Letter: Reality check on Iraq, 2008News of Iraq’s ongoing violence and occupation has been kept off the front page of papers over recent months, pushed aside by stories about the upcoming presidential election, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, or striking Hollywood writers.
By: Gary Gronquist, New Richmond,
To the Editor:
News of Iraq’s ongoing violence and occupation has been kept off the front page of papers over recent months, pushed aside by stories about the upcoming presidential election, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, or striking Hollywood writers.
Soldiers keep dying in Iraq and/or killing themselves after they “safely” return.
The Web site of Middle East expert Juan Cole, Informed Comment, often links to various news services that provide accurate overviews of the daily violence in Iraq: civilian deaths, assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, dead bodies turning up here, there and everywhere. Each one with a name, a childhood, a destroyed future and loved ones grieving.
Although the horrific and sensational suicide bombing attacks are less frequent now, has the overall landscape of Iraq improved? Has the U.S.-installed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki brought political reconciliation? Are there jobs and a strong economy in this, the second largest oil-producing nation in the world? Good health care? Fresh water? Are there operational schools, well-equipped and staffed hospitals to care for the children, pregnant women and the war-wounded? Are the streets clean? Are there safe parks, shops with affordable consumer goods?
Reality check: There is 50-70 percent unemployment within Iraq, 70 percent inflation, and on average less than seven hours of electricity a day. Some 2.4 million Iraqis are internally displaced, and at least another 2.25 million have fled the country.
In light of more than $50 billion doled out to Western companies in Iraq, the infrastructure is still in shambles, worse than it was under the regime of Saddam Hussein, even during more than a decade of economic sanctions. (Construction continues at the U.S. mega-embassy in Baghdad and also continues at U.S. military bases.)
How long will the U.S.-Sunni marriage of convenience in Anbar province (the region around Fallujah) last? Perhaps as long as the U.S. keeps doling out millions (monthly) of our tax dollars to tribal sheiks. The policy of building up armed Sunni militias is already leading to divisions with the Shia-dominated government.
In Northern Iraq, more than 4,000 people had to flee their homes during the last weeks of 2007 due to shelling and air strikes by Turkey, targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
As for Baghdad, we are led to believe that the U.S. troop surge stopped the civil war that had been raging between Sunni Arabs and Shiites in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. But, according to Juan Cole, the civil war in Baghdad escalated during the U.S. troop escalation.
Cole writes that between January 2007 and July 2007, Baghdad went from 65 percent Shiite to 75 percent Shiite. He adds that UN polling among Iraqi refugees in Syria suggests that 78 percent are from Baghdad and that nearly a million refugees relocated to Syria from Iraq in 2007 alone. This data suggests that more than 700,000 residents – more than 10 percent of the capital’s population – fled the city of 6 million during the U.S. escalation.
The surge has turned Baghdad into an overwhelmingly Shiite city, displacing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Sunnis, who have largely been ethnically cleansed from Baghdad, see al-Maliki as a sectarian politician uninterested in their welfare.
One has to wonder at the seemingly bizarre strategy of U.S. alliances in Iraq: supporting a pro-Iranian Shiite puppet government in the capital, Sunni strongmen in Anbar province, and Turkish militia against the Kurdish PKK (Kurdish Workers Party). Many Kurds in Iraq were initially thrilled with the 2003 removal of Saddam by the U.S. but now feel betrayed.
Congress was informed that the surge’s goal was to provide political space for reconciliation, but the U.S. policy of supporting opposing factions exacerbates tension between Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups. Is this counterintuitive strategy gross negligence or a planned modern-day replay of the “divide and conquer” strategy? Iraqi civilians, as usual, are caught in the crossfire of the competing armies and interests across Iraq, and those who have not fled the country continue to live in fear, poverty and instability.
One hundred and forty-four members of the 275-member Iraq parliament, a clear majority, wrote in a declaration in April, 2007, “We the Iraqi members of parliament signing below demand a timetable for withdrawal of the occupation forces (MNF) from our beloved Iraq,” Al-Maliki and Bush have ignored the popular will behind the declaration and recently forced through a U.N. Security Council resolution (not ratified by the parliament) allowing U.S. troops to remain for another year, while the actual plan seems to be that they never leave. The Bush administration has compared the need for troops in Iraq to South Korea, where U.S. troops have been stationed for more than 50 years.
Iraq has been presented as being “calm” in the fall of 2007, but Juan Cole reported (at the end of 2007) that in November and December there have been an average of 600 attacks a month, or 20 a day. Cole says about 600 civilians are being killed in direct political violence per month, a number that excludes deaths of soldiers and police.
Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post reported in a Dec. 12, 2007 article that “Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of ‘occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation,” according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month. Across the board, Iraqis believe that their conflicts are mainly caused by the U.S. military presence, and they are eager for it to end.