Global Trends by Martin
Monday 30 October
U-Turn in policy on Iraq
The turning point has
been reached on Iraq. As violence continues in that tragic country,
the United States and British governments are coming to realize that
their adventure is now a nightmare with no good solutions. It seems
they want to pull out soon, but want a face-saving and honourable exit
which may be most difficult to find.
A turn-around in the United
States’ policy on Iraq seems to be taking place. The result is that
the US and Britain may pull their troops out sooner rather than later.
What will happen after that, no one knows.
Last week, the US President
George Bush said he was unhappy with the progress of the war in Iraq
and that the recent upsurge in violence was a serious concern.
It was the first time he
had admitted publicly that something is wrong. Before that, his messages
about Iraq had been upbeat, and had insisted the US would stay in Iraq
for as long as it takes.
The British Prime Minister
Tony Blair, in the face of public and party opposition, has been adamant
that he did the right thing in helping the US invade and occupy Iraq
and that Britain will “see the job through.”
With signs that Bush is about
to do a U-Turn, Blair must however be considering following his steps.
Recent events have led to
this imminent policy turnaround. Violence in Iraq has intensified in
the past few weeks, with dozens or even over a hundred Iraqis killed
Worse for the Americans,
the number of their soldiers killed is climbing faster than ever. In
a few months it will cross 3,000.
American public discontent
has correspondingly grown, best reflected in the plunge in polls on
New authoritative voices
have joined the critics to ask for drastic change. An advance copy
of a report mainly authored by James Baker, former Secretary of State,
and requested for by Congress, stated that business as usual was not
possible, the US should change its policy and plan to get the troops
home as soon as possible.
In London, the country’s
chief military officer called for British troops to be sent home “sooner”,
and admitted their continued presence made the situation in Iraq worse.
Bush and Blair had maintained
that their troops would leave only after they can safely transfer power
and responsibility to the local Iraqi government and its army.
The UK army transferred control
of some towns in Southern Iraq to the Iraqi government. But shortly
after, hundreds of insurgents took over the town of Amarra. Though it
has been “recaptured”, it is clear that the local forces are in no shape
to take over the country.
In Baghdad itself, the combination
of the foreign occupying forces and the local military and police are
clearly unable to control the situation.
The United States and Britain
are in a quagmire. The invasion was launched in deceit, with the expressed
aim of destroying weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.
The subsequent occupation
was marked by lack of planning and big mistakes (for example, the dismantling
of the local administration and military, leaving a vacuum to this day)
and by atrocious human rights abuses and indiscriminate killings and
detention of local civilians.
The insurgency against foreign
occupation and against the local government grew, and so too did the
war among local factions (mainly the Sunni and Shite Muslims).
Iraq is in the midst of a
nightmarish situation, with a mixture of insurgency against occupation,
rebellion against the national government, and civil war characterized
by bombings in public places and buildings.
Caught in the turmoil they
started but cannot control, the US and Britain want to pull out as fast
as possible, but don’t want to admit total defeat. Blair said last
week that the British troops will withdraw only when Iraqi forces can
handle security and “to do anything else would be a complete betrayal.”
But Iraq’s government and
security forces are very weak and it is impossible to forsee when, if
ever, they will be strong enough to enable a power transfer and honourable
exit for the foreign occupying forces.
Time is not on the side of
the foreigners, as the public in their own countries have become increasingly
anti-war, impatient, and ready to boot out the leaders and parties that
mismanaged the whole Iraq episode.
In the United States, the
Republicans are badly hit, and the Democrats are expected to win back
at least one House in elections next week. In the United Kingdom, the
Labour Party has fallen in popularity polls way behind the Conservatives.
The foreign occupiers cannot
control the situation on the ground in Iraq even if they send in many
more troops while the Iraqi government is so weak that there is no likelihood
they can take over security functions in the foreseeable future.
The pressure is thus building
for the foreign troops to be withdrawn before the smooth “transfer of
power” can take place.
Indeed many critics of the
occupation have argued that there cannot be an improvement of the security
situation until the occupation ends. The longer the foreign troops stay,
the more is fuel added to the fire.
The original “dreams” of
the architects of the Iraqi invasion – whether to save Iraq from tyranny,
to introduce democracy to the Arab world, to have revenge over Saddam
Hussein, or simply and more honestly to grab control of oil – are in
Their ambition has been reduced
to how to exit without total loss of face and honour, and without having
to take the blame for a hellish situation for Iraqis after the pull
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