Dohiyi Mir
    In Which NTodd Says His Peace

Monday, August 18, 2003
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Failure Trumps Success In Iraq

The NYTimes brings some disturbing news about the ever-evolving tactics of the Iraqi resistance:

In a turbulent 12-hour stretch, a pipeline supplying much of Baghdad's water was blown up this weekend, a huge new fire was set off along an oil pipeline, and a mortar attack on a prison left 6 Iraqis dead and 59 wounded.

The attacks raised new concerns that the insurgents who have been singling out American soldiers may be widening their strikes to include civilian targets and economic sabotage.

This just drives a further wedge between the occupiers and the people, because our efforts to restore services are critical to our success. Further, if we continue to be viewed as not providing security, public sentiment will only grow more negative. Along those lines, look at what WaPo is saying:

Four months after the fall of President Saddam Hussein's government, the overall U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq has encountered a...mix of success and failure. Although the occupation authority has compiled a lengthy list of achievements -- from setting up municipal councils in 85 percent of the country's towns to distributing monthly food rations and allowing Iraqi judges to dismiss suspects arrested by American soldiers -- glaring troubles persist. Electricity production still is well below prewar levels. The unemployment rate is 60 percent. Fuel is in short supply, causing hours-long waits at gas stations. Murders, carjackings and other violent crimes are rampant.

Those problems have fueled complaints on the streets of Baghdad and other cities that the Americans are not working, spending or devolving authority fast enough.

"Why don't they give all the unemployed people a stipend? Why don't they bring in generators so we'll have electricity? Why don't they give our policemen more cars so they can protect us?" asked Kassim Mohammed, an out-of-work engineer who participated in a recent demonstration over a lack of jobs held outside the gates of the vast Republican Palace, which houses the headquarters of the occupation authority. "America can do it if it wants to."

It appears everybody had unrealistic expectations of the war in Iraq: BushCo, the American people, and the Iraqis. The perception is that we can do anything, and when that perception meets reality, confusion and conflict are the result. Even if I believed that this war were truly about liberation, the fact of the matter is we messed it up and resentment of our occupation is growing every day. Erik over at Timshel says we are not fighting Iraqis. I argued that if we aren't now, we are perceived to be, and likely will truly be fighting them in the future if we don't get our act together. The latest Baghdad Bulletin testifies to that:

"The Americans say that they came to liberate us, but what have I gained from them? Two bullets in my leg and one in my stomach," Rahim said.

The US-appointed governor of Salahuddin Province, which includes Tikrit, said that, "the treatment by Americans of the people is as in any other province." He paused. "However, the Americans can be very forceful."

Far from the airconditioned hallways of power, ordinary Iraqis are increasingly employing a familiar language of oppression and resistance to describe their condition.

"The US here are an occupation force," said Jameel, who would only give his first name. “Their tanks are doing the same as the Israelis’ in Palestine. They will never persuade us that they are liberation forces. When they kill or destroy anything, the resistance will multiply. We are a Muslim people and our religion and tradition will never allow us to be slaves.”

In a press conference the day before, Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer said that the regular attacks on American forces were "carried out by killers who cannot accept the free and democratic Iraq that now exists."

It is hard to reconcile this portrait with Adel, a mechanic who was also afraid to give his full name.

"My neighbour is Kurdish and yet we treat each other as brothers" he said, "I am a Tikriti Sunni and my wife is Shiite. Religion and race will not be a barrier to us. What we want as ordinary people is for our political and religious leaders to take control. We want to live in peace in a unified Iraq.

"However, now if we find out that somebody has been helping the Americans we will kill them. Even if my own son was an informer I would kill him.

"There is no organization behind it. It is not the Baath Party," continued Adel, when asked about the attacks on US troops. "My family and friends are insulted by the Americans every day and every day we sit down in the evenings and discuss revenge. Maybe one day I will carry out some attacks myself. In the past a famous Iraqi poet said, 'When I visited Tikrit I discovered fire.'"

Unfortunately, this fire is not limited to Ba'athists or Sunnis. Shia are also chafing under the occupation. More and more I'm reading in the Arab press comparisons between what we are doing in Iraq with the Israeli occupation. Given how significant a touchstone the treatment of Palestinians is in the Arab world, this is not a good sign. Glossy magazines are not going to help our image--only consistently positive actions will and as time goes on, even those won't be enough.

A few weeks ago, we had a lively debate here about a rapid exit from Iraq. In that post I quoted Edward Luttwak from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (the folks commissioned by Rummy to report on the situation in Iraq):

The perils of a rapid exit are many, but the only alternative is a prolonged occupation that offers no greater guarantees of success, at far greater cost.

I'm even more convinced now than I was before that we need to do whatever it takes to get out quickly.


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A non-violent, counter-dominant, left-liberal, possibly charismatic, quasi anarcho-libertarian Quaker's take on politics, volleyball, and other esoterica.

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