Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What are we fighting for?

With Saddam captured, his sons and Zarqawi dead (and scores of Zarqawi's "number twos"), the alleged weapons of mass destruction still nonexistent, elections won by Iran-friendly religious extremists, and ethnic cleansing campaigns well-underway across the country (including by our ostensible "allies"), what remains of our ever-shifting purpose for being in Iraq?

Bush says "stay the course," or, "when the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." These have always been simple-minded evasions rather than a real exit strategy. If the Iraqis stand up for civil war, ethnic cleansing, religious repression, and rule by militia, what is our response? Do we stand with them? Or do we stand down?

The US Embassy in Iraq provides a disheartening snapshot into the lives of actual Iraqis, employees in the Green Zone. Via Juan Cole:

a 121430Z UN 06
PM MEMBASSy BAgHDAD
TO SECSTArE WASXDC 5042

INFO IRAQ COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS BAGXDAD 001992

E.O. 12958: N/A TAGSt P14GM. PRE ,. ASEC. AMGT, IZ
SUBJECTS Snapshots from the Office: Public Affairs Staff Show Strains of Social Discord

SESITIVE

1. (SBU) Beginning in March. and picking up in mid-May, Iraqi staff in the Public Affairs Section have complained that Islamist and/or militia Groups have been negatively affecting their daily routine. Harassment over proper dress and habits has been increasingly pervasive. They also report that power cuts and fuel prices have diminished their quality of life. Conditions vary by neighborhood, but even upscale neighborhoods such as Mansur have visibly deteriorated.

Womens Rights

2. (SBU) The Public Affairs Press Office has 9 local Iraqi employees. Two of our three female employees report stepped up harassment beginning in mid-May. One, a Shiite who favors Western clothing, was advised by an unknown woman in her upscale Shiite/Christian Baghdad neighborhood to wear a veil and not to drive her own car. Indeed, she said, some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative.

3. (SBU) Another, a Sunni, said that people in her middle-class neighborhood are harassing women and telling them to cover up and stop using cell phones (suspected channel to licentious relationships with men). She said that the taxi driver who brings her every day to the green zone checkpoint has told her he cannot let her ride unless she wears a headcover. A female in the PAS cultural section is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats in May. She says her neighborhood, Mhamiya, is no longer permissive if she is not clad so modestly.

4. (SBU) These women say they cannot identify the groups that are pressuring them many times. the cautions come from other women, sometimes from men who they say could be Sunni or Shiite, but appear conservative. They also tell us that some ministries, notably the Sadrist controlled Ministry of Transportation, have been forcing fem1es to wear the hijab at work. Dress Code for All?

5. (SBU) Staff members have reported that it is now dangerous for men to wear shorts in public; they no longer allow their children to play outside tn shorts. People who wear jeans in public have come under attack from what staff members describe as Wahabis and Sadrists.

Evictions

6. (SBU) One colleague beseeched us to weigh in to help a neighbor who was uprooted in May from her home of 30 years, on the pretense of application of some long-disused law that allows owners to evict tenants after 14 years. The woman, a Fayli Kurd, says she has nowhere to go. no other home, but the courts give them no recourse to this new assertion of power. Such uprootings may be a response by new Shiite government authorities to similar actions against Arabs by Kurds in other parts of Iraq. ( NOTE: An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province , as political parties and their militias are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq. One editor told us that the KDP is now planning to set up tent cities in Irbil, to house Kurds being evicted from Baghdad.)

Power Cuts and Fuel Shortages a Drain on society --

7. Temperatures in Baghdad have already reached 115 degrees. employees all confirm that by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without. That was only about four hours of power a day for the city. By early June, the situation had improved slightly, In Hai Si Shaab. power has recently improved from one in six to one in three hours. Other staff report similar variances. Central Baghdad neighborhood Bab al Muathama has had no city power for over a month. Areas near hospitals, political party headquarters, and the green zone have the best supply, in some eases reaching 24 hours. One staff member reported that a friend lives in a building that houses a new minister; within 2l hours of his appointment, her building had City power 24 hours a day.

(SBU) All employees supplement City power with service contracted with neighborhood generator hookups that they pay for monthly. ‘ One employee pays 7500 ID per ampere to get 10 amperes per month (75,000 10 = USD 50/month). For this, her family gets 6 hours of power per day, with service ending at 2 am. Another employee pays 9000 ID per ampere to get 10 amperes per month (90.000 USD 60). For this, his family gets 8 hours per day, with service running until 5 am.

9. (SEW Fuel lines have also taxed out- staff, One employee told us May 29 that he had spent 12 hours on his day off (Saturday) waiting to get gas. Another staff member confirmed that shortages were so dire, prices on the black market in much of Baghdad were now above 1,000 Iraqi dinars per liter (the official, subsidized price is 250 ID).

Kidnappings, and Threats of Worse

10. (SBU) One employee informed us in March that his brother in law had been kidnapped. The mean was eventually released, but this caused enormous emotional distress to the entire family. One employee, a Sunni Kurd, received an indirect threat on her life in April. She took extended leave, and by May, relocated abroad with her family. Security Forces 4istrusted

11. (SBU) In April, employees began reporting a change in demeanor of guards at the green zone checkpoints. They seemed to be more militia-like, in some cases seemingly taunting. One employee asked us to explore getting her press credentials because guards had held her embassy badge up and proclaimed loudly to nearby passers-by ‘Embassy’ as she entered Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people.

Supervising a Staff At High Risk

12. (SBU) employees all share a common tale their lives: of nine employees in March, only four had family members who knew they worked at the embassy. That makes it difficult for them, and for us. Iraqi colleagues called after hours often speak Arabic as an indication they Cannot speak openly in English.

13. (SBLT) We cannot call employees in on weekends or holidays without blowing their cover. Uikewise, they have been unavailable during multiple security closures imposed by the government since February. A Sunni Arab female employee tells us that family pressures and the inability no share details of her employment is very tough; she told her family she was in ’ Jordan .then we sent her on training to the February. Mounting criticisms of the U.S. at home among family members also makes her life difficult. She told us in mid­June that most of her family believes the U.S. ­- which is widely perceived as fully controlling the country and tolerating the malaise ­- is punishing populations as Saddani did (but with Sunnis and very poor Shiitenow at the bottom of the list), Otherwise, she says, the allocation of power and security would not be so arbitrary.

14. CSBU) Some of our staff do not take home their American cell phones , as this makes them a target. Planning for their own possible abduction , they use code names for friends and colleagues and contacts entered into Iraq cell phones. For at least six months, we have not been able to use any local staff members for translation at on-camera press events.

15. (SBU) More recently, we have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames. In March. a few staff members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate.

Sectarian Tensions Within Families

16. Ethnic and sectarian fault lines are also becoming part of the daily media fare in the country. One Shiite employee told us in late May that she can no longer watch TI! news with her mother, who is Suruti, because her mother blamed all government failings on the fact that Shiites Are in charge. Many of the employees immediate family members, including her father, one sister, and a brother, left Iraq years ago. This month, another sister is departing for Egypt, as she imagines the future here is too bleak,

Frayed Nerves and Mistrust in the Office

17. (SBU) Against this backdrop of frayed social networks, tension and moodiness have risen. One Shiite made disparaging comments about the Sunni caliph Othman which angered a Kurd. A Sunni Arab female apparently insulted a Shiite female colleague by criticizing her overly liberal dress. One colleague told us he feels “defeated’ by circumstances, citing the example of being unable to help his two year old son who has asthma and cannot sleep in stifling heat. 1$. (SBU) Another employee tells us that life outside the Green Zone has become emotionally draining. He lives in a mostly Shiite area and claims to attend a funeral every evening,’ He, like other local employees, is financially responsible for his immediate and extended families. He revealed that ‘the burden of responsibility; new stress coming from social circles who increasingly disapprove of the coalition presence, and everyday threats weigh very heavily.This employee became extremely agitated in late May at website reports of an abduction of an Iraqi working with MNFI, whose expired Embassy and MNFI badges were posted on the website Staying Straight with Neighborhood Governments and the ‘Alasa

19. (SBU) Staff members say they daily assess how to move safely in public. Often, if they must travel outside their own neighborhoods, they adapt the clothing, language, and traits of the area. In Jadriya, for example, one needs to conform to the SCIRI/Badr ethic; in Yusufiya, a strict Sunni conservative dress code has taken hold Adhawiya and Salihiya, controlled by the secular Ministry of Defense, are not conservative. Moving inconspicuously in Sadr City requires Shiite conservative dress and a particular lingo. Once­upscale Mansur district, near the Green Zone, according to one employee, by early June was an unrecognizable ghost town.

20. (SBU) Since Samarra, Baghdadis have honed these survival skills. Vocabulary has shifted to reflect new behavior. Our staff ­- and our contacts -- have become adept in modifying behavior to avoid A1asae, informants who keep an eye out for outsiders” in neighborhoods. The Alasa mentality is becoming entrenched as Iraqi security forces fail to gain public confidence.

21. (SBU) Our staff, report that security and services are being rerouted through local provider whose affiliations are vague. As noted above, those who are admonishing citizens on their dress are not known to the residents. Neighborhood power providers are not well known either, nor is it clear how they avoid robbery or targeting. Personal safety depends on good relations with the neighborhood governments, who barricade streets and ward of f outsiders. The central government, our staff says, is not relevant; even local mukhtars have been displaced or co-opted by militias. People no longer trust most neighbors.

22. (SBtJ) A resident of upscale Shiit/ Christian Karrada district told us that outsiders” have moved in and now control the local mukhtars, one of whom now has cows and goats grazing in the streets. When she expressed her concern at the dereliction, he told her to butt out.

Comment 23. (SBtJ) Although our staff retain a professional demeanor , strains are apparent. We see that their personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels, despite talk of reconciliation by officials. Employees are apprehensive enough that we fear they my exaggerate developments or steer us towards news that comports with their own worldview. Objectivity, civility, and logic that make for a functional workplace may falter if Social pressures outside the Green Zone don’t abate.

Stay the course.

Taking this mindless slogan to heart, the House Republicans uncritically voted their continued support for the Iraq War in a sham debate. The Republican-led House pressed the boundaries of inanity and specious reasoning in voting to declare that we must complete "the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure and united Iraq."

Simply reading that list of goals invites the obvious conclusion that our Congress is living in a fantasy world without semblence to reality. Congress is not grappling with--and it is not forcing the President to grapple with--realistic goals. Congress is not doing its job. It still has yet to ask the most basic questions about why we are there, what we are fighting for, what we can accomplish, and whether what we want to do is doable by force of arms or Congressional resolutions. If these questions remain unasked by those in power, they will not be answered. Until then, we cannot begin to start talking about our goals, when they can be completed, and when we can pull out. Congress is not supporting the troops.

Josh Marshall nails one of the problems:
Kevin Drum was right a couple days ago when he said that the key problem for Democrats in coming up with a unified message on Iraq is that they're not unified. That's life. And it's not terribly surprising that they're not unified. We've gotten into an incredible fix in Iraq. And extricating a country from a predicament like this isn't easy. We have Democrats who think the whole idea was a disaster from the start and that we should leave immdiately, others who think it was a plausible idea bungled through incompetence, others who speak of timelines for withdrawal.

But the White House is making and has made its stand quite clear -- American troops in Iraq at least through 2009, and probably for the indefinite future; and no reevaluation of the basic concept of why we went in. So, a good idea to start with and we'll stay there more or less forever. (Saying we'll be there until 2009 and then having no plan to leave after that = forever.) That position is so out of sync with where the country is and so disastrous for the country's security and future prosperity, that I don't think anyone should be afraid to go to the country opposing it. The truth is that the president doesn't have any policy beside denial about how we got into this jam.


The House Republicans' speeches on Iraq would be laughable if their negligence on Iraq was not so deadly to our troops. For example, Speaker Dennis Hastert, explaining Congress's "steely resolve" (no, really) in patting itself on the back for its unquestioning support for the Iraq War is just like the steely resolve of the heros of 9/11:
We in this Congress must show the same steely resolve as those men and women on United flight 93, the same sense of duty as the first responders who headed up the stairs of the Twin Towers. We must stand firm in our commitment to fight terrorism and the evil it inflicts around the world.

Then there's that lovable TV personality Bill O'Reilly, who thinks the Iraq problem is not enough Saddam:
O'Reilly: Now to me, they're not fighting it hard enough. See, if I'm president, I got probably another 50-60 thousand with orders to shoot on sight anybody violating curfews. Shoot them on sight. That's me... President O'Reilly... Curfew in Ramadi, seven o'clock at night. You're on the street? You're dead. I shoot you right between the eyes. Ok? That's how I run that country. Just like Saddam ran it. Saddam didn't have explosions - he didn't have bombers. Did he? because if you got out of line, your dead.

Yeah, that'll teach em to love democracy. That, and a few hundred House Republicans lining up to explain "We'll either fight terrorists there or we'll fight them here," which is loosely translated as "We invaded Iraq so terrorists would invade it too," and which ignores evidence that the vast majority of the fighting in Iraq involves various factions of Iraqis, not international terrorists. You would think that history had nothing to offer (even ignoring the obvious analogy to Vietnam) with its stories of the perils of occupying hostile territories for ambiguous purposes--from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the French in Algiers, or the British occupation of....Iraq.

Finally, going to the videotape evidence... Cheney was asked, and he still thinks the insurgency is in its "last throes":
REPORTER: About a year ago, you said that the insurgency in Iraq was in its final throes. Do you still believe this?

CHENEY: I do. What I was referring to was the series of events that took place in 1995 [sic – 2005]. I think the key turning point when we get back 10 years from now, say, and look back on this period of time and with respect to the campaign in Iraq, will be that series of events when the Iraqis increasingly took over responsibility for their own affairs. And there I point to the election in January of ‘05 when we set up the interim government, the drafting of the constitution in the summer of ’05, the national referendum in the fall of ‘05 when the Iraqis overwhelmingly approved that constitution, and then the vote last December when some 12 million Iraqis in defiance of the car bombers and the terrorists went to the polls and voted in overwhelming numbers to set up a new government under that constitution. And that process of course has been completed recently with the appointment by Prime Minister Maliki of ministers to fill those jobs. I think that will have been from a historical turning point, the period that we’ll be able to look at and say, that’s when we turned the corner, that’s when we began to get a handle on the long-term future of Iraq.

Cheney's lame and false excuse for the failing to plan for an insurgency in Iraq is the same as Bush's lame and false excuse for failing to respond to New Orleans' breached levees, that "nobody" expected it:
Q: Do you think that you underestimated the insurgency's strength?

Cheney: I think so, umm I guess, the uh, if I look back on it now. I don't think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we've encountered....

Of course, as we all remember, many people both in and outside of government predicted that occupation would lead to a prolonged insurgency. Heck, *even Tim Russert* managed to predict it, and asked Cheney about it directly. Cheney refused to consider the prediction, because he had talked to one or two Iraqi exiles who assured him that invasion and occupation would be welcomed in Iraq:
Russert: If your analysis is not correct, and we’re not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?

Cheney: Well, I don’t think it’s likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.

I’ve talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with them, various groups and individuals, people who have devoted their lives from the outside to trying to change things inside Iraq. And like Kanan Makiya who’s a professor at Brandeis, but an Iraqi, he’s written great books about the subject, knows the country intimately, and is a part of the democratic opposition and resistance. The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want to the get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that."

As noted at Crooks and Liars, *even Dick Cheney himself* predicted an Iraqi insurgency and cited it as a key reason not to topple Saddam after the first Gulf War:
"And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?" Cheney said then in response to a question.

"And the answer is not very damned many. So I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq."

And so the Administration wilfully chose to ignore this very real and likely possibility. And now here we are, debating what our role should be, bogged down in a growing civil war after taking over and trying to govern Iraq.

Update:

Prof. Cole has more on Karl Rove and the Republicans' ugly responses to Democratic proposals for phased withdrawals with clear goals and timetables. A taste:

The old traitor Karl Rove, who revealed the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame to the Iranians (and everyone else), castigated the Democrats' proposals as "cut and run." Rove wants us to go on spending $5 billion a week in Iraq, and to go on losing thousands of maimed young people.

Here are some other examples of cutting and running:

The United States withdrew from the Philippines in 1946.

Britain withdrew from India in 1947.

France withdrew from Morocco and Tunisia in 1956.

France withdrew from Algeria in 1962.

. . .

Either, Mr. Rove, the US is a Republic among independent nations, or it is a Colonial Power intent on subjecting other peoples. If it is a Republic, it should be leaving Iraq to the Iraqis. If it is a Colonial Power, then it is doomed. Because no instance of successful foreign colonialism on the nineteenth-century model has been implemented in the past 50 years, for the simple reason that the peoples of the global south are socially and politically mobilized-- literate, urban, industrial, skilled, networked-- in a way they never were before in history. And no mobilized people can be successfully occupied.

The US military presence in Iraq is retarding a political settlement. It makes the Shiites and Kurds cocky and unwilling to compromise with the Sunni Arabs. It keeps the Iraqi army weak and ineffective, lacking proper armor or an air force. And US military tactics of search and destroy are turning progressively more Iraqis against us over time. The longer the US stays in Iraq, the more likely it is that one day one of our cities will be attacked by Iraqi terrorists bearing a grudge for Fallujah or Tal Afar or whatever other Iraqi cities we plan to destroy.

3 Comments:

Blogger sevenpointman said...

You have done your homework on many issues.
I applaud you for your diligent research.
If you want to view a plan that will end the war and back up your arguments,
Go to my blog: sevenpointman
And check out my exit strategy.

It is comprehensive and workable.

1:14 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger Luke said...

sevenpointman:

You've laid out at least a good starting point for a discussion of withdrawal.

Unfortunately, the Administration and the Congress have made their position clear that this discussion will not take place so long as they are in charge.

Besides, what good are permanent bases in Iraq if our troops aren't there to man them?

1:32 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger sevenpointman said...

Luke,

I don't forsee any major change in the political consciousness of the Administration or Congress towards the dangers of their Iraq policy, which will lead to any implementation of my plan or any other suggested plan.
But his doesn't preclude that activists and scholars and politicians can't offer an alternative which may gather enough momentum to effect those in power to search for a viable solution.

These bases have not been completed-pressure by citizens could slow the pace or even delay their being used as conduits for the occupying forces.

2:33 PM, June 20, 2006  

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