarai, a fight breaks out between a Kurdish and an Arab soldier. It lasts only seconds, but the ensuing polarization along ethnic lines is telling: the battalion at the base breaks off into two camps, Arab and Kurd, staring threateningly at each other. An American member of the on-base MiTT intervenes to defuse the situation. "I could see this coming," he says later, asking that his name not be published. "It's been building for some time now. The Kurds dominate the upper echelons of the military -- and the Arabs don't like it." One Arab soldier, who had been explaining the situation to the Americans, puts it bluntly: "The Kurds treat us with disrespect. They give us the harshest punishments. I know dozens of Arab soldiers who went home for leave and never returned. I'm considering doing the same."

Col. Shirzad Hassan, the commander of the battalion and a Kurd, later tries to minimize the incident. "All families have fights," he says rather unconvincingly. Others are more blunt. "Kurdish fighters cannot serve with Arabs," says Lieut. Colonel Aris, a Kurdish commander at Faish Habur. "After all that's happened, it is impossible for us to live with them. The best solution for Iraq right now is to divide -- isolation from each other is the only way to a peaceful Iraq."

But isolation is not an option for the Americans, who have been pushing for an ethnically integrated country. "Anyone who describes themselves as primarily loyal to a sectarian or ethnic group is a potentially disruptive force," says Col. Paul Yinling at Camp Sykes, the main U.S. military installation in the Tal Afar region, 10 km south of the city. He denies that the military is favouring any one group. "We simply don't think in terms of identifying a particular ethnic or sectarian group as an ally. For us, our purpose is to bolster the capability and the credibility of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces." But other U.S. soldiers are more candid. "It's a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil situation," says one MiTT officer in Tal Afar, referring to the U.S. reliance on Kurdish fighters. "We know it's happening and we've seen the tension it causes, but control over that is a few pay-grades higher than us."

Not only have the Kurds shown remarkable competence in securing their own region in the north of Iraq, but, since November 2004, they have played a key role in virtually all U.S.-led offensives. According to military sources in Kurdistan, at least one peshmerga battalion was deployed in the second Falluja offensive at the request of the Americans. During the height of that operation a year ago, many insurgents fled to Mosul in northern Iraq, 400 km north of Baghdad, plunging that city into chaos. "The Americans then requested 8,000 fighters to help bring peace to Mosul," says Sheikh Alu, the commander of peshmerga forces in Duhok, a Kurdish stronghold 65 km north of Mosul.

From his palatial headquarters, locally nicknamed the "White House," Alu commands a small army of at least 10,000 peshmerga fighters, though he will not admit to the exact number. These are what he calls "pure peshmerga," neither beholden to American military commanders nor the Iraqi Ministry of Defence in Baghdad. "They do what we tell them," says Alu, who prefers his nom-de-guerre over his real name, which he refuses to give. Even Kurdish units in the Iraqi army, he insists, take their final orders from the Kurdish leadership. "Besides," he adds, "the senior officers in Baghdad are all Kurds. The Ministry of Defence is run by Kurds."

With tacit U.S approval, Kurdish fighters have fanned out over much of northern Iraq, setting up camps on the road from Duhok to Mosul and farther west to Tal Afar. Peshmerga now control the Mosul dam, 40 km north of the city on the Tigris River, a strategic energy installation in this energy-starved country. "We have proven our worth to the Americans," says Col. Izzat Taieb, the commander of a small band of peshmerga guarding the road at the dam. "The Americans trust us." The colonel is not simply boasting: during the summer of 2004, this thoroughfare was one of the most dangerous in Iraq, a route to be avoided at all costs, and one where Kurds were being summarily executed almost daily by Sunni Arab insurgents. Today, the route is dotted with peshmerga outposts, and Kurds and foreigners can cruise through the mostly arid landscape with little concern for personal safety.

Mosul, a city of 665,000 that many Kurds claim as part of Kurdistan, is now largely controlled by Kurdish units of the Iraqi army. At their main base on the southern outskirts of the city, Gen. Mothafer Derki, commander of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Division, which he claims is 100 per cent Kurdish, credits his people for bringing Mosul under control. "When we arrived, things were very difficult in Mosul," he says. "Security was zero; the coalition forces could not go out as they are able to do now. Since we arrived on Nov. 11, 2004, 75 per cent of the work has been done."

Emboldened by their successes in Mosul and western Iraq, the Kurds are pushing for an even larger military role. During an October interview with Fox News, Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, demanded the Americans turn over more security responsibilities to the Iraqi army. Derki agrees, citing Kurdish dominance in the Ministry of Defence and among the rank-and-file soldiers as a sign that the army is ready to bring order back to the country. "We have secured Mosul," he says. "Security did not come here from Baghdad, the Kurds have brought it themselves. The same will happen from Erbil to Kirkuk and then again from Sulaimany to Baquba. That is our plan, to move step by step to where the disease exists, and cure it."

Unfortunately, the disease is much more virulent than the general may be willing to admit. "The new Iraqi constitution allows regions to maintain their own security forces," Phillips says. "It institutionalizes militias." If civil war does break out on a large scale, he warns, Iraq's national army could fragment, with ethnically divided units moving to protect their own interests. In that case, the Kurds may have played their hand perfectly. For now, they are helping the Americans in the fight against the insurgency -- and profiting from the experience. Should the fragile federation that is Iraq splinter, their region will be, militarily, the most powerful -- and independent. It may be that is the prize that some Kurdish leaders are already reaching out their hands to claim.

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10:31 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Posted on Mon, Dec. 12, 2005

Iran gaining influence, power in Iraq through militia

By Tom Lasseter
Knight Ridder Newspapers

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Iranian-backed militia the Badr Organization has taken over many of the Iraqi Interior Ministry's intelligence activities and infiltrated its elite commando units, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

That's enabled the Shiite Muslim militia to use Interior Ministry vehicles and equipment - much of it bought with American money - to carry out revenge attacks against the minority Sunni Muslims, who persecuted the Shiites under Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, current and former Ministry of Interior employees told Knight Ridder.

The officials, some of whom agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity for fear of violent reprisals, said the Interior Ministry had become what amounted to an Iranian fifth column inside the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, running death squads and operating a network of secret prisons.

The militia's secret activities threaten to derail U.S.-backed efforts to persuade Sunnis to abandon the violent insurgency and join Shiites and Kurds in Iraq's fledgling political process. And by supporting Badr and other Shiite groups, Iran - a member of President Bush's "axis of evil" that sponsors international terrorism, is thought to be seeking nuclear weapons and calls for the destruction of Israel - has used the American-led invasion to gain influence in Iraq.

"They're putting millions of dollars into the south to influence the elections ... it's funded primarily through their charity organizations and also Badr and some of these political parties," said Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. general in Iraq. "A lot of their guys (Badr) are going into the police and military."

Current and former ministry officials said the American military hadn't interfered with Badr's infiltration of the ministry, either because U.S. officials weren't fully aware of what was happening or because they didn't want to risk arresting militia leaders who had powerful political positions and tens of thousands of followers.

Interior Ministry and Badr officials have denied any involvement in the prisons or death squads, but Gen. Muntadhar Muhi al-Samaraee, a former head of special forces at the Interior Ministry, said the prisons were run by Badr operatives.

"All prisons in the south and most of those in Baghdad are run by the Badr militia," al-Samaraee, a Sunni, said in an interview in Amman, Jordan. Al-Samaraee said he left the country for medical treatment and decided not to return because of death threats. He's denied Interior Ministry accusations that he fled to Jordan after stealing a car.

Badr's leader, Hadi al-Amari, has denied maintaining ties to Iran, but in a fit of anger during a recent interview with Knight Ridder he admitted as much while striking out against U.S.-backed secular Shiite politician Ayad Allawi.

"Allawi receives money from America, from the CIA, but nobody talks about that. All they talk about is our funding from Iran," he said, raising his voice. "We are funded by some (Persian) Gulf countries and the Islamic Republic of Iran. We don't hide it."

Badr was formed and trained in Iran in cooperation with the Iranian government, and its members staged raids into Iraq during the war between the neighboring countries in the 1980s.

"The Americans use the Interior Ministry commandos as tools to fight the insurgency. They know what Badr is doing and they don't care," charged Omar al-Jabouri, a top official with the Iraqi Islamic Party, an influential Sunni group. "The interests of the Americans are the same as Badr."

Sunni groups, including the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Muslim Scholars Association, have cataloged hundreds of instances this year in which men wearing Interior Ministry uniforms arrived in Sunni neighborhoods at night and took men who later were found dead.

Last Thursday, a raid on a detention center near the Interior Ministry building found 13 men who apparently had been tortured and needed medical treatment.

Last month, 169 men, most of them Sunnis, were found in an Interior Ministry bunker in Baghdad's Jadriyah neighborhood. Many of them had been beaten with leather belts and steel rods and made to sit in their own excrement, according to a U.S. military official and an Iraqi who was held at the center. Police officers with knowledge of the jail said Badr ran it.

A Human Rights Ministry official who spoke only on the condition of anonymity said both places were home to clandestine operations run by the Interior Ministry's intelligence units.

"We monitor the prisons, but there are so many secret centers that we know nothing about," the official said.

A senior U.S. military official in Baghdad, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, acknowledged that the torture at the Jadriyah site was carried out by a rogue Interior Ministry intelligence group.

"It's not clear this was an official MOI (Ministry of Interior) organization," the official said. "If you look at the MOI organizational charts, you will not find the Jadriyah bunker."

After Iraq's national elections last January, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a political party that's tied to Badr, took power and installed an official with strong ties to Badr, Bayan Jabr, as the head of the Interior Ministry. The ministry's ranks, particularly intelligence and commando units, were quickly stocked with Badr militia members, according to interviews with current and former ministry officials.

"Everybody says you have a Badr guy in the MOI. Well ... he was elected," said the senior U.S. military official in Baghdad. "And they say he's appointed a bunch of Badr guys. We have a Republican administration in America, and guess what? They've appointed a lot of Republicans. You elected SCIRI, and SCIRI is Badr."

The American officer said it would be up to the Iraqi government to deal with the Badr organization and other militias.

Sunni leaders say the Shiite-controlled government will never police Shiite militias.

There also have been allegations that the militia that's loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who also has Iranian support, is responsible for some of the killings. Many of the details of the incidents, however, point more to Badr. For instance, the killers often are reported as traveling in white Toyota Land Cruisers and carrying Glock pistols. Both are common at the Badr headquarters in Baghdad, but not with al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fighters, most of whom are poor and travel in beat-up vans and cars.

Asked who was behind the rounding up and killing of Sunnis, Casey said, "I don't know that it's the quote Badr corps that's doing it or the ... Mahdi (Army) that's doing it, but I have no doubt that people who are associated with those groups are involved."

Although militias are illegal under Iraqi law, Badr has flourished as U.S. forces have declined to crack down.

"It's not infiltration. They're upfront about it (their militia affiliation) and day to day things are OK, but then there's a crisis," Casey said. "What you see happening is that people are ... signing up (for the security forces) but their loyalties lie more to a militia leader than a chief of police."

A document obtained by Knight Ridder appears to reveal the existence of an Interior Ministry death squad.

A memo written by an Iraqi general in the ministry operations room and addressed to the minister's office says on its subject line: "Names of detainees." It lists 14 men who were taken from Iskan, a Sunni neighborhood in western Baghdad, during the early morning hours of Aug. 18. It also marks the time of their detention: 5:15 a.m.

The bodies of the same 14 men were found in the town of Badrah near the Iranian border in early October. Hussein Sayhoud, a doctor at Baghdad's main morgue who examined the bodies and signed one of the death certificates, said that most of the men had been killed by single gunshots to their heads.

"I remember when they brought in the whole group," Sayhoud said. "They were so badly decomposed we couldn't identify any marks of torture."

The general who signed the Interior Ministry memo, Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, confirmed its authenticity. But despite a heading that reads "Names of the detainees in the Iskan District," Khalaf maintained that insurgents, not Interior Ministry police, had abducted the men.

It's unclear, however, why an Interior Ministry general would refer to men who'd been kidnapped by Sunni insurgents as "detainees" in an official government document, or how the general knew the exact time of the abduction.

Pressed for more details, Khalaf said: "The minister is very upset. He wants to know how such a document slipped out of the ministry."

Col. Joseph DiSalvo, who commands a brigade of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in eastern Baghdad, where there's a heavy Shiite militia presence, said it would be all but impossible for the American military to defeat the militias.

The largest neighborhood in DiSalvo's area of operations is Sadr City, home to 2.5 million to 3 million people. It was the site of fierce clashes last year between al-Sadr's militia and U.S. forces.

"Sadr City is probably our most secure zone because of the de facto militia presence ... the Mahdi militias doing their neighborhood patrols," DiSalvo said. "And you also have Badr patrols where you have SCIRI enclaves."

There've been reports of several instances in DiSalvo's area of Sunni men being rounded up by vehicles with Interior Ministry markings, then found murdered.

"The coalition forces cannot enforce it (the law forbidding militias). We cannot negate the militias. It would be like having a 2 million-man tribe, and all of a sudden saying, `Tribe, you do not exist,'" DiSalvo said. "You'd have to have more manpower than is feasible."

Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Leila Fadel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed to this report from Baghdad, as did Iraqi special correspondents in Baghdad and Jordan who can't be named for security reasons.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Bush's Strategy, Iraq's New Army Challenged by Ethnic Militias

Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush's strategy for transforming Iraq is threatened by the growth of sectarian militias that are undercutting Iraq's nascent national army and fueling ethnic violence, according to analysts and former U.S. officials.

The Defense Department's intelligence agency says there are dozens of loosely organized Shiite armies in southern Iraq, Kurdish militias in the north that function like a regular army, and as many as 20,000 Sunni fighters who are part of the violent insurgency in Iraq's four central provinces.

Bush insisted yesterday that Iraq was moving steadily toward political unity even amid violence and turmoil. Fears ``that Iraq could break apart and fall into civil war'' are unjustified, he said during a speech in Philadelphia.

Some analysts don't share his optimism. ``The situation continues to deteriorate,'' said Anthony Cordesman of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. ``It's a matter of the militias, new political organizations, Shiite groups'' and Iraqi security forces becoming ``forces for revenge or reprisal.''

Bush yesterday acknowledged recent examples of such violence, including a Sunni political party that said its offices were bombed and at least 10 members killed after the party announced it was fielding candidates for the Dec. 15 vote; and the discovery of Iraqi prisons where, Bush said, Sunnis ``appeared to have been tortured and beaten.''

First Allegiance

Leslie Gelb, former assistant secretary of state and former president of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, said most of the militias pay first allegiance to their ethnic or tribal group.

``It's not an Iraqi army,'' said Gelb, who visited Iraq for 10 days earlier this year. Kurds are loyal to Kurds, Shiite militias resembling ``mafia operations'' run the south, ``the central region has the insurgency, and Baghdad is all mixed up,'' he said.

Patrick Lang, former chief analyst for the Middle East at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said Iraq's different ethnic groups ``will not serve together'' in national army units.

``They tried it and it didn't work, and now they're going back to ethnically pure units,'' he said, citing Defense Department officials he declined to identify. Lang, a retired colonel in the Army's Green Berets, is now president of Global Resources Group, a Washington-based consulting firm.

`Tribal Issues'

Army Lieutenant Colonel Fred Wellman, a spokesman for the U.S. training command in Iraq, said the U.S. is building an army ``that represents all of Iraq'' and that ``there are no ethnically pure divisions, nor do we seek ethnically pure divisions.''

``Clearly there are real challenges with sectarianism and tribal issues'' in the Iraqi forces, Wellman said in a telephone interview from Baghdad. ``Every Iraqi has mixed loyalties, and they are overcoming it.''

Bush's speech yesterday was the third of four planned for delivery in advance of the Dec. 15 parliamentary election in Iraq to defend his strategy and outline what's ahead.

The parliament that will emerge from the election -- chosen from more than 200 political parties -- is supposed to select a prime minister, president and cabinet by year-end to negotiate difficult differences over the constitution: disputes over oil revenue, which entities have the right to tax, the role of Islam in the state, and the protection of civil liberties.


The most contentious issue involves federalism. The constitution establishes Iraq as a federal parliamentary republic while leaving open the question of how much power the regional governments will have.

Shiites make up 60 percent of the population and dominate oil-rich areas in the South. Kurds, who represent 15 to 20 percent, seek to control the oil resources in the north and have been semi-autonomous since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Both were repressed under the Sunni-led dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, and both oppose a powerful federal government.

``The most important force in Iraq for breaking up the country and preventing a strong central government isn't the insurgency, it's the Kurds, and the second most important force is the Shiites,'' said James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corp., a Santa Monica, California-based policy research group.

``The Kurds are the main proponent of a weak central government, and the Shiites are tending toward the Kurd view of strong regions and weak central governments,'' Dobbins said. ``The Kurdish Pesh Merga is the biggest militia in the country, and the second-biggest are Shiites, and they are in control of the parties that are going to win the election. If Iraq begins to divide, the insurgents themselves would comprise a third, Sunni militia.''

Outlaw Militias?

Jon Alterman, head of Middle East studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said one issue for constitutional negotiators is whether sectarian militias can lawfully exist.

``A strong set of militias in Iraq reminds everyone of Beirut, where the militias became proxies for warlords and you didn't have any kind of effective political structure,'' Alterman said.

Iraq will probably hold a referendum on the revised constitution about four months after the new government is formed, Alterman said. The Dec. 15 vote just moves Iraq ``from one period of uncertainly to another,'' he said.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jeff St.Onge in Washington

Last Updated: December 13, 2005 00:01 EST

10:32 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Security & Terrorism
Outside View: Iraq's grim lessons

UPI Outside View Commentator

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- There is a grim lesson to learn from the evolution of the insurgency in Iraq.

It is a lesson that goes firmly against the American grain, but it is a natural corollary of limited war. If the course of the political and military struggle shows the United States that it cannot achieve the desired grand strategic outcome, it needs to accept the fact that the United States must find ways to terminate a counter-insurgency war. Defeat, withdrawal, and acceptance of an outcome less than victory are never desirable in limited war, but they are always acceptable. For all the arguments about prestige, trust, and deterrence, there is no point in pursuing a limited conflict when it becomes more costly than the objective is worth or when the probability of achieving that objective becomes too low.

This is a lesson that goes against American culture. The whole idea that the United States can be defeated is no more desirable for Americans than for anyone else, in fact, almost certainly less so. But when the United States lost in Vietnam it not only lived with the reality, it ultimately did not suffer from it. When the United States failed in Lebanon and Haiti, it failed at almost no perceptible cost. Exiting Somalia was not without consequences, but they were scarcely critical.

This does not mean that the United States should not stay in Iraq as long as it has a good chance of achieving acceptable objectives at an acceptable cost. But it does mean that the United States can afford to lose in Iraq, particularly for reasons that are frankly beyond its control and which the world will recognize as such. There is no point in "staying the course" through a major Iraqi civil war, a catastrophic breakdown of the political process, or a government coming to power that simply asks us to leave. In all three cases, it isn't a matter of winning or losing, but instead, facing a situation where conditions no longer exist for staying.

In the future, the United States will need to pay far more attention to the option of declaring that it is fighting a limited war for limited objectives if it really is a limited war. It may well need to fully explain what the limits to its goals and level of engagement are and develop a strategy for implementing, communicating and exploiting these limits. One mistake is to tell the host government, or the people you are fighting with, that your commitment is open-ended and that you can never leave; the incentive for responsibility vanishes with it.

Similarly, if you tell the American people and the world that a marginal strategic interest is vital, the world will sooner or later believe it, which is very dangerous if you have to leave or lose. You are better off saying you may lose, setting limits, and then winning, than claiming that you can't lose, having no limits, and then losing. And this should not be a massive, innovative lesson, but it is one we simply do not seem prepared to learn.

The evolution of the insurgency in Iraq is yet another lesson in the fact that focusing on the military dimension of war is an almost certain path to grand strategic defeat in any serious conflict, and particularly in counter-insurgency. If the United States must engage in counter-insurgency warfare, and sometimes it must, then it needs to plan for both the complexity and cost of successful conflict termination and ensuring a favorable grand strategic outcome. It must prepare for the risk of long-term engagement and escalation, risks that will require more forces and resources; or it must otherwise set very clear limits to what it will do based on the limited grand strategic value of the outcome and act upon them -- regardless of short-term humanitarian costs.

The United States needs to prepare for, and execute, a full spectrum of conflict. That means doing much more than seeking to win a war militarily. It needs to have the ability to make a valid and sustainable national commitment in ideological and political terms. It must find ways of winning broad local and regional support; stability operations and nation building are the price of any meaningful counter-insurgency campaign.

Iraq, like so many other serious post-World War II insurgencies, shows that successful counter-insurgency means having or creating a local partner that can take over from U.S. forces and that can govern. Both Vietnam and Iraq show the United States cannot win an important counter-insurgency campaign alone. The United States will always be dependent on the people in the host country, and usually on local and regional allies. And to some extent, will be dependent on the quality of its operations in the United Nations, in dealing with traditional allies and in diplomacy. If the United States can't figure out a way to have or create such an ally, and fight under these conditions, a counter-insurgency conflict may well not be worth fighting.

This means the United States must do far more than create effective allied forces. In most cases, it will have to find a way to reshape the process of politics and governments to create some structure in the country that can actually act in areas it "liberates." Pacification is the classic example. If the United States or its allies can't deploy allied police forces and government presence, the result is far too often to end up with a place on the map where no one in his right mind would go at night.


(Anthony J. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke chair of Strategy at the center for strategic and International studies in Washington DC. This is taken from his latest CSIS paper "The Iraqi war and its strategic lessons for counter-insurgency.")


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

10:32 PM  

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