Iraq rant

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George W Bush is on increasingly shaky ground. Not only has Congress voted to pull US troops out of Iraq by April 1, 2008 (though he will veto this), but members of his own party are turning against him.

It’s about time.

He has been a disaster for the Middle East. It will take years to repair the damage his administration has done to the region, if that is even possible. Only the Australian defence minister has been forthright enough to admit his country is in Iraq for oil — it would be so refreshing for the US (and Britain) to at least admit this is a factor in keeping them there.

I won’t sit here and pretend a US withdrawal from Iraq will solve everything overnight. It’s scary to think of the future that awaits the Middle East once the occupation ends. A shambles of a nation bordering seven countries… It is worrying that Iraq is ahead of Somalia on the failed states index, as Somalia has essentially been an anarchy for years.

For a vision of where Iraq may be headed based on experiences in Basra, check out this report from the International Crisis Group.

I feel obliged to point out that, according to this map at least, much of the country is under Iraqi government control. However, it does not indicate if control is total, nominal etc. Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki says his nation’s army and police are capable of maintaining order once the US leaves. It is important for Iraq’s self-esteem as a country and the credibility of al-Maliki’s government that they do.

That the US military has begun arming Sunni militia to fight al-Qaida in Anbar province is tacit acceptance that an American victory is impossible. Not only that, it could allow old local grudges to be settled and set the scene for well-armed militias to rule the roost once coalition forces leave.

Bush has made much of the “liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein” and the “return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people” (quotes from this transcript). Liberation from a man the US helped put in power and whom the CIA assisted during the Iran-Iraq war.

Unfortunately Iraqis have used this liberation to catch up on decades of sectarian conflict which was oppressed under Saddam (and it is not the first country where this has happened).

I am not for one second saying that Saddam’s leadership was a good thing. Although relatively stable compared to its successor state, his was a brutal regime and many thousands of people suffered under it.

However, many thousands have suffered in a democratic Iraq. There have been months when as many civilians died as did during the whole of the conflict in Northern Ireland (c. 3,500). America does not have a good track record of encouraging or forcing regime change: just think of Chile, Cambodia and Guatemala.
It was natural that, in the power vacuum following Saddam’s fall, local groups would work to secure their vested interests. Hence the formation of an Iraqi parliament along sectarian lines (and feel free to leave a comment if I’m missing something here).

A fragmented Iraq is a dangerous thing, as it invites external actors. For example, Turkey has 200,000 troops along the border with Iraqi Kurdish territories. I have already written about what could come of this (here and here). Iran must also be looking at the situation, particularly given the history between it and Iraq.

To argue that the move by Republican senators Richard Lugar and John Warner (linked to in the first paragraph) isn’t significant because they have not set a date for the withdrawal of armed forces would be to miss the point — it underscores divisions within Bush’s party and a wider opposition to the war in Iraq.

It would require Bush to re-seek authorisation for the war, authorisation he has had since 2002. Although it would still be up to the president to pull out of Iraq, he would have to submit revised plans by October 16. These plans, the senators urge, would include “a drawdown or redeployment of forces”.

Bush wants to keep things as they are until the US commander in Iraq, General Petraeus, delivers his report in September — and Petraeus, using Northern Ireland as an example, has said countering an insurgency could take ten years or more.

Reports on Iraq are not worth waiting for. This week saw one by the Bush administration that said the Iraqi government had made satisfactory progress toward eight of 18 benchmarks, unsatisfactory progress on eight more and mixed results on the others. You can read the report here.

“I believe we can succeed in Iraq, and I know we must,” Bush has said.

There comes a time in every man’s life when he must realise he can not win. This is surely the time for Bush. A withdrawal plan must be put in place as soon as possible.

Would the situation in Iraq be any different if it was a force of UN peacekeepers? The UN is not the greatest organisation in the world but its cordial relations with Hezbollah in Lebanon demonstrates it has the capacity to sink substantial roots in the region.

It seems Bush is not the only US official with his head in the sand. Writes Anne Flaherty of AP:

At a news conference Friday (July 13), the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, said the number of battle-ready Iraqi battalions able to fight independently has dropped from 10 to six in recent months despite an increase in U.S. training efforts.

Pace said the readiness of the Iraqi fighting units was not an issue to be “overly concerned” about because the problem was partly attributable to losses in the field.

“As units operate in the field, they have casualties, they consume vehicles and equipment,” Pace said.

Hang on for just one moment please. Did he just say the loss of four battalions wasn’t something to be “overly concerned” about? A battalion can have hundreds of soldiers (I’m unsure of the exact make-up of an Iraqi battalion, but such a unit in the US army has 300-1,000 as far as I know).

That four battalions — lost either through attrition or lack of resources — can no longer act independently is not something that should be dismissed as a matter of no consequence. Their country needs them. I hope they are rebuilt and back in the field as soon as possible — for Iraq’s sake.

I invite your comments and observations.

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