At the end of another year, the mainstream narrative around Iraq is that the American mission is nearing success. If one simply relies on military press releases, this would be the truth. But the reality, of course, is far different. Dahr Jamail explains:
Despite all the claims of improvements, 2007 has been the worst year yet in Iraq.
One of the first big moves this year was the launch of a troop “surge” by the U.S. government in mid-February. The goal was to improve security in Baghdad and the western al-Anbar province, the two most violent areas. By June, an additional 28,000 troops had been deployed to Iraq, bringing the total number up to more than 160,000.
By autumn, there were over 175,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq. This is the highest number of U.S. troops deployed yet, and while the U.S. government continues to talk of withdrawing some, the numbers on the ground appear to contradict these promises.
The Bush administration said the “surge” was also aimed at curbing sectarian killings, and to gain time for political reform for the government of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
During the surge, the number of Iraqis displaced from their homes quadrupled, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent. By the end of 2007, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that there are over 2.3 million internally displaced persons within Iraq, and over 2.3 million Iraqis who have fled the country.
Iraq has a population around 25 million.
The non-governmental organisation Refugees International describes Iraq’s refugee problem as “the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.”
And The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn:
The Americans suffer from a similar problem in central Iraq. Outside Kurdistan, it is difficult to find an Iraqi who supports the US occupation for more than tactical reasons. Seldom mentioned, for obvious reasons, is the one recent anti-guerrilla war which has many similarities to that being fought by America in Iraq. This is Russia’s successful re-conquest of Chechnya between 1999 and the present.
In a similar way to al-Qa’ida in Iraq, the Islamic fundamentalists in Chechnya, invariably called Wahabi, played an increasingly central role in the armed resistance to the Russian occupation. But the savagery of their fighters alienated many anti-Russian Chechens and eventually split the insurgency. I remember being astonished that Chechen human rights workers, who usually denounced Russian atrocities to me, were prepared to co-operate with the Russian army to attack the Wahabi. Often their motive was a blood feud against a Wahabi commander who had killed their relatives.
The parallels between Iraq and Chechnya should not be carried too far. The US has effectively raised a Sunni militia force which may soon total 100,000 men, many of them former insurgents. They are armed and paid for by the US, but regard the Shia-Kurdish government with deep suspicion. Many Sunni commanders speak of taking on the Shia militia, the Mehdi army, which has been stood down by its leader, Muqtada al-Sadr.
It is a bizarre situation. One experienced Iraqi politician told me that al-Qa’ida in Iraq, which never had much connection with Osama bin Laden’s organisation, had effectively split last year. A sign of this was when somebody betrayed the location of its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to the US military, which bombed his hideout and killed him. Some of the so-called “Concerned Citizens” militiamen now on the US payroll are former al-Qa’ida fighters, though the US is still holding hundreds of men in Guantanamo, accusing them of being associates of al-Qa’ida.