Targeting collaborators

Published : Feb 27, 2004 00:00 IST

Two explosions on February 1 make it clear to the Americans that no part of Iraq is safe for them and Kurds too are active participants in the resistance.

THE past couple of weeks were not good for the occupation forces in Iraq. On February 1, as Iraqis were celebrating Id, two suicide bombers in the northern city of Irbil separately blew themselves up at the offices of the two main Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The simultaneous explosions resulted in the death of at least 150 people, according to reports that appeared a day later. Among those killed were the Governor of Irbil and top officials of both the parties. The two parties are close allies of the Untied States occupation forces and are central to the present strategy of the Bush administration. The attacks are said to be the handiwork of the Harkat-ul-Ansar, a Kurdish militant group, which operated from the northern Kurdish enclave before the war. From the early 1990s, most of the enclave was under the control of the two Kurdish parties.

The Harkat is opposed to both the pro-U.S. secular Kurdish parties and the Baath Party. It was uprooted from its stronghold with U.S. aid prior to the invasion. The February 1 attacks are a reminder to the Americans that no part of Iraq is safe for them and that there are many Kurds participating in the resistance. Significantly, the blasts took place when U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz was visiting Baghdad to study the political and security situation first hand.

The latest incidents will add further impetus to the demand by the two parties for an independent homeland, which would include Kirkuk and Mosul, two cities populated heavily by non-Kurds. The Kurdish desire is opposed bitterly not only by the majority of the Iraqi people but also by neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Iran and Syria. In fact, the Bush administration has given an undertaking to Turkish Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan that Washington will not allow the creation of an independent Kurdish entity in the region. In the long run, the U.S. needs Turkey more than the Kurds. Turkish influence in the Caucasus and Turkey's long-standing strategic relationship with the West make it an eminently suitable ally as the Bush administration prepares for a long haul in Iraq. A Turkish Army General recently issued a warning that the future would be "difficult and bloody" if the Kurds persisted with their demand for an ethnically based federation for Iraq.

A DAY before the blasts in Irbil, a suicide bomber drove into a police station in the northern town of Mosul, killing nine policemen and injuring scores of civilians. The policemen, recruited and trained by the Americans recently, had gone to collect their salaries. Iraqi insurgents have been increasingly targeting policemen and other Iraqis working for the U.S.-appointed interim government. U.S. military officials have admitted that though there has been a decrease in the number of attacks on their soldiers, the number of attacks on Iraqi security personnel trained by them has substantially increased. More than 300 Iraqi policemen have been killed since May 1, 2003, after President George W. Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq.

The attacks on U.S. targets, though fewer in the last couple of months, have still managed to inflict significant casualties. U.S. combat deaths in Iraq in January rose sharply. In fact, 36 U.S. soldiers and one American civilian were killed, making it the bloodiest month for the occupation forces since November. When 94 American soldiers died. In December, the U.S. combat toll was 32. The U.S. military seems to have given up hope of the violence ebbing in the near future. The "coalition" spokesman Dan Senor said, in the last week of January, that the scale of violence was not expected to go down in the immediate future. The U.S. Army spokesman, Brigadier-General Mark Kimmit, said that though attacks had decreased, combat fatalities had not.

Many observers feel that it will give rise to difficult political problems for the Bush administration if the casualty rate remains on an average one a day for an indefinite period, especially with the presidential election coming in November 2004. Hence the haste to hand over power to an Iraqi regime of its choice by the middle of the year and to withdraw U.S. troops to safer areas in Iraq. The maintenance of law and order in the cities of central Iraq will be left to the local police force trained by the U.S. and to mercenaries provided by Pentagon-approved contractors. South African firms, which did roaring business in the civil wars that plagued the African continent until recently, have already started doing lucrative business with the occupation authorities. Any precipitate withdrawal by the U.S. will inevitably lead to a full-blown civil war. Any government in Iraq with a popular mandate will not take kindly to the presence of U.S. troops on its soil. Hence the Bush administration's haste to install a handpicked legislature and government.

History has shown that the Arab world seldom tolerates occupiers, especially non-Muslim occupiers. Long and bloody wars have been waged against the French occupiers in Algeria and Morocco and against the British occupation of Iraq. The Israeli occupation of Lebanon and West Bank is a more recent example. Many analysts predict that the U.S. experience in Iraq will be worse than the one in Vietnam. The isolation and illiteracy of the peasants in the 1950s and 1960s had slowed down the momentum of the guerilla struggle in Vietnam. A decade of U.S.-inspired sanctions coupled with the depredations of the Zionist state in the region, had already radicalised the masses in Iraq. Nationalism combined with Islamic radicalism has made a potent mix, as the U.S. occupation forces have learned to their chagrin.

The Bush administration suffered a new diplomatic setback after the U.S. Chief Weapons Inspector David Kay resigned from his post in late January, saying that there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. His resignation came only a few days after Vice-President Dick Cheney reiterated the administration's contention that the case for war was justified and that Saddam Hussein was sitting on a pile of WMDs. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has still not given up on his claim about the existence of WMDs in Iraq, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. After Kay's testimony to the U.S. Congress, there was a bipartisan demand from lawmakers for an inquiry into the Bush administration's assertions before the war that Iraq was very close to developing a nuclear weapon and was in possession of huge stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

Bush was finally compelled to order an inquiry on February 2, after months of stonewalling. He has ordered the setting up of a bipartisan commission, which will look into American intelligence operations, including the reason given for leading the country to war in Iraq. However, Kay, in his testimony to Congress, had let the President off the hook by laying on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other security agencies most of the blame for the intelligence failures in Iraq. Kay said that based on the information provided to the administration, "it was reasonable to conclude that Iraq posed an imminent threat". The critics of Bush, on the other hand, have said that the intelligence information was selectively used while pressuring the U.S. intelligence community to portray Iraq as a clear and imminent danger to the security of the U.S.

The focus of the bipartisan commission has been further diluted as Bush has ordered it to look into other unrelated intelligence failures, ranging from the CIA's inability to predict the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan in 1998 and gauge the advances made by Iran and North Korea in the nuclear field. Conveniently for Bush, the commission will submit its report after the presidential election.

Blair had no other option but to follow suit and order an official inquiry on February 3. Blair like Bush, is trying to cover his tracks by limiting the scope of the inquiry. The British probe will only concentrate on the quality of British intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq. The Liberal Democratic Party, which is boycotting the inquiry, is of the view that the proposed commission should look into the political decisions taken to justify the war against Iraq. A recent poll showed that the majority of the people in the United Kingdom did not trust their Prime Minister. The intelligence agencies in the U.S. and the U.K. are livid at the blatant attempts by politicians to shift the blame for the colossal blunder they committed in Iraq on to the intelligence community.

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