Irak - George Bush opretholder stædigt USA's illusioner om "Sejr i Irak"!
The Iraq illusion
Paul Rogers, 1. december 2005
Dagen efter at George W. Bush holdt tale og proklamerede, at han gik efter at opnå "sejr i Irak" foregik det store oprør i Ramadi, som blot er endnu et eksempel på, hvor langt der er fra retorikken og illusionerne i Det Hvide Hus i Washington til realiteterne i Irak.
The mass insurgent assault in Ramadi, one day after George W Bush predicted "victory in Iraq", indicates the gap between Washington fantasies and Iraqi facts.
George W Bush's speech at the United States naval academy at Annapolis on 30 November – the first of a series of speeches from the president and other senior administration figures over the next few days – reaffirmed his determination to stay the course in Iraq. It coincides with the publication of a National Strategy for Victory which both echoes Bush’s assertion that the US will not “cut and run” from Iraq while implying that troop withdrawals will start in 2006.
This sustained media and public offensive is in response to a marked decrease in domestic support for the war. It is also the opening phase of a campaign that will last until the Congressional mid-sessional elections in November 2006.
The tenor of the message from Washington is twofold – that the Iraq war can and will be won; and that it is a core part of the “war on terror”, connected directly to 9/11. Whether it will have the desired domestic impact is still open to question; what can be analysed is its relation to the situation the US currently faces, in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.
As so often happens, an optimistic assessment from Washington has been followed almost at once by violent developments in Iraq. Barely twelve hours after President Bush’s speech, a force of several hundred heavily armed insurgents attacked US bases and government offices in Ramadi in western Iraq, subsequently taking over large areas of the city and setting up checkpoints and patrols.
This action coincides with a major offensive by 2,000 US marines and 500 Iraqi soldiers in Hit, not far from Ramadi. Once again, a major US offensive in one area is mirrored almost at once by insurgent actions elsewhere; moreover, the ability of the insurgents to gather hundreds of paramilitaries for a single operation is a reminder that their campaign goes far beyond traditional ideas of guerrilla warfare.
Three doses of reality
More generally, there are at least three reasons for treating the latest claims of progress with caution.
The first is that they have been trumpeted so many times before. There have been numerous occasions since the outbreak of the war in March 2003 when United States sources have confidently assured the media and public that particular events heralded the imminent collapse of the insurgency.
These have included: the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein in July 2003; the apparent identification of a handful of extended families as the core of the insurgency in October; the capture of Saddam Hussein in December; the partial handover of power as the Coalition Provisional Authority was wound up in June 2004; the second assault on Fallujah, the supposed heart of the insurgency, in November 2004; the elections in January 2005; the referendum in August. In the event, none of these incidents or political processes made much difference to the extent of the insurgency.
The second reason for scepticism about optimistic US assessments is the persistently high rate of military casualties. In October-November 2005, 180 US troops were killed and over 1,000 wounded in combat, and insurgent attacks are currently running at over a hundred a day. Despite many technical improvements in US equipment and tactics, and a lower rate of routine patrolling, the insurgency is, if anything, gathering strength. American forces in Iraq number 160,000, the highest level in more than two years, and the war is currently costing $6 billion a month (see "Bush Outlines Iraq 'Victory Plan'", BBC, 30 November 2005).
The third reason for doubt is over the insistent claim, a favourite of defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld as well as Bush himself, of rapid improvements in the performance of the Iraqi security forces. This runs directly against the assessment from the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies in its annual Strategic Survey in May 2005, which reckoned that it would take five years to produce internal Iraqi forces capable of controlling the county (see “Iraq ablaze”, 26 May 2005).
In this context, Jack Murtha – the pro-military Democrat who has become a severe critic of the war – made perhaps the most remarkable recent comment, namely that US troops had told him of their distrust of the Iraqi forces they were training. As one commentator put it: "The disparagement of Iraqi security forces by American troops was so widespread that Murtha was surprised when one soldier 'started talking about how good they are, how much they've improved and so forth'. It was a miscommunication. The congressman soon realized that the solider was talking about how much the insurgents had improved; how they had become more sophisticated, and thus 'more deadly'" (see Bob Herbert, "Cut Our Losses”, New York Times, 28 November 2005).
A war coming closer
While the US forces remain mired in the Iraq insurgency, there are further signs that the post-election period in Afghanistan (see Griff Witte, "Afghans Confront Surge in Violence", Washington Post, 28 November 2005). The election period itself was relatively calm, prompting hopes that it would usher in a period of greater stability. So far, the reverse is the case – there have been numerous attacks (including at least nine suicide bombings), alongside evidence of an increasing technical sophistication – including the importing of methods developed by insurgents in Iraq.
Computerised timing-devices and more advanced explosive are being combined with city-centre suicide bombings at a level not seen in the last four years. More generally, Taliban elements have been receiving increased numbers of weapons and financial resources in recent months, according to defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.
This may explain recent reports that US officials are seeking "back-channel" negotiations with the Taliban figurehead Mullah Omar, especially as the concern over an Iraq/Afghanistan connection grows (see “Washington’s mixed Iraqi signals”, 24 November 2005). If, as evidence suggests, a phase is opening where jihadi experience in Iraq is increasingly “brought home” to Afghanistan, then the US will require more than the 17,000 troops (plus support from allied nations) it currently deploys in the country (see “Between Iraq and Afghanistan”, 9 June 2005)
Against this background, it is worth noting the latest "explanation" from US military sources of the Taliban’s apparent resurgence: the move towards urban warfare is a sign of the movement’s desperation, since it clearly cannot cope with US firepower in rural areas. This is surely on a par with Paul Bremer's routine characterisation of the Iraq insurgents as "remnants" in 2003.
The turn to “plan B”
The insecurity in Afghanistan is causing growing concern to US strategists concerned with the further overstretch of their forces. This issue refocuses their concern on Iraq, and the planned withdrawal of troops in 2006. Current indications are that three combat brigades may be transferred from the country; together with all the support staff, this could amount to as many as 30,000 troops, which would leave an overall figure in Iraq of around 120,000. This would only return force levels to the position in December 2003, and can hardly be regarded as in itself a major withdrawal.
The discussion about the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, however, is a masquerade. The real project for the United States administration over the next few months is to present to a domestic public the idea that the US is starting a pullout. The deeper reality is what even a relatively small evacuation of troops may signify: a change in the US’s strategy in Iraq and a turn to the "plan B" described in earlier columns in this series (see “Iraq: thinking the unthinkable” [30 June 2005] and “Planning for failure in Iraq” [15 September 2005]).
What “plan B” amounts to is large-scale disengagement from Iraq’s main urban settlements, leaving these either to Iraqi security forces under government control or (in many areas) an increasingly powerful group of Kurdish or Shi'a militias that have the capacity to enforce control by often brutal methods – including detentions, torture and death squads. Meanwhile, US forces would concentrate on building and defending a series of major, well-protected bases outside urban areas, using helicopters and strike aircraft in support of the Iraqi government of the day. Now that militias work closely with Iraqi security forces – to the extent of infiltration and even takeover – this scenario means that US air power may well end up indirectly supporting such militias.
The quiet pursuit of this alternative strategy has seen the US armed forces constructing the appropriate facilities on a massive scale – not least at Balad, where the helicopter base now being prepared by the KBR company will approach the size of some of the largest bases in Vietnam during the American war there.
The result of this approach, if and when it is followed through, will be twofold: US leaders will be able plausibly to present to their citizens the impression that the Iraq war is beginning to wind down, and they will make any Iraqi government fundamentally dependent on US military power for its survival.
The failure to subdue the Iraqi insurgency makes “plan B” an attractive prospect for the US leadership – irrespective of the fanfare surrounding the document on “victory in Iraq” released on 30 November. A "violent peace" will be better than no peace, allowing the United States to retain a presence in Iraq, if not in the manner it originally expected.
What this line of thinking does not take into account is the improving capabilities of the insurgents and the likelihood of their seeking, and gaining, adequate supplies of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles. Neither does it factor in the increasing value of Iraq to al-Qaida as a jihadi training ground.
That is part of the wider reality lying behind George W Bush’s plans and public declarations: that these are still the early years of a prolonged war. While there is an election to be won, that wider picture must be kept from public discussion.