Bleeding Iraq

Published : Nov 19, 2004 00:00 IST

Bodies of members of the Iraqi National Guards who were killed in an ambush in Mendeli, north-east of Baquba, on October 24. - AP

Bodies of members of the Iraqi National Guards who were killed in an ambush in Mendeli, north-east of Baquba, on October 24. - AP

The situation in Iraq is spinning out of the occupation forces' control, and there is a widespread feeling that the U.S. will use the increasing violence to cancel the elections scheduled for January.

ON the campaign trail, United States President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney have been claiming that the occupation of Iraq is a success story, despite stark evidence to the contrary. Not surprisingly, Iraq occupied centre stage in the last month of the presidential campaign. Indications are that the Iraqi resistance is only gaining in strength. Attacks against U.S. forces took place inside the heavily fortified "green zone" in Baghdad itself in mid-October. In fact, U.S. officials admit that there are more resistance fighters in Iraq than they had estimated originally. Pentagon officials have admitted that they will have to reassess their military strategy soon.

The death roll of Americans in the war zone continues to rise. October has been one of the worst months so far with on an average one U.S. soldier being killed every day. According to Pentagon officials, the attacks have increased by 25 per cent since the beginning of Ramazan in mid-October. Kidnappings and beheadings are rampant. Iraqis as well as foreigners are being targeted by militants and criminal elements. The latest high-profile victim is Margaret Hassan, who has a dual United Kingdom-Iraqi citizenship and is the head of the Iraqi chapter of CARE, a humanitarian organisation. A Japanese citizen was kidnapped in the last week of October. The captors have demanded the immediate withdrawal of U.K. and Japanese troops from Iraq. Journalists working for Western media organisations have admitted that it is virtually impossible for them to step out of their heavily fortified hotels without police or military protection.

The worst setback for the occupation forces in October was the killing of 49 U.S.-trained Iraqi Army volunteers. They were ambushed near the town of Baquba. On the same day a U.S. diplomat was killed in Baghdad when the resistance forces fired mortars at the U.S. military headquarters.

More than a hundred Iraqis working for the Iyad Allawi government have been killed in October alone. The setbacks mean that the American timetable for the setting up of a full-fledged Iraqi army is now a distant dream. According to experts, given the success of the insurgents in undermining the morale of the Iraqi security forces, it will take another five years for this U.S. enterprise to become a reality.

Many U.S. military analysts admit that much of the leadership of the resistance is in the hands of former Iraqi Army officers. U.S. intelligence agencies and former Army officials have admitted that the dissolution of the Iraqi Army soon after the invasion was a miscalculation of the highest order. The cashiered soldiers became the backbone of the resistance within weeks. There is also a belated realisation in Washington that President Saddam Hussein had planned for a guerilla war before the invasion.

Washington has been exaggerating the importance of non-Iraqi Islamic militants in the new liberation struggle. Iraq-watchers admit that pan-Arab jihadists such as Abu Musab Al Zarqawi have found a new haven in Iraq, but according to them they are in a minority in the resistance. Zarqawi's importance was being cynically exaggerated by Bush, for electoral gain. Interestingly, it was only in mid-October that Zarqawi announced his fealty to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It was Zarqawi's message to the world that he was an independent player until recently and not a fully paid-up member of Al Qaeda as alleged by the U.S.

MEANWHILE, the people of the beleaguered city of Falluja have been subjected to continuous aerial bombardment by the occupation forces since early October. The Americans insist that Zarqawi and his fighters are still holed up in the city. The people of Falluja, on the other hand, claim that this is only a pretext for the U.S. to avenge the humiliating military setback it received at the hands of the resistance in Falluja and elsewhere in the middle of this year. Falluja's leadership, comprised of a cross section of civic groups, has written a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan demanding that the U.N. ask the occupation forces to stop the massacre of the city's inhabitants. Television footage and news reports from the city have conclusively shown that most of those killed in the daily U.S. air raids are innocent civilians, most of them women and children.

The spokesperson for the U.S. military is seen every day boasting that the "multinational forces" have been killing a number of terrorists and Al Zarqawi supporters. In their letter to Kofi Annan, the citizens of Falluja have said that Zarqawi is not in the city. "Regardless of the motives of those fighters, they have provided a pretext for the city to be slaughtered," a resident of Falluja told the Egyptian paper Al Ahram.

Washington is preparing to launch a full-scale assault on the city after the U.S. presidential election. The redeployment of elite U.K. troops in areas near the capital from the south is an indication that an assault on the city is imminent. Much of the city has already been reduced to rubble following incessant aerial bombings. Before the U.S. invasion, Falluja, the city of minarets, was a popular leisure destination for ordinary Iraqis.

Congressional and Pentagon officials revealed that the Bush administration would ask for an additional $70 billion to fight the war in Iraq. Washington has spent more than $150 billion officially so far. This is another indication that the war is going to be a costly and long-drawn-out affair. Pentagon officials have admitted that they never visualised that the scale of fighting would escalate to such a level.

There are at present 130,000 U.S. soldiers along with 20,000 civilian contractors - the code word for mercenaries - fighting in Iraq. The civilians fighting along side the Army get paid up to $1,000 a day, to the discomfiture of the average enlisted soldier. According to U.S. economist William D. Nordhaus, who teaches at Yale University, the war in Iraq could cost the U.S. exchequer $250 billion, half the amount the country spent in conducting the war in Vietnam.

There are fears that Washington will use the escalation in the violence to cancel the Iraqi elections scheduled for January 2005. U.N. Special Representative in Baghdad Ashraf Jehangir Qazi said in the last week of October that the elections should be held as scheduled. The U.N. has made a tentative voters list comprising 13.9 million people, based on the U.N. food-for-oil list. The former government had a foolproof rationing system in which the names of all Iraqi citizens were recorded.

Washington seems to have some alternative plans regarding the elections up its sleeves. An election even under the prevailing circumstances would give the nationalist forces, which have grouped together under the Shia leadership, a clear victory. In an opinion poll taken by a U.S. think tank, it was found that the radical Shia cleric Muqtada Al Sadr was more popular than interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

According to reports, Washington is apparently trying to convince the constituents of the present interim government to put up a combined list of candidates so as to preclude a genuine electoral contest. A senior U.S. official has been quoted as saying that what Iraq needs is "a scaled-back democratic process". Washington fears that a popularly elected government in Iraq will gravitate politically towards Iran. U.S. officials allege that Iran is subsidising Shia parties like the one led by Al Sadr. The cleric has signalled that he wants to enter the electoral fray. His followers in Sadr City, where around two million people live, have started a much-publicised handover of small weapons in lieu of dollars. Influential sections of the Iranian media are predicting a U.S.-sponsored "military coup" before the January elections to prevent a Shia-dominated government from taking over in Baghdad.

THE U.N. has turned its back on the show trial being planned for Saddam Hussein by the occupation authorities in tandem with the rump Iraqi government. A letter from the U.N. Secretary-General's office in the last week of October cast "serious doubts" on the credibility of the Iraqi Special Tribunal set up to try Saddam Hussein and top members of his Cabinet. The letter from Kofi Annan's office emphasised that the Special Tribunal did not meet the "relevant international standards". The proposed tribunal is to be presided by U.S.-trained and -appointed Iraqi judges.

The international community and human rights groups are of the opinion that the former Iraqi head of state will not get a fair trial inside Iraq. Human rights groups want an internationally approved panel of judges to preside over the trial. The interim Iraqi government wanted the trial to start by November this year. It is likely to be postponed indefinitely. In an open court, Saddam Hussein will have a lot to say about his close relationship with previous U.S. Presidents, including the present one's father, George H.W. Bush.

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