Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Iraq hopes scaled down

July 21 2004

Iraq hopes diminish

pv vivekanand

Hopes that the transfer of power in Iraq to the interim government would reduce guerrilla attacks have been scaled down in the wake of an increase in bombings and ambushes against the US-led coalition soldiers and their Iraqi allies.
Reports drawn up by US intelligence agencies and the Defence Department now portray a dramatically different picture than earlier expectations that Iraqi resistance as well as militant attacks against the US-led forces would ebb away after the interim government took over on June 28.
The conclusion now is that as long as there is a flow of money and arms into Iraq, the attacks would continue and there is little the US military or the interim government could do to bring the situation under control without committing an additional 100,000 soldiers supported by an extra 100,000 Iraqi security men.
The US is reporteldy planning to increase the number of soldiers in Iraq by 10,000 to 15,000 reservists by the end of the year. Simulataneously, the interim government is also building its police force.
Even with the additional forces, it would take several months of a "no-holds-barred" crackdown in all parts of the country to restore any semblance of normalcy that would be conducive to conducting elections in January.. Such action means detention of tens of thousands for indefinite periods without trial.
The coalition forces are facing trouble on many fronts.
Saddam loyalists have assumed control of the town of Samarra spanning the Tigris River north of Baghdad. Taliban-style fighters have vowed a fight to death before they allow American forces to enter Fallujah west of Baghdad to search for "foreign fighters." The town of Ramadi is following the Falloujah example.
Moqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army soldiers are keeping their peace in southern towns, but the situation is so tense that troubles could break out at the first given chance.
The Kurds are in control of most of the north of Iraq and life is normal there.
Hardline militants of the Ansar Al Islam group, which was chased away from northern Iraq, are said to be regrouping on the Iranian side of the border in the north.
Basra in the south is booming with Iranian-controlled trade. And terrorised life is a feature of Baghdad in central Iraq.
Reports indicate that Samarra is controlled by remnants of Saddam's Republican Guards who have redonned their uniforms and are defhying the coalition forces and the US-supported Iraqi Civil Defence Corps.
They are successfully held off attempts by the US forces from patrolling the streets of the predominantly Sunni town since early July.
In Falloujah, a security force, also made up of remnants from Saddam's armed forces, is in charge, but it is working closely with Islamist forces from the town and is refusing to disarm them. American forces fear entering the town, but they do lob a few missiles off and on against suspected guerrilla hideouts. Such strikes are helping to fuel not only the anti-US sentiments but also rejection of the interim government's authority because the missile attacks are approved by Allawi.
The US military claims that supporters of Jordanian-born Islamist Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, who allegedly masterminded dozens of devastating attacks on civilian targets, are holed up in Falloujah.
In the south, Moqtada Sadr has instructed his Mahdi Army militia co-operate with the police in restoring order, but trouble could break out if the militiamen were to be asked to give up their weapons.
Iraqi police want the militiamen to surrender their weapons, but the Sadrists counter that they want the arms to fight and subdue people they describe as arms merchants and drug traffickers as well Sunni militants planning to create trouble.
In the north, Ansar Al Islam, made of Kurdish militants many of whom former trainees at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, have set up a camp on the Iranian side of the border.
The group maintained a camp in the village of Tawela stradling the Iraqi-Iranian border in north Iraq before the war. During the war, pro-US Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) fighters supported by American air power attacked and destroyed the camp. Some Ansar fighters were arrested but the bulk of Ansar camp esidents managed to escape across the border to Iran.
According to eyewitness accounts, Iranian security officials allowed only the Ansar camp residents across the border and refused other Iraqis who tried to enter Iran fleeing from the American military assault.
And now the Ansar Al Islam members are regrouping and have set up camps at the foot of an Iranian mountain range in Baramawa village, 20 kilometres west of Mariwan, and Darbandi Dizly near Daranaxa village further to the west.
Their presence is a threat the PUK and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) since Ansar Al Aslam opposed the PUK-KDP joint administration of autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
Ansar guerrillas have killed dozens of PUK members, including the "prime minister" of autonomous Kurdistan, who is now a vice-president in the interim government in Baghdad.

Worrying figures

The number of American soldiers killed in guerrilla attacks in the first 20 days of July is proportionately more than those who died in the entire month of June.
Statistics show that an average of two soldiers were killed every day in July from among the 160,000-strong coalition force (138,000 Americans and 22,000 allied soldiers); 38 have been killed between July 1 and July 20 compared with 42 in the month of June. However, the June figure was marked down from the 80 deaths in May and 135 in April.
More than 10,000 soldiers from the coalition were wounded since the war began, with more than 60 per cent of them unfit to be return to duty because of the severity of the injuries.
US officials had estimated that a maximum of 5,000 guerrillas falling under different groups — Saddam loyalists, Iraqi (Sunni and Shiite) opponents of the US role in Iraq and anti-American international jihadists — were active in Iraq. The figures were dramatically revised this month, with the total number of anti-US guerrillas from all groups estimated at more than 20,000.
The Americans and allied coalition forces are learning from their experience in Iraq how to deal with a guerrilla war, but the guerrillas are also perfecting their skills in mounting roadside bombings and suicide blasts as well as ambushes.
Large areas outside population centres are lawless, with not only guerrillas seeking targets but also hardcore bandits who rob anything and anyone entering their fiefdoms. The entire stretches of the highways running from Baghdad to the Jordanian and Syrian borders are no longer under the control of American or Iraqi government forces. Bandits roam the land and pick on anything that moves along those roads, witnesses have reported
An amnesty offered by the interim government is unlikely to draw in any sizeable number of fighters accepting it because assurances that they would be treated well sound hollow, given that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is bringing back elements from the ousted Saddam Hussein regime known for their bruality and summary actions into the security forces and police.
Most worrying American strategists is what they see as the strong endurance power of Iraqis.
"The American planners did not take into consideration that Iraqis had lived under the tight UN sanctions for nearly 13 years and this has taught them to limit their needs," said a European expert. "There is no doubt that the US military and its coalition partners as well as the Iraqi security forces functioning under the interim government would have to double their numerical strength and also engage in a ruthless, all pervasive crackdown in order to check the resistance."
The pitfall in such an approach, the expert warned, is that the interim government and the coalition forces would alienate the Iraqi society further with arbitrary actions such as storming of homes, summary arrests, brutal interrogation methods, torture and detention without trial. Thousands of innoncents would be caught in the crossfire.
"The American and their Iraqi allies have a tiger by the tail," said the expert. "They cannot continue to take casualties at this rate but they cannot launch decisive action to stem the attacks without further fuelling the resistance while also drawing condemnation from the international community against what would be nothing but gross violations of human rights."
Allawi, who has set up a special agency to ferret out and eliminate the guerrillas, says that he has identified leaders of the resistance and his interim government is in a "dialogue" with them.
Obviously, the prime minister, a Shiite, is trying to convince the Sunni tribal leaders who fear that the majority Shiites would dominate the Sunnis in post-Saddam Iraq that they would not be victimised and their rights would be protected in a post-conflict Iraq. However, Allawi's assurances are set back by the firm positions adopted by the country's Shiite leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, who is sending out an impression from his southern powerbase that the Shiites are waiting for the elections to prove their clout in the country.