You might think at least in the Shia deep south of Iraq things are looking up. Well, wrong. Basra is ruled by competing militias and police engage in assassinations of opponents.
The chief of police in Basra admitted yesterday that he had effectively lost control of three-quarters of his officers and that sectarian militias had infiltrated the force and were using their posts to assassinate opponents.
Speaking to the Guardian, General Hassan al-Sade said half of his 13,750-strong force was secretly working for political parties in Iraq's second city and that some officers were involved in ambushes.
Other officers were politically neutral but had no interest in policing and did not follow his orders, he told the Guardian.
"I trust 25% of my force, no more."
Appearances are deceiving.
In marked contrast to Baghdad, razor wire and blast walls are uncommon in Basra and instead of cowering indoors after dark families take strolls along the corniche.
But Gen Sade said the tranquillity had been bought by ceding authority to conservative Islamic parties and turning a blind eye to their militias' corruption scams and hit squads.
The militias are knocking off each others' leaders. Maybe that will work out with a single militia coming out on top like with organized crime groups in America. Or maybe the city will Balkanize. Or, hey, to make it more regionally fitting, maybe Basra will Lebanonize into civil war.
With sectarian violence increasing between the nation's Shiite and Sunni Muslims, the figures raise the question of whether Iraq is turning into two battlefields: one of insurgents versus the U.S. military and another of Iraqi sects fighting each other.
In the northern city of Tal Afar, there were reports that militants were in control and that Shiites and Sunnis were fighting in the streets, a day after two car bombs killed at least 20 people.
Police Capt. Ahmed Hashem Taki said Tal Afar was experiencing "civil war." Journalists were blocked from entering the city of 200,000.
President Nixon is keen to show that Vietnamization is working. Oh wait, wrong war. President Bush is keen to show that Iraqization is working.
Turning this trend around, and restoring the atmosphere of optimism, may well have become a top priority for both Washington and Iraq's new leaders. US officials in particular are keen to highlight progress in the development of Iraq's military, as the degree to which Iraq is taking part in its own defense appears to be a crucial determinant of American public attitudes towards the war.
"The US public is looking for success, and success to them means cooperating with the Iraqis," says Christopher Gelpi, a Duke University expert on public opinion about Iraq.
In spite of all this I've found a new reason to be optimistic. I think Iran's mullahs are going to find ways to help their Shiite co-religionists in their civli war against the Sunnis.
One danger of the new crackdown might be increased sectarian violence. The new Iraqi government is dominated by Shiite Muslims with ties to Iran, and its target is an insurgency that despite the presence of Islamist fighters remains overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.
Obviously the Iranians are in a bind. If they help their fellow Shiites they also might end up helping the United States. Of course, then we are in a bind too. Before the Iraq invasion there was no "Axis of Evil" since there was no alliance between Saddam and the mullahs (someone tell David Frum that he's historically illiterate). But now Bush and the neocons might well have set in motion events that will create a real axis between Iraq and Iran. Darn those unintended consequences.
Immanuel Wallerstein points out that when Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi came to Iraq in May Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari chatted with him in Farsi.
Two days later, the Foreign Minister of Iran, Kamal Khazzeri, arrived for a far more successful four-day visit. He was greeted at the airport by Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, himself a Sunni and a Kurd, who broke into fluent Farsi. After three days, Iraq and Iran signed an agreement to end hostilities between them, in which the new Iraqi government agreed with Iran that the Iraq-Iran war was initiated by Saddam Hussein. The two countries renewed criticisms of Israel. If Bush thinks the new Iraqi government is going to join the U.S. in a crusade against Iran, that other member of the "axis of evil," he clearly has another think coming.
As a sign of warming relations, Zebari lapsed into fluent Farsi during the news event, drawing appreciative laughter from Kharrazi, a personal friend. The Iraqi foreign minister is a former Kurdish peshmerga who spent several years in Iran in his youth.
Al-Jaafari and other top Shiite leaders gave Kharrazi a welcome suffused with references to the ties they formed during years of exile in Iran after fleeing the repression of Saddam Hussein.
In his joint appearance with Kharrazi on the steps of the prime minister's office, al-Jaafari focused his remarks on the new government's determination not to allow its relations with Iran or the United States to be prejudiced by the hostility between Tehran and Washington.
Here's my question at this point: Can the US successfully use paramilitary militias against the Sunni insurgents? The Bush Administration is hoping that the success of El Salvador and other Latin American precedents for US support of paramilitary forces can be copied successfully in Iraq. But with so many competing militias organized around tribal ties built on consanguineous marriages Iraq is a very different place.
Update: Thinking about the Vietnam analogy one point comes to mind: The US military tore apart the Viet Cong. Vietnam finally fell to North Vietnamese forces. Well, so far the United States military has not destroyed the Sunni insurgency. The number of Sunnis willing to fight in the insurgency is still far more than the number the US military has killed. In Vietnam the problem was tha the South Vietnamese ARVN weren't as motivated to fight for their government as the communists were. The same holds for the Iraqi Army. Will the Shias become motivated to fight? They have begun to engage in retaliatory killings against the Sunnis. They might not fight for their government. But they might fight for their families against the Sunnis. Of course, if Iraq decays into a large scale civil war blood bath of families killing families across religious and tribal divides then the folly of the neocon project to remake the Middle East will become even more obvious.
The event of the week occurred last Wednesday and I was surprised it wasnít covered by Western press. Itís not that big a deal, but it enraged people in Baghdad and it can also give a better picture of what has been going on with our *heroic* National Guard. There was an explosion on Wednesday in Baghdad and the wounded were all taken to Yarmuk Hospital, one of the larger hospitals in Baghdad. The number of wounded were around 30- most of them National Guard. In the hospital, it was chaos- patients wounded in this latest explosion, patients from other explosions and various patients from gunshot wounds, etc. The doctors were running around everywhere, trying to be in four different places at once.
Apparently, there werenít enough beds. Many of the wounded were in the hallways and outside of the rooms. The stories vary. One doctor told me that some of the National Guard began screaming at the doctors, telling them to ignore the civilians and tend to the wounds of the Guard. A nurse said that the National Guard who werenít wounded began pulling civilians out of the beds and replacing them with wounded National Guard. The gist of it is generally the same; the doctors refused the idea of not treating civilians and preferring the National Guard over them and suddenly a fight broke out. The doctors threatened a strike if the National Guard began pulling the civilians out of beds.
The National Guard decided the solution to the crisis would be the following- theyíd gather up some of the doctors and nurses and beat them in front of the patients. So several doctors were rounded up and attacked by several National Guard (someone said there was liberal use of electric batons and the butts of some Klashnikovs).
The doctors decided to go on strike.
Itís difficult to consider National Guardsmen as heroes with the image of them beating doctors in white gowns in ones head. Itís difficult to see them as anything other than expendable Iraqis with their main mission being securing areas and cities for Americans.
It seems that Daíawa Partyís Jaffari is going to be the Prime Minister and Talbani is going to get the decorative position of president. It has been looking like this since the elections. There is talk of giving our token Sunni Ghazi Al Yawir some high-profile position like National Assembly spokesperson. The gesture is meant to appease the Sunni masses but it isnít going to do that because itís not about Sunnis and Shia. Itís about occupation and Vichy governments. They all look the same to us.
What it seems policy makers in America donít get, and what I suspect many Americans themselves *do* get, is that millions of Iraqis feel completely detached from the current people in power. If you donít have an alliance with one of the political parties (ie under their protection or on their payroll) then itís difficult to feel any affinity with people like Jaffari, Allawi, Talbani, etc. We watch them on television, tight-lipped and shifty-eyed after a meeting where they quarreled about Kirkuk or Sharia in the constitution and it feels like what I imagine an out-of-body experience should feel like.
In spite of elections, they still feel like puppets. But now, they are high-tech puppets. They were upgraded from your ordinary string puppets to those life-like, battery-powered, talking puppets. Itís almost like weíre doing that whole rotating president thing Bremer did in 2003 all over again. The same faces are getting tedious. The old Iraqi saying sums it up nicely, ďTireed erneb- ukhuth erneb. Tireed ghazal- ukhuth erneb.Ē The translation for this is, ďYou want a rabbit? Take a rabbit. You want a deer? Take a rabbit.Ē
Except we didnít get any rabbits- we just got an assortment of snakes, weasels and hyenas.
Think about what she says above. Can you imagine US National Guard beating up US doctors and forcing civilians out of hospital beds? Think about the three quarters of the police in Basra who the chief of police does not trust and the militias that rule the place. The neocons were hopelessly naive if they thought they could turn Iraq into a liberal democracy.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2005 June 01 07:59 PM Mideast Iraq|