Thursday, January 27, 2005

"Baghdad is not under control"

Confirming the failure of the Iraqi state, the New York Times' grim assessment of the "progress" in Iraq. The key sections, with emphasis added:

Starkly put, Baghdad is not under control, either by the Iraqi interim government or the American military.

On the bright spring day in April 2003 when marines helped topple Mr. Hussein's statue in Firdos Square, Baghdad, more than any other place in Iraq, was the place American commanders hoped to make a showcase for the benefits the invasion would bring.

Instead, daily life here has become a deadly lottery, a place so fraught with danger that one senior American military officer acknowledged at a briefing last month that nowhere in the area assigned to his troops could be considered safe.

"I would definitely say it's enemy territory," said Col. Stephen R. Lanza, the commander of the Fifth Brigade Combat Team, a unit of the First Cavalry Division that is responsible for patrolling a wide area of southern Baghdad with a population of 1.3 million people.

In the week that ended Sunday, according to figures kept by Western security companies with access to data compiled by the American command, Baghdad was hit by 7 suicide car bombings, 37 roadside bombs and 52 insurgent attacks involving automatic rifles or rocket-propelled grenades. The suicide bombs alone killed at least 60 people and injured 150 others....

In one Baghdad office, only one of 20 people who were asked said he intended to vote; the others, all citing the fear of being attacked by insurgents, either as they walk to the polls - all civilian vehicle traffic has been banned on election day - or after they return home. American commanders have included Baghdad among four Iraqi provinces where they say security issues pose a major threat to the voter turnout.

The other 14 provinces, all with heavy Sunni Muslim populations, are Anbar, which includes the cities of Ramadi and Falluja; Salahadin, with the troubled cities Samarra and Bakuba; and Nineveh, whose capital is Mosul.

But for the elections' credibility, Baghdad may matter most, because it is the nation's capital, and because, with its intermingled population of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and other groups, it is Iraq's most cosmopolitan city and thus, American officials believe, the most promising place for the civic norms represented by the election to take root....

Every American attempt to root out the insurgents has failed, and their dominion is written loudly in graffiti on freshly painted, and repainted, walls. "Long live the resistance!" they say. "There is no God but Allah and his Prophet!"; "Death to the Americans and their Iraqi lackeys!"

American military units travel in heavily armed convoys, gunners in helmets and goggles swiveling 50-caliber machine guns on expressways and along inner-city shopping streets to ward off attacks, and not infrequently opening fire, with civilian casualties.

And that's just what the insurgents are doing. Now consider what the impact of state failure is on the daily lives of ordinary Iraqis:

Along with insurgent attacks, the city has seen a surge of crime, including murders and kidnappings for ransom, that has undermined support for the Americans and all they represent - the elections included - as much as the war.

With hundreds of Baghdad police officers killed in insurgent attacks and others spending much of their time hunkered down at police stations hidden behind high concrete blast walls and watchtowers, police investigations have virtually ceased.

Hospital morgues are filled with unidentified bodies and body parts, many of them found floating in canals or decomposing on stretches of wasteland. Hardly anybody in Baghdad does not have a horror story to tell about children taken for ransom and later murdered, their bodies sometimes dumped at their homes.

Equally rife are tales of family members and friends murdered in disputes over property, illicit affairs, or in revenge for state-sponsored killings carried out under Mr. Hussein.

American commanders say the insurgents and criminal gangs are in league, criminals benefiting from the chaos caused by the insurgents, insurgents drawing criminals into their attacks....

So much for the idea promoted by some of my liberal friends, who hoped that the destruction of Saddam's state would improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis.

Finally, consider what the closing paragraphs of this article must mean about how Iraqis perceive the United States:

American commanders, acknowledging they have little chance of stopping the suicide bombers once the bomb-laden vehicles set out, have authorized the machine-gunners in the last vehicle of each convoy to open fire on any driver who ignores hand signals and warning shots to back off as he approaches a convoy from the rear.

This tactic has led to a growing number of incidents in which American gunners, in Humvees traveling at 50 miles an hour or less, have fired at suspected car bombers, only to discover afterward that the drivers who died were innocent civilians who had missed the warning signals, or perhaps never knew that overtaking American convoys was likely to be fatal [e.g. this].

These incidents have compounded a widespread impression among the people of Baghdad that the Americans are careless of Iraqi lives. Dr. Naqib, the dentist, fearful as he is of insurgent attacks, said he feared the Americans more. "The Americans, they are part of the terrorism," he said.

Mission Accomplished!

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