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As Bush's surge begins in Baghdad:
The daily humiliation of life under occupation

February 23, 2007 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON looks at the toll of U.S. war on ordinary Iraqis.

A "FABULOUS success," was how Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki described the "surge" of U.S. troops into Baghdad in a phone call to George W. Bush last week.

But whatever "success" is achieved by the U.S. and its puppet government will come at a terrible cost to ordinary Iraqis--in daily humiliations, such as raids of their homes by U.S. soldiers; growing deprivation, as food and clean water become even scarcer; and an even greater threat of indiscriminate violence, as the U.S. considers increasing its already punishing air war.

Of course, to hear the Bush administration tell it, the surge in Iraq is already winning. Just three days after it began, the commander in charge of the security plan held a press conference to announce an 85 percent drop in attacks since the surge began on February 14.

He spoke too soon. On that very day, at least 56 people were killed and another 128 injured after two suicide bombs were detonated in a busy Shiite market in East Baghdad. Another bomb, exploded in a restaurant in the Sadr City neighborhood, killed two and wounded 11. Across the city, bombs, mortars and gunfights left at least another eight dead.

Increased violence in the wake of the escalation shouldn't come as a surprise. The U.S. tried a similar surge last year, adding 14,000 troops to Baghdad as part of "Operation Together Forward II" beginning in June. Instead of ending resistance in Iraq, following an initial period of calm, attacks increased by 43 percent, according to the recent report by the Iraq Study Group.

What else to read

Nick Turse's article "Bombs Over Baghdad: The Pentagon's Secret Air War in Iraq," details the scope of the under-reported air war carried out by the U.S.

For daily news updates and commentary about Iraq, see the Electronic Iraq Web site, as well as Juan Cole's Informed Comment Web site.

The crucial book on Iraq for antiwar activists is Anthony Arnove's Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, recently republished in an updated paperback edition from the American Empire Project with a foreword by Howard Zinn.

 

Then, as now, ordinary Iraqis suffered the brunt of the violence. In addition, many Iraqis today are living on the edge--suffering unemployment at a rate of 60 percent or more, chronic shortages of electricity and fuel, and a lack of clean water and food.

In Falluja, where the U.S. twice destroyed the city and its infrastructure and created tens of thousands of refugees, cases of diarrhea among children rose 70 percent last year because of a lack of clean drinking water.

And according to a recent report from Inter Press Service, Iraqis today are forced to get much of their food from companies in Australia and other countries who assisted the U.S. during the invasion and occupation.

"Local agricultural production is almost nil," Majid al-Dulaymi from the Ministry of Agriculture told IPS. "The limited loans given by the ministry to farmers and planters are misused simply because it is not possible to maintain the agriculture production for reasons well known to everybody here. Now the private sector is importing everything, and the prices are too high to afford."

Aid workers who once could have helped are increasingly unable to deliver basic necessities--because of the violence caused by the U.S. presence.

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AT THE start of last week's surge, Col. Steve Townsend, commander of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Karbala told reporters, "We've started a new phase today, the phase of building the state on the basis of two ideas: the basis of reconciliation--to include all those who want to support the country--and the basis of striking hard at those who want to rebel."

But these days, with Iraqis overwhelmingly wanting the U.S. out of their country, picking out those who want to "rebel" is a difficult task.

Instead, the U.S. military approach has been to assume that everyone is a potential insurgent--and treat them accordingly. "It sounds like we are going to be affected more than the terrorists by this security plan," Anwar Abdullah, a supermarket owner in the predominantly Shiite eastern area of Mashtaal, told the Associated Press as the surge began.

Among other insults, the new U.S. escalation has included thousands of troops swarming through areas of Baghdad, conducting house-to-house searches and raids; increased checkpoints and car searches; and additional border closings with Iran and Syria.

For example, as the surge began, four battalions of U.S. troops--about 2,500 soldiers in all--moved at dawn into the mainly Shiite neighborhoods of Shaab, Ur and Bayda in northeastern Baghdad. According to the New York Times, "In Ur, as the sun rose, American troops clustered on corners in 19-ton armored Stryker vehicles. Soldiers poured out of the vehicles, knocking on doors, and searching empty lots and two- to three-story brick homes."

Their plan was to "flush out" insurgents, conduct arrests, confiscate weapons and establish "secure" zones. But in Ur, U.S. troops could find few "insurgents"--only residents who said that troops from Moktada al-Sadr's Madhi Army had cleared out days earlier.

"As soon as we pull out, I give it six months, then it goes back to as bad as it was before," Staff Sgt. Kenley Beazer, who participated in the security sweeps in Ur, told the New York Times.

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EVEN IF direct clashes between U.S. troops and "insurgents" on the ground remain relatively low in number, the violence in Iraq may increase dramatically in the coming weeks--as the U.S. considers whether to intensify its already cruel air war.

Little is known about the scope of the air war today, because the U.S. military does not provide briefings on the number of missions flown, or bombs dropped.

According to a recent report by Nick Turse on TomDispatch.com, what limited information is available about air attacks--which frequently take place in and around heavily populated areas--shows that there were a "total of 10,519 'close air support missions' in Iraq in 2006, during which [U.S.] aircraft dropped 177 bombs and fired 52 'Hellfire/Maverick missiles.'

"These air strikes presumably included numerous highly publicized missions ranging from the January air strike outside the town of Baiji that reportedly 'killed a family of 12,' including at least three women and three young children, to the December attack on an insurgent safe house in the Garma area, near Falluja, that reportedly killed 'two women and a child,' in addition to five guerillas."

But Turse notes that the bomb totals do not include guided missiles, rockets, cannon rounds or some air munitions used by the Marine Corps, Army helicopter gunships and private security contractors. When Turse asked for specifics from U.S. officials, he was repeatedly told that the military either would not comment for security reasons--or simply did not keep the information.

Now, there are signs that the U.S. may be getting ready to step up the attacks. According to Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times, "The Air Force is preparing for an expanded role in Iraq that could include aggressive new tactics."

In addition to more patrols along the Iran-Iraq border, air missions are being eyed as a way to "help protect the soldiers and Marines, particularly when they disperse from bigger bases to footholds in dense Baghdad neighborhoods"--in other words, putting even greater numbers of civilians at risk of being fired upon.

But that doesn't seem to concern the military. "I wouldn't automatically write off air power in an urban environment for fear of collateral damage," Lt. Gen. Howie Chandler, the deputy Air Force chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, told the Los Angeles Times. "We have the capability with precision targeting and the new weapons to operate in an urban environment."

But "precision" targeting and "new weapons" can't prevent the inevitable civilian deaths and "mistakes" that will result from increased air bombings in heavily crowded cities.

"Most of all, the dire prospect is of a devastating air war over Baghdad--followed by wholesale slaughter of Sunnis and Shiites alike as counterinsurgency fails (there are no hearts and minds to be won; everyone wants U.S. troops out)," journalist Pepe Escobar commented in the Asia Times.

"But as U.S. bombs and missiles now define who is a 'terrorist' and who is not--see the recent bombing of Somali nomadic herdsmen sold as dangerous al-Qaeda operatives--Iraqification-cum-surge will be a disaster mostly for every Baghdadi caught in the crossfire."

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