The spreadsheets in Dr. Faad Ameen Bakr's computer shed some light on the casualty rate. Baghdad's chief pathologist pulls down the death toll for Iraq's capital in July: 1,083 murders, a new record.
Under Saddam Hussein, Baghdad was a violent city. But the highest murder rate before the war was 250 in one month. (By comparison, New York City with about 2 million more residents, had 572 murders in 2004, and a peak of 2,245 in 1990).
The month of June, with 870 murders, was the previous record in Baghdad. In a weary monotone, Dr. Bakr explains that 680 of the victims were shot, the rest "strangled, electrocuted, stabbed, killed by blunt trauma or burned to death." The totals don't include residents killed by Baghdad's frequent car-bombings.
But the murder rates of New York City and Baghdad aren't comparable because the motivations and effects are quite different. New York's murders do not change the political control of the city. Though they do cause some ethnic partitioning.
Iraq has become de facto partitioned.
"We are living in an undeclared civil war among Iraq's political groups,'' says Nabil Yunos, the head of political affairs for the Dignity Party, a Sunni party. "It's not just Sunnis that are the problem. It's the Shiites, the Kurds, it's everyone. The violence has gotten worse, and we're entering a very dangerous period."
In Baghdad, "soft cleansing" is taking place in a number of mixed neighborhoods, with targeted assassinations scaring Sunnis out of some, and Shiites out of others. In the south, Shiite militias, not the new army and police, are the major power.
But in the south the militias inflitrate the police to use the police as an instrument of power. One could argue that the political parties that control the militias do the infiltrating. But that implies a hierarchical relationship with the political parties above the militias. My guess is that the political and military bosses are the same people.
Based on compilations from public news sources Iraqi military and police deaths have tripled so far this year from January through July and are over three times US and coalition casualty rates. However, the real totals are probably higher. Plus, private militias have their own additional casualties. US and coalition casualties have not declined during this period.
The early attacks were frightening, but until this spring there had been few Sufi deaths. Then, on June 2, a suicide bomber rammed a minivan packed with explosives into a takia outside the town of Balad, 40 miles north of Baghdad, killing at least 8 people and wounding 12.
The attack took place in the middle of a ritual. The minivan hurtled through the front gate, then exploded when people ran toward it, said a neighboring farmer who gave his name as Abu Zakaria. "I hurried there with my brothers in my car," he said. "It was a mess of bodies. I carried bodies to the car without knowing whether they were dead or alive."
Five days later, at a gathering of mourners in an assembly hall fashioned from reeds in the village of Mazaree, the head of the takia, Sheik Idris Aiyash, lamented the loss of his father and three brothers. "If we keep on like this, we might really face civil war," he said.
Some Sufi groups in Iraq have built up militias and are bracing for more violence.
Many Sufi places of worship have closed due to attacks.
There are no accurate estimates of the number of Sufis in Iraq, though the biggest orders are in Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan. Sheik Faiz said there were dozens of takias in the capital alone and more than 100 across the country before the war. That number may have dropped by as much as a third since the American invasion, he said.
Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru of the Washington Post have detailed long article on how Iraq is getting split up and fought over by rival factions. I highly recommend reading this article in full.
While Iraqi representatives wrangle over the drafting of a constitution in Baghdad, forces represented by the militias and the Shiite and Kurdish parties that control them are creating their own institutions of authority, unaccountable to elected governments, the activists and officials said. In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents say they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein.
If you are still optimistic about Iraq then read that article in full and appreciate the sheer scale of the break-up of Iraq into pieces controlled by rival militias. The problem goes so much deeper than just the Sunni insurgency.
The war in Iraq is more than just a battle between the Sunni insurgency on one side and the US and Iraqi government forces on the other. Many more factions battle for power.
Success in Iraqi elections translates into bigger militias for the winners. Imagine George Washington building up his own private militia because he won an election.
The parties and their armed wings are sometimes operating independently, and other times as part of Iraqi army and police units trained and equipped by the United States and Britain and controlled by the central government. Their growing authority has enabled them to seize territory, confront their perceived enemies and provide patronage to their followers. Their rise has come because of a power vacuum in Baghdad and their own success in the January elections.
Democracy in Iraq is a violent sport very much like Chicago mob politics during Prohibition.
Since the formation of a government this spring, Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, has witnessed dozens of assassinations, claiming members of the former ruling Baath Party, Sunni political leaders and officials of competing Shiite parties. Many have been carried out by uniformed men in police vehicles, according to political leaders and families of the victims, with some of the bullet-riddled bodies dumped at night in a trash-strewn parcel known as The Lot. The province's governor said in an interview that Shiite militias have penetrated the police force; an Iraqi official estimated that as many as 90 percent of officers were loyal to religious parties.
Some Republicans in Congress no longer support George W. Bush's Iraq policy. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska thinks the US presence in Iraq is destabilizing to the Middle East.
"We are locked into a bogged down problem not unsimilar, dissimilar to where we were in Vietnam," Hagel continued. "What I think the White House does not yet understand - and some of my colleagues - the dam has broke on this policy."
He added: "I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur."
Of course some neocons want destablization. But instability brings civil war and a form of very illiberal "democracy" where rival militias associated with political parties kill democratically elected opposition politicians and political activists. Free speech and freedom of the press die in hails of bullets and explosions of bombs.
I agree with political analysts who argue that falling US domestic support for the war will lead to at least a partial wthdrawal of US troops in 2006.
Given the political realities in the US, substantial troop withdrawals by next year "are pretty much inevitable," says Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. The current force level of 140,000 US troops is just not sustainable for much longer, says Daalder. While numbers might actually go up prior to next year's elections for a permanent Iraqi government, they may then fall to around 70,000 or so.
The US has already lost in Iraq. Former Reagan Administration director of the National Security Agency William Odom proclaimed the US position in Iraq as totally lost back in May 2004. I agreed then. We need to decide which factions should we back as we withdraw. The US will have to form alliances with some of the militias and pretend those militias really defend the government rather than their own interests. Then US troops could withdraw from parts of Iraq controlled by those militias.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2005 August 22 11:12 AM Mideast Iraq Ethnic Cleansing|