Saturday, December 25, 2004

No zero-sum game in Iraq

December 24, 2004

Iraq No zero- sum game

The ferocity of the insurgency in Iraq and of the US military in tackling the guerrillas has gone several notches up in recent months. We have seen it happening. It is also understandable why it is happening on both sides. Both sides are desperate.

After all, the US launched an unprecedented high-stake game when it invaded and occupied Iraq last year after toppling the Saddam Hussein regime. The next month's elections in the country are crucial to the continuation of the script, and Washington has all the reason to make sure that Iraq is pacified ahead of the polls.

The deceptions, lies and concocted intelligence findings that American and British officials cited to justify the war against Iraq clearly showed how high the Bush administration and the Blair government considered the stakes to be.

It is not every second day that a country, regardless of it being the sole superpower in the world, gets to lay its hands on another nation, regardless of how small or militarily weak it might be, with a view to absolutely controlling it as part of its quest for global domination and serve its strategic ally in the region, Israel. Add to the equation the natural resources of the country under occupation and its strategic location.

Quest for control

"Failure" in Iraq is not an eventuality in the American scheme of things. To beat down any and every challenge to the US quest for absolute control of Iraq, directly or through proxies, is an American priority and part and parcel of the roots of the US approach to the Middle East in the immediate term and to the international scene in the long term. As such, it is absolutely committed to do what it takes to turn the occupied country around to the desired shape, and it would not flinch at a dozen of Fallujahs.

For the insurgents, it is vital to thwart the US plans regardless of who and what ideology (or none at all) that they represent or their perceptions of the future of the country and its people. One could come up with many reasons. They include: Allowing the election to go ahead without hindrance will, in the first place, deal a severe blow to their efforts to show the world that the US and its allied forces are no longer in control of the country; the elections would see the emergence of a Shiite-led leadership at the expense of the minority Sunnis who held the sway since the early years of last century; permitting the chaos to subside will allow the US and its ally Israel to shape Iraq to suit their interests and undermine Arab interests at large; and, for many of the "foreign militants," the US military presence in Iraq is nothing but a rare opportunity to vent their anti-American hostility by targeting American soldiers. Then there are the self-assumed "international jihadists" -- the likes of Abu Musab Zarqawi, who -- it is a strong bet -- would not be able to produce a cohesive, realistic answer to the question what they want in Iraq. Add to the equation those external players who fear that allowing the US to pacify Iraq would only lead to the American guns being turned around to be trained on them for "regime change."

It is against that backdrop that fresh evidence has emerged that the White House had authorised the use of torture against detainees in Iraq in order to extract information on insurgents. It clearly fits into the picture where American strategists are dead bent upon using every avenue available to the heart of the insurgency with a view to quelling it.

Torture approval

It should also explain why the administration even took the risk of being accused of -- as it is today -- of violating the eighth amendment of the US constitution which says:

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

Wouldn't an executive authorisation of torture of detainees be a violation of the US constitution? Well, it is a question that Americans should ask their administration and demand an answer. Indeed, some, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) , are already asking.

Bush had declared on June 26, 2003, marking UN Torture Victims Recognition Day: "The US is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example. I call on all governments to join with the US and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating and prosecuting all acts of torture."

Isn't the same president who is now accused by the ACLU of having issued the order authorising the use of inhumane interrogation methods against detainees in Iraq?

The ACLU charge is backed by reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that characterise methods used by the US military as "torture."

A two-page e-mail refers to an executive order stating that the president directly authorised interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, the use of military dogs, and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc." The ACLU is demanding that the White House confirm or deny the existence of such an order and immediately release the order if it exists.

Other documents detail the methods of torture based on reports filed by field agents.

A sample is an FBI document dated June 24, 2004 -- two months after the extent of abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison was fully revealed to the world -- which contains the account of an FBI agent who observed "serious physical abuses" in Iraq. Marked "urgent" and sent to FBI Director Robert Mueller, the document described strangulation, beatings and the placing of lit cigarettes into detainees' ears.

Blaming game

When the extent of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib was revealed in graphic details, the White House defended itself by contenting that a few "rotten apples" in the US military establishment and private contractors were responsible for the gross violations of human rights that the pictures portrayed and those who perpetrated would be punished.

Little was said -- nor is it said now -- about how successive US administrations had laid the ground for such abuses by giving an impression that the Arabs were less than human beings and it is no big deal if they were treated as animals.

Then again, we have people like Republican Senator Jim Inhofe who has said during a debate on the abuse and torture of Iraqis: "I have to say I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment. The idea that these prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in cellblock 1A or 1B these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents, many of them probably have American blood on their hands, and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."

Obviously, Inhofe was not aware or chose to ignore the reality that many Abu Ghraib detainees were Iraqi civilians who had little to do with the insurgency and were picked up for petty crimes and even traffic violations.

If a proper accounting was done over why American military personnel and private contractors felt they would get away with abusing, torturing and humiliating Arabs and Muslims -- as they did in Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo Bay -- then the ball would have gone to the very top. The White House would have had to explain that its attitude, the manner in which the invasion and occupation of Iraq was carried out, and the instructions given to lower ranks of the military through the various layers had not bred an air of contempt for Arabs and Muslims that led to the despicable treatment of Iraqi, Afghan, Arab and Muslim prisoners under American detention.

What values?

Somehow, with all-too-indignant comments and lofty declarations about American values and principles, Bush himself and his close aides like Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and other senior Pentagon officials, eased themselves out of blame. For good measures, they picked a handful of soldiers and charged them for the crimes at Abu Gharib.

However, the political leadership might not be able to squirm out of the latest fallout.

It should also not be surprising that interrogators also humiliated Arab detainees by wrapping them in Israeli flags. Indeed, in all probability, that "method" was suggested by Israelis who were hired to interrogate Iraqi detainees.

An article written by Wayne Madsen appearing on the website in May 2004 noted: "With mounting evidence that a shadowy group of former Israeli Defence Force and General Security Service (Shin Bet) Arabic-speaking interrogators were hired by the Pentagon under a classified 'carve out' sub-contract to brutally interrogate Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, one only needs to examine the record of abuse of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in Israel to understand what Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld meant, when referring to new, yet to be released photos and videos, he said, 'if these images (of torture in Abu Ghraib) are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse'."

The article quotes a "political appointee" within the Bush administration and US intelligence sources as saying that "the interrogators at Abu Ghraib included a number of Arabic-speaking Israelis who also helped US interrogators develop the 'R2I' (Resistance to Interrogation) techniques. Many of the torture methods were developed by the Israelis over many years of interrogating Arab prisoners on the occupied West Bank and in Israel itself."

That might indeed not be news to many, given the record of the "strategic partnership" between the US and Israel.

Desperate situation

The reality on the ground in Iraq today is that the US is finding the going tough, to put it mildly. Washington planners have realised that they desperately need to wage a ruthless, make-or-break military campaign in order to show some semblance of things under control by Jan.30, when Iraq would go to the polls.

The insurgents are determined not to allow that to happen and the Americans are determined to hit the insurgents wherever they appear. The trouble is that the ranks of those who challenge the US role in Iraq are swelling, not necessarily because of any in-built hatred towards the Americans but because he life in the country has become unbearable, contrary to expectations that the removal of Saddam would have signalled a turn to the better and an end to sufferings.

Apart from the perpetual terror of having to live with the uncertainty when, where and how a stray or intended missile, bomb or bullet could kill or maim them or destroy their homes, Iraqis are suffering in all aspects of life, and there does not seem to be any way out.

In a shambles

Forget about the elections. Iraqis are worrying about how to live let alone vote. The economy of the country is in a shambles. Crude-oil exports average 1.6 million barrels a day, around half of what the country exported before the war. Sabotage against oil pipelines is a daily occurrence, and oil exports remain frozen for days after attacks while repairs are carried out. Quite simply, oil cannot be expected to generate the income to run the economy of Iraq which has 11 per cent of the world's known reserves of oil.

There is an acute crisis sparked by shortage of petrol and diesel for the average Iraqis.

Before the war, agriculture accounted for more than one-quarter of the country's gross domestic product and 20 per cent of employment. It is now in ruins. The World Bank says it would take $3.6 billion to restore the agriculture sector.

Power generation has been halved by the war. Repairs are going on, but even before the war there was not enough power since power generation facilities were destroyed during the 1991 war. The system that existed before the 2003 war was mostly patchworked.

Clean drinking water is scarce in many parts of the country. Sewage plants, hit in the first war and never repaired, have been further damaged. Sewage from Baghdad is flowing untreated into the Tigris River.

Some 1,000 Iraqi schools need to be rebuilt as a result of damage and looting, and almost 20 per cent of the country's 18,000 school buildings need comprehensive or partial repair.

Unemployment is put somewhere between 25 and 50 per cent.

State-run hospitals are suffering from chronic shortages of all kinds. Health workers are unable to move around freely and medical supplies could not be sent to most places because of unsafe streets.

Doctors in major hospitals continue to complain of shortages of drugs used in surgery and emergency operations, anti-inflammatory drugs, vital antibiotics, and cancer drugs.

Generators break down during surgeries and patients die. There is no clean water even in hospitals.

No wonder there is not much interest among Iraqis over the elections. They want hard answers to their question when they could expect an uplift, assured of their safety and the means to earn a living and lead a dignified life.

In the meantime, the battle between the US and insurgents -- no matter what their motives and objectives and who their supporters are -- is not a zero-sum game. Neither side would win it, but they fight for different considerations and reasons.

The US military would never be able to gain absolute control of Iraq. Of course, sheer military strength might help it to eventually present an atmosphere of relatively better security. But time is on the side of the insurgents, for all they need to do is to scale down their offensive and carry out carefully planned suicide bombings and ambushes that would belie all American claims of a pacified Iraq.

By the same token, the insurgents would never be able to dislodge the US from Iraq even if they were to create another Vietnam there. The US is determined to pay whatever price it takes for it to hammer down its stakes in the Middle East.