US Iraq Policy: The Three Front Failures

Despite global opposition the United States invaded and occupied Iraq but what now? The damage from the invasion and occupation cannot be undone. Therefore the only question now is , why and how must the US adjust its Iraq policy to the challenges it currently faces.

The adjustment is required because the policy is facing trouble on three key fronts. One the people of Iraq are resentful. Iraqis live, with minimal basic services, under the constant fear of death and destruction. Sporadic and widespread battling persists. Peace remains elusive. They see no benefits flowing from the US-authored Iraqi civil administration. The Zogby International’s August poll commissioned by the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute interviewed 600 Iraqis in the four cities: Mosul and Kirkuk in the north, Ramadi in central Iraq, and Basra in the south. Over 65% Iraqis wanted the US troops to leave Iraq in less than a year while 25% wanted them to stay for over two years, over 58% did not want US or UK’s support to set up a fair government in Iraq while under 36 % wanted it; and 50% believed that US would hurt Iraq in the next five years while 35% said US would help. In the Iraqi mind US presence is not linked to Iraqi well-being. Instead it is the reverse.

Iraqi resentment towards US presence could gradually become aggressive. Already according to a September 17 Associated Press report the commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq said that U.S. forces also face “now face revenge attacks from ordinary Iraqis angered by the occupation.” The report maintains that US military ways are seen as being “heavy-handed and insensitive to Iraqi social and religious customs. ” "We have seen that when we have an incident in the conduct of our operations, when we killed an innocent civilian, based on their ethic, their values, their culture, they would seek revenge," the commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told The Times of London. Reducing accidental killings not easy when forces are engaged in surprise hit-and-run attacks.

The resistance profile is complex and changing. Involving also US input. In addition to the local Iraqis, US officials and media reports claim there are non-Iraqi Muslims from al-Qaida joining the resistance. According to US National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice there are anywhere from hundreds to around 2,000 foreign fighters who have converged in Iraq to fight the US forces. Giving her belief a positive spin Rice said that instead of committing terrorism elsewhere "they’re now drawn to Iraq, where, frankly, we are in a position to confront them and to disable them.” Already there are several hundred ‘third country nationals in US custody in Iraq. US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recently told reports that “the folks that we’ve scooped up have, on a number of occasions, multiple identifications from different countries-¦”

There are reports of the first lot of eight US and British citizens, suspected of involvement in attacks on US force, being held be US forces. The reports suggest they are the “first westerners” involved in the anti-US guerrilla operation. Their identities remain undisclosed yet westerners would imply that they are not of Arab or Asian descent. This should not be surprising. Within the US there is an active anti-war movement organized under the United for Peace Coalition.

Also an international coalition of peace and justice groups has organized the Baghdad-based International Occupation Watch Center which manages the most regularly updated news website called occupation Watch. It keeps the interested worldwide informed of developments in Iraq. Earlier to discourage US invasion through human shields, organized by a former US marine, over 100 individuals from the US and UK had arrived in Iraq.

The second front on which the US is facing trouble is the military front. Military power, United State’s most potent tool in its Iraq policy is not ‘delivering.’ True military power is unlimited in its ability to destroy the concrete and tangible. But military force alone cannot construct the political framework for peace nor can it always conquer the human spirit by instilling the fear of death.

Military force without moral authority is only a killing tool; not a winning one. Opposing global opinion which voted for roll-back and containment of Saddam , US opted for his destruction. Today Saddam is removed and Iraq is occupied. Wire agencies, newspaper reporters and most-non-American television networks report of a major areas of anti-US resistance. In Iraq US military power carries no moral authority. In Washington the Bush administration believes theirs is an army of liberation sowing seeds of democracy in Iraq and beyond.

Reportedly it’s a vastly different ground reality. In Iraq US soldiers are confronted repeatedly with guerilla resistance. US soldiers are regularly under attack. Guerilla attacks combined with continuing US casualties must push the US forces psychologically into a siege mentality. All sounds and stirrings must prompt these heavily armed US forces into an attack mode forcing them to take to an aggressive self-defense. On September 12 it was this siege mentality that caused the US soldiers to fire thousands of bullets at the US-managed police force. The firing killed eight Iraqi policemen in Fallujah Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad is a key pro-Saddm town. The ‘pacification’ of the Fallujah resistance through military force is still pending. In Fallujah’s main mosque a cleric thundered in his sermon that “although unorganized and without leadership, the Iraqi resistance is a ball of fire in America’s face that will bring its end in Iraq-¦we have made the Americans dizzy-¦”. US military power in Bosnia and Kosovo was seen as stopping genocidal killings. Military power manifestly decreased human suffering by battling Karazdic’s destructive mindset which sought to butcher Bosnians to settle old historical scores. Despite what US Secretary of State Colin Powell may believe there is no evidence of US forces being viewed as ‘friends’ or ‘saviors’ by the Iraqis.

Third the dominant process set off by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq is principally Iraqi resistance and an aggressive US defense. If unbroken by a reversal in US policies this resistance-aggressive defense cycle will inevitably slide into a resistance-repression cycle. Iraqi resentment will be reinforced as will the insecurity, fear and the siege mentality of lethally armed US forces. Both will believe in the legitimacy of their respective acts of killing and maiming the other. Political processes will pale and paralyze against heightened warfare. During the first trip by a US Secretary of State since Dulles’s fifties trip Colin Powell believes there is vibrancy in the Iraqi air borne of recently acquired freedom. Early in his September 10 Press briefing the Defense Secretary Rumsfeld claimed that there are now 100 newspapers in the free press in Iraq — in the free Iraq — where people are able to say whatever they wish, people are debating, people are discussing, something they had not done for decades. " True Saddam’s brutal controls have disappeared. Yet by all accounts the politically active Iraqis see another ‘adversary’ in the US occupation forces. seem to face another ‘adversary.’ Whatever the level of Saddam’s brutality Iraqis are an independent-minded and proud people. They are unlikely to accept US occupation, concede national sovereignty and self-respect give space to an occupation force to unilaterally or through a hand-picked group of Iraqis ‘engineer’ freedom, democracy and development for them. In these times of great awareness Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a fallacious tool for understanding human behavior. Powell’s plan to give the Iraqi people a constitution and an administration is worthy of support; provided it is implemented in a non-occupation paradigm.

These are compelling factors requiring reversal in US’s Iraq policy. Additionally there is no global support for US Iraq policy, specifically from the major P-5 and G-8 countries. Even the otherwise keen troop contributing countries including Pakistan, Bangla Desh and India have as yet not sent troops to Iraq. Of the 140,000 troops in this coalition force of fifteen plus nations , 120, 000 are US troops. Significantly even in Japan , a US ally, there is demand to change US policy. In its September 9 editorial Asahi Shimbun Japan’s largest circulated paper complained “It is just too much to ask other nations to provide financial contributions without specifying the anticipated future of Iraqi self-rule and discussing ways to achieve it-¦”

At home too the constant refrain is that more US military personnel have died since Bush declared the end of combat. The safety of US force must be ensured. With the election year nearing, the Bush administration must cut the domestic political costs of US occupation to its bare minimum. It has two options to chose from. One to ‘stay the course’ and claim Iraq to be the main battle ground for fighting terrorism. This would involve deploying more US troops and resources, seeking UN cover without conceding immediate and substantial political control to the UN and gradually to the Iraqis, and entering into confrontation with most of Iraq’s neighbors.

The alternative is to genuinely cooperate with the UN, turn the Iraqi reform and reconstruction effort into a authentic international effort, work on an early transfer of power to a more representative Iraqi set up, enter into cooperation with Iraq’s neighbors to tackle the cross-border movement of terrorist groups, retain US control within a UN led military command and deal with the terrorism threat effectively using a sophisticated and low-key approach. One that can win it more friends not opponents.

Significantly countries like Iran and Syria have already signaled their willingness to cooperate with the US to deal with terrorism and the Iraq situation. US itself is showing flexibility within the UNSC to draft a resolution acceptable to all the members. These are positive signs. US must recognize the rewards of flexibility and cooperation will play dividends all around. Alternatively inflexibility could yield instability, violence and animosity. And for all , including the US.