Monday, December 06, 2004

Alarm bells ringing for US

By PV Vivekanand

WHY doesn't the CIA's assessment and warning to the Bush administration that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating and is not likely to rebound any time soon surprise us in this region? It is very simple: Commentators and analysts in the Middle East have known this for long and have been saying it at every given opportunity, but few in Washington seemed to care. Obviously, to admit that the US designs in Iraq have gone wrong wholesale and that Washington has a tiger by the tail in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq would not fit in with the schemes of the neoconservatives who orchestrated the invasion and occupation of that country in the first place.
As reported by the New York Times, the CIA warning is "unusually candid" and presented a bleak assessment on "matters of politics, economic and security." It did admit "important progress" in the political process and "credited Iraqis with being resilient."
Again, the reference to political process is indeed linked to the strides made by the US-backed interim government in the broader Arab context rather than within Iraq. And it is no revelation that Iraqis are resilient. After all, the people of Iraq have lived through the suffering of three wars since 1980 and their plight is all the more tough and difficult today than anytime in recent history. They endured the eight difficult years of war with Iran, followed by the Kuwait crisis and the consequent United Nations sanctions that had their economy in a stranglehold since 1990 until last year's US-led invasion that toppled the Saddam regime and installed the US military presence in the country.
Everyone — except those in Washington who do not want to accept it — know that the term "security" has become alien to the people of Iraq.
Reports from Iraq clearly indicate that no one is feeling safe anymore. Let us put together a summary of the reports in our own way:
Even if you have nothing to do with the either side, the US-led coalition force or the insurgents, you are exposed and vulnerable to threats that are very much real and could end up in you being dead.
In every neighbourhood, someone is watching you for signs where you belong, whether you are dealing with the coalition forces and the Iraqi National Guard or the insurgents. If you are siding with the coalition forces, then insurgents put a bomb in your car or your house. If you are seen having any links with the insurgents, then the US forces and the Iraqi national guards would come and pick you up, and lock you up to be subjected to torture to reveal what you might know about the guerrillas waging the war of resistance against the US forces and their allies.
People disappear overnight, and the families do not know who are responsible.
It is as if Saddam Hussein's regime is back where a midnight knock at your door means you are wanted. Your family would have no recourse to know what happened to you once Saddam's forces had taken you away.
It is the same that is happening these days in a much worse manner.
Threats and warnings are written on your house walls asking you to stay away from co-operating with the US forces. You better take the threat seriously or pay the price with your life. If you are a member of the Iraqi National Guards, you could be killed any time, even as you step out of your house to buy grocery. No wonder Iraqi guards mask their faces whenever they are on duty. They don't want to be identified and marked for death. Dozens of Iraqi policemen who had the misfortune of having being filmed at the scene of bombings and seen on television news were killed in less than 48 hours because they were identified by the insurgents.
Such is the level of intimidation and terror that prevails in Baghdad and other Iraqi towns and cities.
No one can protect you, least of all the US forces.
The innocent looking car parked on the kerb as you walk to buy bread could explode as you pass by; or a rocket could fall next to you and kill you instantly. Or your neighbour is an Iraqi guard whose house is attacked and you become part of the victims caught in the crossfire.
No one trusts anyone. All are suspects. Insurgents as well as informers for the US forces are among you and they could determine whether you live or not.
The threats are increasing now, with the January elections approaching. Graffiti is everywhere asking people to boycott the elections of face the wrath of "sons of Iraq" as insurgents call themselves.
Add to that the difficulties of daily life: Water and power supplies are erratic. Jobs are scarce, and those who are indeed employed have to be on constant alert against dangers lurking round the corner. Women are not safe beyond their walls.
We don't know whether CIA warning was explicit on these realities on the ground. According to the New York Times, it does warn that
security in the country is likely to deteriorate unless the Iraqi government makes significant progress in asserting its authority and building up the economy.
We wonder how the interim government would go about consolidating its authority when its security forces are deliberately targeted in the guerrilla war. As to building the economy, one needs to look closer at the systematic attacks that are carried out against the country's lifeline — the pipelines that pump oil to export terminals. Those behind the attacks mark time until each bombing before damages are repaired before striking again. Obviously, they are aware of the importance of the pipelines to any effort to rebuild the country's economy.
The CIA warning becomes all the more significant, given that it was issued after the US military claimed "victory" in overpowering the restive town of Fallujah and touted it as a landmark in efforts to pacify the country.
Obviously, that should also explain why American Ambassador to Iraq John D. Negroponte was said to have objected to the CIA's findings as too harsh. At the same time, the top American military commander in Iraq, General. George W. Casey, is said to have initially offered no objections.
The CIA warning is also said to fit in with a National Intelligence Estimate drawn up by in July and sent to the White House in August by American intelligence agencies which presented a "dark forecast for Iraq's future through the end of 2005."
That assessment outlined three possible developments, with "the best case" being "tenuous stability and the worst case included a chain of events leading to civil war," according to the New York Times.
President George W Bush, who had dismissed that assessment as nothing more than guesswork, should be taking the CIA warning more seriously — that is, indeed, if he has been given an accurate summary of what the intelligence agency had to say. Again, it is a point to be remembered here that those who control the flow of intelligence information to the president are not exactly known to convey bad news; they opt instead to doctor intelligence reports in a way that suits the neocon objective of pressing ahead with the belligerent policies of the administration regardless of American interests based on realities on the ground.
We don't know how detailed the CIA warning to the White House is. However, here are a few pointers — unsolicited, unwanted and undesirable as they might be to the US administration — to the realities in Iraq.
1. To a majority of the Iraqis, the American military presence is not welcome. They might have seen the Americans and allied forces as their liberators when the Saddam regime was toppled, but that euphoria did not last more than a few days.
2. Under the American-backed governance of their country today, Iraqis find themselves in worse shape than they were under the Saddam regime; they have erratic/expensive supplies of basic needs of life such as food, water and power; more than 40 per cent of the work force do not have jobs or the jobs they have are nowhere near their basic expectations; they have no security and live in perpetual fear for their life; many resent that American-backed Iraqis who lived in exile during the Saddam regime are now controlling them while those who suffered the atrocities of the toppled regime because of their political opposition have been shoved aside.
3. Many Iraqis believe that the invasion and occupation of their country was and is aimed at exploiting their country's natural resources, particularly that they know how the US administration of Iraq led by overseer Paul Bremer is said to have misused/diverted proceeds from the country's oil exports while funds allocated by the US Congress for reconstruction of Iraq were left unused because spending that money needed accurate accounting. The Iraqis have also seen how American giants like Halliburton and others are making billions in the name of rebuilding their country while they benefit little from the process.
4. The insurgency against the US-led coalition forces is as much as Iraq-specific it is retaliation for the injustices that American allies — most prominently Israel — have inflicted upon Muslims and Arabs. The brutality with which the US-led forces are handling the insurgency and the US military's shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy has made it impossible for the people of Iraq to accept that Washington means them any good. Tens of thousands of Iraqi families have been turned destitute as a result of American actions, and they would never be able to come to terms with the US role in their country. A classic example is the town of Fallujah, which was shattered beyond recognition in the recent American assault, with the bulk of the killed and wounded being civilians — mostly women and children — while the US military claims it as a victory against insurgents.
5. There might indeed be truth in the American assertion that the stepped-up violence and guerrilla attacks against the coalition forces and their allies aim at aborting elections scheduled for January. But the situation has to be seen in the broader context of the militants' quest to fight Americans anywhere and anytime.
6. The Sunnis of Iraq fear that the political changes in their country would be at their expense and they are determined to put up a stiff fight to make their point, with hopes that something might happen at some point sooner or later that would serve their interests. Surely, they have no idea what that "something" would be, and this makes it all the more dangerous for the US.
7. There are regional players who fear that it would be their turn for "regime change" after the US "pacifies" Iraq. As such, their vested interest is to ensure that the US is not given an opportunity to "contain" Iraq and turn its guns on others; and hence the cross-border flow of militants volunteering to fight the Americans.
No doubt, the American intelligence agencies are aware of the formidable challenge the Bush administration is facing in Iraq. Perhaps the "unusually candid" CIA warning is their way of telling the emperor he is indeed naked.