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Surging chaos in U.S.-occupied Iraq

April 27, 2007 | Page 16

ERIC RUDER explains why Washington's occupation is to blame for the mounting violence.

AS THE bloodshed in Iraq reached new heights in late April, the Bush administration was quietly changing its tune.

Instead of claims about how George Bush's "surge" of U.S. troops to provide security in Baghdad was producing modest success, administration officials turned instead to berating the Iraqi government.

"Our commitment to Iraq is long-term, but it is not a commitment to have our young men and women patrolling Iraqi streets open-endedly," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters after a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad.

The meeting came two days after a string of car bombings killed nearly 200 Iraqis in predominantly Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad.

Two days later came a massacre of 23 members of the Yezidi faith, which combines Muslim and ancient Persian religious teachings. A bus carrying people from work at a textile factory in Mosul to their homes in Bshiqa--a town with a majority Yezidi population--was stopped by gunmen, who checked the passengers' identity cards, lined the Yezidis up against a wall and shot them.

Gates' words of warning were a reprise of earlier threats by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. "I constantly signal to the Iraqi leaders that our patience, or the patience of the American people, is running out," said Khalilzad in late March.

Any real discussion of a U.S. exit would be welcome news to the vast majority of the Iraqi population and most Americans as well. But the Bush administration, with its plan for permanent bases in Iraq for years to come, isn't really planning a speedy U.S. withdrawal.

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WITH THE security situation continuing to deteriorate, pressure is growing on the Iraqi government, installed in power by the U.S.

On April 16, six members of Maliki's cabinet resigned in protest of the prime minister's unwillingness to back a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces. The six are loyal to Shia cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose backing was crucial to Maliki's rise to prime minister.

Their resignations not only underscore the weaknesses of the government but also signal that Sadr--who ordered his Mahdi Army to stand down at the beginning of the U.S. surge--may be contemplating the reactivation of his armed followers.

"After two months of the security plan in the hot areas of the city, the attacks have moved to the cold, quiet areas to make them hot, while the hot areas burn," said Nasar al-Rubaie, head of the Sadrist parliamentary bloc.

Gates is prodding Maliki to pass legislation aimed at reconciling Iraq's Sunnis and Shia--such as laws that would mandate sharing oil revenues, ease the ban of former Baath Party members from government, and set a date for provincial elections.

But it's the U.S. that set in motion the sectarian logic for sharing power in post-Saddam Iraq, dividing up Iraq's ministries and looking to Shia political parties to create a U.S.-friendly regime. The violence that followed forced millions of Iraqis to fall back on their sectarian identities to gain any sense of security as Iraqi society plunged toward civil war.

The U.S. hasn't stopped stoking sectarian rivalries either. Instead, its forces were hard at work on the construction of a three-mile, 12-foot-high security wall in Baghdad to cut off the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya--until Maliki announced he was halting the project as Socialist Worker went to press.

The U.S. military described the wall as "one of the centerpieces of a new strategy by coalition and Iraqi forces to break the cycle of sectarian violence," in a statement. But few Iraqis agreed.

"Surrounding areas of the capital with barbed wire and concrete blocks would harm these areas economically and socially," said the Islamic Party, a predominantly Sunni formation. "In addition, it will enhance sectarian feelings. This will cause great damage to the neighborhood's residents and have a negative effect on these areas instead of solving problems. It will deepen the gap between the people and encourage sectarianism."

Abu Firas al-Mutairi, a representative of the Sadr movement in Najaf, agreed. "The Sadr movement considers building a wall around al-Adhamiya as a way to lay siege to the Iraqi people and to separate them into cantons," he said. "It is like the Berlin Wall that divided Germany...This step is the first step toward dividing the regions into cantons and blockading people there. Today, it happens in Adhamiya. Tomorrow, it will happen in Sadr City."

Whatever happens to the wall around Adhamiya, the U.S. military isn't likely to abandon its strategy of carving up Baghdad neighborhoods.

"The U.S. military is walling off at least 10 of Baghdad's most violent neighborhoods and using biometric technology to track some of their residents, creating what officers call 'gated communities' in an attempt to carve out oases of safety in this war-ravaged city," reported the Washington Post.

"In some sealed-off areas, troops armed with biometric scanning devices will compile a neighborhood census by recording residents' fingerprints and eye patterns, and will perhaps issue them special badges, military officials said."

The logic is simple, according to one U.S. military officer: "If we keep the bad guys out, then we win."

But the U.S. military can't win--whether by importing some version of the "gated communities" that dot U.S. suburbs, or by urging its puppet government to impose reconciliation legislation.

The longer the U.S. tries to impose its will, the worse the situation will become in Iraq. It's long past time to bring U.S. troops home--and give Iraq back to the people who live there.

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