Senator McCain’s little big picture – what is the real situation?

Apr 3 16:38 2007 Stephen Morgan Print This Article

Senator John McCain’s gibberish concerning the security situation in Baghdad was intended not to show the “big picture” as he claimed, but to throw dust in the eyes of people, just when the real situation has taken a decisive turn for the worse.

Senator John McCain’s ridiculous remarks about Americans being able to stroll the boulevards of Baghdad brought derision from reporters on the ground there,Guest Posting described by one CNN reporter as “Neverland.” However, to try and prove his point, and get out of an embarrassing blunder that might haunt his presidential campaign, McCain and a handful of other redknecks ventured out last weekend on a get–away, break to Baghdad.

McCain in his new capacity as Iraqi Minister for Tourism tried to show how right he was about normal life returning by doing a walk about. Having visited Baghdad before, he explained that this was the first time that he was able to take a car from the airport and have a “deeply moving” walk downtown. “Never have I been able to drive from the airport. Never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today”

Of course the picture is a load of baloney. Avis didn’t supply them with a self-drive saloon. Instead they traveled in special hummvees backed in a heavily armored convoy, which after all was probably safer than a helicopter, given the number, which have been shot down recently. The walk about was chaperoned by General Petraeus himself, who, as officers confirmed never travels out without an armored convoy, hundreds of support troops and air cover. This time was no different, apparently the senators were accompanied on the stroll by over one hundred troops, a convoy of armored vehicles and the presence of 6 combat and recovery helicopters. No doubt they were disappointed to hear the Pentagon regulation that all personnel are required to wear body armor outside the Green Zone. However they were eventually allowed to eventually take off their helmets as they toured a market. Senator Mike Pence of Indiana was so touched that he remarked “ we moved and mingled among some of the warmest and most welcoming people that I’ve ever met on the face of the earth.” He didn’t add that he would be voting soon to help remove them from it!

Undoubtedly, people do stroll around in Baghdad and go to markets or they wouldn’t be dying in such numbers as a result of car and truck bombings! Some areas are undoubtedly less violent or dangerous  than others, though McCain didn’t choose to visit Sadr City where a mass demonstration was taking place. It is also true that the number of individual killings, as opposed to mass killings has fallen in the first six weeks of the “surge.” But to try to pain a picture of creeping normality is just ludicrous, both in Baghdad and in the country as a whole. The Green Zone itself, which is a virtual American “city with the city” has taken a battering recently from rockets and mortars that have killed soldiers and contractors alike.  

The reality is that in March we saw a 15% increase in the death toll from sectarian and insurgent fighting. More than 2,000 Iraqis died, not just in the regions, but especially in Baghdad. The insurgents have shown they can outwit and adapt tactics to create mayhem at will. In a city of 6 million, there is no chance of the occupation controlling every street, building complex and alleyway. And even though individual or group murders are down, plenty of bodies still wash up in the Tigris everyday or are found dumped in alleys – Shiites recognized because they are headless and Sunnis because they have had an electric drill driven through their skulls. Criminal gangs still pour acid in the eyes of jewelers who refuse protection money, children lie in hospital their lungs burning on fire from chloride bombs and everyday men, women and children loose lives and limbs, and are robbed of their homes and livelihoods by ethnic cleansing.

The fact is the US may be occupying the country, but they are not in control of the situation. Baghdad continues to be one of the world’s most dangerous places, despite reductions in some forms of sectarian murder. Moreover, to get the big picture one has to realize that insurgents are consciously lying low out-waiting the US as they know they can, while others have also re-deployed to bring sectarian mayhem and new insurgency to places where one, indeed was formerly able to stroll along the streets.   

In Tal Afar, previous one of Bush’s “models” where 158 people died from two truck bombs, there was a retribution killing of 70 Sunni men by a Shiite police murder squad. (The police were arrested and later freed by the Iraqi Army on government orders). One could roll out a list for the month of 50 dead, 75 injured, 22 killed forty hurt, etc, etc. Had such repetitive incidents of mass casualties been the result of artillery or tank fire, then there would be no hesitation in calling it a civil war. 

Even where everything has been done by the text book along the lines there are suggesting now in Baghdad and model communities have been established with electric and water supplies and schools build, etc and  where power was passed to the Iraqis, soon enough such towns as Saab al Bour, Tal Afar and Mosul  have now slid into sectarian chaos. The once bustling streets of Saab al Bour are now a ghost town. These towns are microcosms for the whole future of the country.

Events are beyond US control. It clamps down on murder squads and sectarian killing increases through car and truck bombs. It clamps down on Baghdad and looses control of Iraq. In fact, there has been a process of the “Baghdadisation” of the whole country as a result of the surge. That is the bigger picture.

The US “it is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't.” In truth, everyday life is dominated by the decisions of the insurgents, criminals and militia leaders. Ostensibly, the US Army relies on the Iraqi government, but in reality they have lean on the support of tribal elders and Nationalist/Baathist insurgents to fight Al Qaeda in Al Anbar and to rely on Muqtada al-Sadr decision to lay down arms, in order fight insurgents and sectarians in Baghdad and elsewhere. Yet still they are loosing the battle! Should the Mehdi Army or a split-off re-mobilize, the US would be totally overwhelmed.   

A great piece by Toby Dodge in “Le Monde Diplomatique” gave a graphic idea of the scale of the anarchy. He points out that there are something like 23 different militias operating in Baghdad alone. The insurgency has some 100,000 fighters, the Mehdi army about 50,000 members and there are 15,000 in the Badr Brigades, who were created and trained by the Revolutionary Guard in Iran.

Each political party and , government minister has his own private militia. The Prime Minister, Maliki has formed the Wolves Brigade commandos, ostensibly special forces, but in effect an independent torture and murder squad, which controlled the Interior ministry. There are others like Serpents and the Scorpion Squads. Apart from these there are the tribal militias, the neighborhood protection militias and the very important pandemic of thousands of criminal militias that infest every crevice of society.

For security to be established all of these forces have to be suppressed and that is totally beyond the reach of the US Army and certainly that of the Iraqi government and armed forces. Worse still Iraqi Army recruitment is falling and will be less next year when they are supposed to take over security of the country. Most fighting units are undermanned and under-trained, so much so that General Petraeus has been forced to call in Kurdish peshmerga mountain guerillas to Baghdad.

In the deceptively calm Shiite south all formal government has collapsed. Different party political and other militias, together with different sections of the police and army have fighting it between each other for control of this or that town. At the moment, there is battle waging in Basra between Badr Brigades of the largest Shiite party the Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq and the Mehdi army for who controls the lucrative oil revenues. The British troops are withdrawing, because they have given up hope of stabilizing the situation.

The country is a myriad of competing armed power bases within and outside of the governmental structures. Once the US pulls back everybody knows there is going to be a ruck like has never been seen before - not just involving battles between Shiites and Sunnis, but between Shiites and Shiites, Sunnis and Sunnis, Kurds and Arabs, Kurds and Kurds, police against other police, police versus army, army versus army, political party militia versus other parties, regional forces versus national south versus north and a partition of Baghdad along sectarian lines. The US army is just about balancing on the top of this at the moment and in many cases in wittingly and unwittingly encouraging it.

The only question remaining is which one of these forces will break to the surface first, regardless of the US operation “Impose Order.” Last weekend there were thousands on a demonstration for better social conditions – electricity, water, jobs in Sadr City. Next week on the 9th April, the anniversary of the occupation and anti-American demonstration has been called in Baghdad. In these volatile conditions anything can provide the spark for insurrectionary upheavals, alongside the insurgency and sectarianism. One spark can be enough to blow away the whole US strategy. A huge crisis of civil war proportions is looming in Kirkuk, which together with the possibility of an invasion of the Kurdish north by Turkish forces, threatens to bury the fragile unitary state of the country.

The truth is the US is really being taken for “Great Ride.” Everybody, including all the members of the government and some of the militias and insurgents, who pay lip service to the US and hope to benefit tactically in some way from the new surge, are all just biding their time until the occupation is over and accounts can be finally settled between them. Democrats and republicans may be debating timetables for withdrawal, but it is more likely that these decisions will be taken in Iraq, not Washington. The real trends developing in Iraqi society are not towards normalization, but towards outright anarchy and on a time table that is sooner rather than later.              

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Stephen Morgan
Stephen Morgan

Stephen J. Morgan is a former member of the British Labour Party Executive Committee. A political writer, his first book was "The Mind of a Terrorist Fundamentalist - the Cult of Al Qaeda." He is a journalist and columnist for magazine. His specific interests are political psychology and Chaos theory. He lives in Brussels (Old Europe) Contact

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