Iraq Spins Out of Control
The mission in Iraq is far, far from accomplished.
A surge in deadly violence this weekend brought the bloodiest day in Iraq in recent months; suicide bombings, mortar fire and fierce battles between insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi security forces, including a firefight between an Iraqi crowd and a U.S. helicopter crew, killed dozens, leaving even more injured. Attacks against U.S. forces now average 87 per day, the worst monthly average, reports Newsweek, "since Bush's flight-suited visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003." Casualty figures keep escalating: the U.S. death toll passed 1,000 last week and over 7,000 have been wounded. Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted this weekend, "We did miscalculate the difficulty" of winning the peace in Iraq.
In a significant setback for U.S. efforts in Iraq, Fallujah, one of the nation's biggest cities, is now entirely under the control of rebel insurgents. This weekend, the Iraqi military force put in place in the explosive city by the Marines disbanded. There is strong evidence that many members have been working with insurgents against the U.S. forces that provided them with weapons and paychecks. Last April, the White House withdrew Marine troops from the city, hoping the newly created Brigade would work with the Iraqi government to fight the insurgency. The city quickly fell under the control of the insurgents, as many in the Brigade openly joined the rebel forces against the United States. Today, the city is a safe haven for insurgents, a place to "take refuge, plot attacks and run manufacturing centers for car bombs and other explosives."
Lt. Gen. James Conway, the outgoing U.S. Marine Corps general in charge of western Iraq, said yesterday that he had disagreed with the hasty order that sent his troops to invade Fallujah in April as well as the subsequent decision to withdraw from the city and turn over control to the disloyal Brigade. Conway said the disastrous assault increased tensions while making the region more hostile to U.S. forces: "We felt like we had a method that we wanted to apply to Fallujah, that we ought to probably let the situation settle before we appeared to be attacking out of revenge." Instead, higher ups insisted on the attack, and then demanded troops pull out when the fighting grew fierce: "I would simply say that when you order elements of a Marine division to attack a city, you really need to understand the consequences of that, and not, perhaps, vacillate in the middle of that. Once you commit to do that, you have to stay committed." Marine Col. Jerry Durrant agrees: "The whole Fallujah Brigade thing was a fiasco."
Nineteen months after the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration has failed to achieve significant reconstruction, contributing to the ongoing frustrations of the Iraqi people. According to Bathsheba Crocker, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, when it comes to economic opportunity, services, and social well-being, "Iraq is actually moving backward." The Los Angeles Times reports the job of restoring electricity to war-torn Iraq is "steeped in errors and misjudgment." Electricity for Iraqis was central to White House reconstruction plans, but today, Iraq's largest source of electricity, the Baiji power plant, "produces less than half the electricity it generated" two years ago. Why is the country still in the dark? Lack of planning, inconsistent leadership and an over-reliance on private contractors. The Bush administration "vastly underestimated the time, money and effort needed to restore the country's power grid." It's indicative of the failures of the entire reconstruction process, still marked by "tainted water supplies, limited sewage treatment and curtailed construction of public buildings." The ongoing failure has dire ramifications for the unstable security situation, producing "a deep reservoir of confusion and anger that feeds the country's deadly insurgency."
The increased violence has serious ramifications for the scheduled elections. "We're dealing with a population that hovers between bare tolerance and outright hostility," says a senior U.S. diplomat in Baghdad. "This idea of a functioning democracy here is crazy. We thought that there would be a reprieve after sovereignty, but all hell is breaking loose." The Bush White House is blithely insisting elections will occur in January as planned. Security concerns, however, have left others less confident. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated this weekend on Meet the Press that "It would be lovely if they took place in January, but I sure don't see it." Iraqi officials are also increasingly skeptical. One senior Iraqi official told Newsweek, "I'm convinced that it's not going to happen. It's just not realistic. How is it going to happen?" Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari echoed that thought, saying, "The timetable really depends at the end of the day on the security situation."
Some worry that the Bush administration, desperate to avoid the appearance of yet another setback, will stick to the schedule despite ongoing problems. Ghassan Atiyya, director of the independent Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy, warns, "Badly prepared elections, rather than healing wounds, will open them."