"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Monday, May 16, 2005

"America Kept in Dark" as Carnage Escalates

U.S. TV Accused of Ignoring Situation

Iraq on brink of civil war, analysts say

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The only thing that can stop civil war is to bring this insurgency under control.
-- Noah Feldman, U.S. adviser to Iraq

Washington-When the man in the white van slowed, the group of labourers from Kut, southeast of Baghdad, approached him in the hope they would be offered work.

Instead he offered death.

As the workers approached, the man blew up his van, killing himself and the men who had tentatively moved to him in trust, sending body parts hurtling through the sky and, according to witnesses, turning the nearest hospital into a blood-stained shrine of futility, overwhelmed by the number and severity of the casualties.

The scene was played out many times over in Iraq this week, where a spike in insurgent violence has placed the country on the precipice of civil war.

More than 450 Iraqis have been slaughtered in the past two weeks in a direct challenge to a new Iraqi government, making those heady days of the January election seem like something from the distant past. The euphoria of the purple thumb, the symbol of the bravery of voters, has given way to a river of blood-red in some of the worst violence in the post-Saddam era.

"We are on the edge of civil war," said Noah Feldman, a New York University professor and chief U.S. adviser to Iraq on the writing of the country's new constitution.

Yet, somehow this sharp surge in deadly bombings, assassinations and kidnappings in Iraq has occurred largely under the radar in the United States.

No public figures have risen this week to decry this most recent carnage, no one is breaking into regular programming on cable news shows.

Perhaps Americans have simply become numb to the background hum of Iraqi violence. Perhaps the lack of graphic images on television mean[s] that medium doesn't know how to cover the story. Perhaps, more cynically, Iraqis killing Iraqis is not as compelling a story.

The left-leaning American Progress Action Fund said in a statement yesterday America's most important foreign policy venture is teetering on the edge of civil war, but it is being ignored by television networks.

"Television media - still the primary source of news for most Americans - is failing miserably," it said. "America is being kept in the dark."

While American TV viewers turn to runaway brides, fast-food fingers and the daily Michael Jackson aberration, they are missing the story of an increasingly massive foreign policy failure.

The number of car bomb attacks in Iraq jumped from 64 in February to 135 in April, a record, according to U.S. military statistics. Insurgents are reported to have stockpiled car bombs and the attacks are becoming more brazen as Sunni insurgents and foreign fighters try to provoke civil war with the Shiite majority.

"There is an apparent free flow of suicide bombers into Iraq," a Western diplomat told the London-based Guardian newspaper.

The U.S. death toll is at 1,611 and U.S. legislators this week approved funding which pushes the cost of the Iraq war beyond $250 billion (U.S.).

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, called again this week for patience.

"One thing we know about insurgencies is that they last from, you know, three, four years to nine years," he said. "These are tough fights. And in the end, it's going to have to be the Iraqis that win this.

"If there was a magic bullet, then Gen. (George) Casey and Gen. (John) Abizaid or I, or somebody on the staff more likely, would have found it."

While U.S. authorities say they believe most of the jihadists are foreign fighters - and have launched a major offensive near the Syria border to try to choke off the influx - J. Patrick Lang, a former chief of Middle East intelligence for the Defence Intelligence Agency, told National Public Radio this week that he believed the insurgents are 90 per cent home-grown.

He said they're a mix of former military, intelligence, police personnel and Baath party functionaries taking directions from a government-in-exile.

David Phillips of the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations and author of Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco, said the spike in the insurgency can be blamed on three factors.

He said the delay of Iraqis in convening a new government to validate the January elections, the preponderance of Shiites and Kurds in the government plus the intensification of the de-Baathification process simply backed the Sunni view that there is no role for them in the new government.

But, Phillips also points to statements from the White House that U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had intervened to try to break the cabinet stalemate as another spark.

"It reinforced the view in Iraq that (Prime Minister Ibrahim) Jaafari was merely a proxy for those people in Washington," he said.

The damage done by a decision to give Sunnis a small representation in the cabinet unveiled last month seems to have been exacerbated with the decision to appoint only two Sunnis to the 55-member committee chosen to write Iraq's permanent constitution.

It will only play to the sense of despair and disenfranchisement among Sunnis, many analysts say.

Feldman said the Shiite population in Iraq has shown patience of historic proportion in not retaliating against the Sunni attacks.

"The reason I say we are on the edge of civil war is that you can't have one if only one side is attacking," he said. "But the truth is, Shiites are only human and they will run out of patience," he said. "The only thing that can stop civil war is to bring this insurgency under control."

But to do so, he said, Iraqi security forces have to convince Sunnis that violence will not work and they should join the political process.

Sunni fighters, however, are convinced they can hasten the departure of some 139,000 American troops by starting a civil war, Feldman wrote.

Conversely, he said, should U.S. troops depart, civil war is guaranteed.

Phillips is even more pessimistic. When asked about the chances that the brakes could be put on the insurgency in the short term, he answered: "None. This insurgency will go on for years and years, regardless of what the U.S. does."

The insurgency can never be defeated by military force, he said. Instead, Iraqis have to believe that their institutions are worth defending and that defence has to come from Iraqi troops.

Tim Harper
Washington Bureau
May 14, 2005


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