Iraq as we end 2005

Tuesday, December 27, 2005 at 10:30 AM

As we drift toward the 6th year of a particularly nasty century, much of America's attention remains on Iraq.  This is partly because we still have more than 150,000 Americans roaming that country, and partly because we now have so much political, economic, and social capital invested there.

The White House and many in the mainstream media continue to push the idea that we're making "progress" and they point to the recent elections, rebuilding projects to restore the infrastructure of Iraq, and the like.  Many others point to the apparently growing dislike of our presence and our policies, and predict that the touted elections will be the first step in a process that ends with an Iraqi government as hostile to the U.S. as Iran is.

Below is a summary of some recent news on the subject.

1. It looks increasingly like the people we always refer to as Iraqis do not view themselves first and foremost as Iraqis, but as members of a smaller ethnic or religious group, according to a piece I found in the Olympian Online:

Iraqis sit on the edge of all-out communal civil war, by Daniel Sneider

SAN JOSE - The key to a U.S. exit from Iraq is not the number of Iraqi troops and police that we have trained. It is the formation of an Iraqi government that Iraqis of all communities accept as a legitimate expression of their will.

A legitimate Iraqi government sooner or later, and likely sooner, will ask the United States to leave. Occupation and legitimacy cannot survive together for very long.

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, the Iraqi elections held Dec. 15 appear to have failed to create a legitimate Iraqi government. The voting patterns in Iraq, now clear over three votes in the past year, are firmly fixed.

The Kurds, who want an independent Kurdistan, vote for Kurds. Shiite Arabs overwhelmingly vote for those who have the endorsement of their clerical leaders and who stand for the unfettered dominion of a long-suppressed majority. And Sunni Arabs, when they choose to express themselves through ballots, still believe they are the rightful rulers of a united Iraq.

Among these three communities, there is no common view of what Iraq is, much less who should rule it. They sit on the edge of all-out communal civil war. The excursions into the voting booth are only another form of expression of the sectarian sentiments otherwise visible in the brutal insurgency and the response to it.

U.S. officials who are intimately familiar with the situation inside Iraq understood this all too well. But inside the White House bubble, they were convinced their favored Iraqis would do very well in the election and lead the new government -a game plan they have been trying to force on Iraq for more than two years.

Instead, the two secular blocs led by the Pentagon and neo-con favorite Ahmed Chalabi, and by the CIA-State Department choice, former Premier Ayad Allawi, got trounced. Even in Baghdad, where his appeal should be greatest, Allawi managed to get only 14 percent of the vote. Chalabi, who made a triumphant tour of Washington, D.C., only a few weeks before the vote, might not even make into the parliament. The game plan is in shreds.

U.S. officials try to content themselves by pointing to the turnout of Sunnis who had boycotted the previous parliamentary vote last January. But as a senior intelligence community veteran explained it to me, the decision of the Sunni leadership to promote voting - and to order the insurgency to stand down for the day - was hardly a sign that they had decided to abandon insurgency.
[End Excerpt]

2. Even the US military is recognizing a watered-down version of the principle that the people in Iraq do not want us to remain--they want us out "as soon as possible" according to an Australian source:

Iraqis want US out as soon as possible: US commander;  Monday Dec 26 10:38 AEDT
Melbourne, Australia:

The top US military commander admitted Sunday that Iraqis wanted US and other foreign troops to leave the country "as soon as possible," and said US troop levels in Iraq were now being re-assessed on a monthly basis.

The admission by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine General Peter Pace followed a decision by the Pentagon to reduce the current level of 160,000 soldiers in Iraq by two army brigades, which amounts to about 7,000 soldiers.

"Understandably, Iraqis themselves would prefer to have coalition forces leave their country as soon as possible," Pace said in a Christmas Day interview on Fox News Sunday. "They don't want us to leave tomorrow, but they do want us to leave as soon as possible."

Some US foreign policy experts have expressed concern that a new Iraqi government emerging from the December 15 parliamentary elections could ask American troops to leave, but officials have dismissed that forecast as unrealistic.

However, an opinion survey conducted in Iraq in October and November by ABC News and a pool of other US and foreign media outlets showed that despite some improvements in security and living standards, US military operations in the country were increasingly unpopular.

Two-thirds of those polled said they opposed the presence of US and coalition forces in Iraq, up 14 points from a similar survey taken in February 2004.

Nearly 60 percent disapproved of the way the United States has operated in Iraq since the war began in March 2003, with most of those expressing "strong disapproval," the poll
[End Excerpt]

3. Other states in the Middle East are joining the chorus of calls for America to draw down its presence in Iraq.  For example, a Dec. 3 piece from a Maylaysian source is headlined: "UAE wants gradual pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq."  
The piece notes that The United Arab Emirates state news agency, WAM, had quoted UAE Defence Minister and Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed as saying at a conference in Dubai:

"What is needed in the case of Iraq is to resort to the language of dialogue and understanding away from the display of power and threats to use force and violence."
[End Excerpt]

4. In my personal opinion, some of the anti-American sentiment can be traced right back to the plans that we (and our Iraqi supporters) have for the country of Iraq.  A very good example of this can be found in the National Development Strategy for 2005-2007.  This report, issued in June, 22005 by the interim Iraqi government that was elected earlier in 2005, "sets out strategic priorities for Iraq's reconstruction and
development. It's organized around four key drivers of prosperity that we believe best reflect the multi-faceted and complex challenges confronting us today."

The Strategy is set out in a report authored by Barham A. Salih, Chairman , Iraqi strategic Review Board, Minister of Planning and Development Cooperation Republic of Iraq.  It describes four "pillars" that will govern strategic public actions for reconstruction and development.
a. Strengthening the foundations of economic growth.
b. Revitalizing the private sector.
c. Improving the quality of life.
d. Strengthening good governance and security."

If you have the time, read through it, or at least through the Executive Summary.  I can tell you that the discussion of free trade, privatization, and commerce in general is a whole hell of a lot more specific than the discussion of good governance, fairness, equality, etc.

As with the proclamations from Paul Bremer in the early days of the occupation, I'm sure the significance of the document, and the clear evidence it offers of what a U.S.-determined Iraq  would be like, was not lost on the leaders of the religious and ethnic factions.  Are Shia holy men really that concerned about privatizing state businesses?  Do they really jump for joy when they hear that the plans for agriculture include:

  1. Eliminating subsidies that distort market prices and discourage farming.

  2. Increasing the productivity of the agricultural sector through investment in new seed varieties, irrigation methods and strengthened market mechanisms.

Do we really think "they" don't understand that "new seed varieties" means the same focus on Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds that was slipped into the Central American Free Trade Agreement?

5. Several polls of interest to those of us concerned with how things in Iraq are actually going:

a. A UK poll reported in the UK press in October, 3005, with the headline " Iraqis support attacks on British troops"

b. Two Coalition Provisional Authority polls found that, as decribed in a newspaper article, "A few months before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke..Iraqi support for the
occupation [was] at 63 percent. A month after Abu Ghraib, the number was 9 percent. Most telling, 61 percent of Iraqis polled believed that no one would be punished for the torture at Abu Ghraib."

c. As reported in another newspaper in October, 2005, "A State Department poll found that 88 percent of the Iraqis questioned felt they were safe in their neighborhood and region in the mid-Euphrates region, and this percentage was 81 percent in Kurdish areas, and 78 percent in the south. However, 72 percent of the Iraqis polled in Baghdad, 83 percent in Mosul, and 45 percent in the Tikrit/Baquba area said they did not feel safe in their neighborhood and region."