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WHAT WE THINK
Escalating violence highlights chaos of Bush's occupation
Has the U.S. failed in Iraq?

May 27, 2005 | Page 3

IT'S THE latest formula for rescuing the U.S. occupation: put Iraqi replacement killers on the streets, extract a constitution from the new government, and count on a compliant U.S. media to downplay the mayhem. Yet despite a new call by some Sunni political parties to participate in the political process, a new series of assassinations and killings has once again highlighted Washington's inability to control Iraq.

Some 500 people were killed by car bombs in the first three weeks of May alone, despite a major U.S. military assault near the Syrian border and the mass arrest of 300 people in the slums of Baghdad. Then, on May 23, a top official in Iraq's national security ministry, Gen. Wael al-Rubaei, was assassinated in central Baghdad when insurgents opened fire on his car.

Jalal Talabani, installed under pressure from Washington as president of the new Iraqi regime, relies on 3,000 of his Kurdish guerrillas to guard his residence in Baghdad, according to war correspondent Patrick Cockburn.

Meanwhile, Cockburn wrote, "the [U.S.] army acts as a sort of fire brigade, briefly effective in dousing the flames, but always moving on before they are fully extinguished. There are only about 6,000 U.S. soldiers in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital and which has a population of three million. For the election on January 30, U.S. reserves arriving in Iraq were all sent to Mosul to raise the level to 15,000 to prevent any uprising in the city. They succeeded in doing so, but were then promptly withdrawn."

The Pentagon acknowledged its growing problems in a series of anonymous statements reported in the May 19 edition of the New York Times. "I think that this could still fail," a top officer told reporters. The top brass even used the article to point fingers at one another, with Central Command's Gen. John Abizaid publicly blaming failures on the Iraqi police trained under the command of Lt. Gen. David Petraeus.

This is a critical problem for Washington. By pushing Iraqi forces out in front of the resistance's bullets, the U.S. aims to limit its casualties by withdrawing its own soldiers into a handful of highly fortified bases. Iraqi commandos--in reality, death squads headed by Saddam Hussein's former top officers--are central to the U.S. strategy.

The U.S. plans to focus on major counterinsurgency campaigns--and, in the long run, use its permanent military bases to control Iraq's oil. This approach, however, carries its own risks, as the pullback of U.S. troops effectively hands over large areas of the Iraqi countryside to the resistance.

Thanks to the sectarian manipulation under the U.S.-written Transitional Administrative Law, armed conflict is increasingly channeled along religious and ethnic lines.

In last January's elections, Iraq's long-oppressed Shiite majority voted in large numbers in the hopes of finally controlling their own fate. Instead, their control of the new parliament is effectively blocked by Talabani and the Kurdish minority--which, having had de facto independence under U.S. protection since the 1991 Gulf War, is closely aligned with the U.S.

Meanwhile, Washington has tried to bribe and bully Sunni political leaders into cutting their ties with the resistance and joining the process of writing a new constitution, scheduled for completion before the end of the year.

A number of Sunni parties announced May 22 that they would join the constitutional process, and militant Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr even offered to mediate between Sunni and Shiite factions. But such moves won't bring the "stability" that Washington wants. The Sunni parties, for example, called for the resignation of the head of the secret police, claiming that he provided cover for Shiite Badr Corps militia to kidnap and murder Sunni clerics.

And Sadr's offer of mediation was preceded by a protest by thousands of his followers in several cities May 20, in which condemnation of the desecration of the Koran in the U.S. Guantámano Bay prison dovetailed with anti-occupation sentiments. Those protests included an armed clash between Sadr's forces and police that was ignored by the U.S. media.

"The U.S. public has no idea how bad things are in Iraq, or what is really going on there, and this [lack of reporting] is one reason," wrote historian and Iraq expert Juan Cole.

Even so, the news from Iraq has driven opposition to the war still higher. According to a Harris Poll released May 18, some 67 percent of those surveyed had a negative opinion of George W. Bush's handling of Iraq, compared to 37 percent in favor--the reverse of a similar survey in 2003. Some 54 percent of those polled said they thought the occupation would be unsuccessful, up from 49 percent in March.

The time is ripe to rebuild the antiwar movement--and demand that the U.S. get out of Iraq now.

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