Thursday, 13 August 2009

Broken record day: Iraq

July 31st, US troops roll back leaving security operations in Iraqi hands. Five minutes later all hell breaks loose. Of course that is an exaggeration but in the 2 weeks since the withdrawal of US troops there have been no fewer than 5 separate bomb attacks in Iraq.

On Friday last week, 36 people died in a series of attacks in Shia areas.
Just another day in Iraq?
Pretty much.
A couple of days ago, two truck bombs exploded in Khaznah, near Mosul. 23 dead, 130 injured.
Meanwhile, two more bombs went off in Baghdad killing 16 and injuring 80 people.

A mere two weeks after US troops pulled back leaving security in Iraqi hands, bombs are going off, taking out houses in residential neighborhoods, targeting labourers gathering for work, killing pilgrims, ensuring normal life is still not an option in Iraq.

Of course they are trying to make a point.

The attacks are extremely well-orchestrated, with bombs going off simultaneously in disparate locations. And although the bombs seem to target Shias more than Sunnis, mixed areas are hit frequently enough to make the violence all-enveloping.

The challenge to the government is palpable.
Can they handle the security situation? They say they can. But if you are waiting for the next bomb to go off you may not feel that secure. But that's another day in Iraq. It's not like anyone has felt safe since all this started in March 2003.

First it was the invasion. Then it was the insurgency. Now we hear that it's al-Qaeda. That's right. Mosul is allegedly the last stronghold of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The frequent deadly bomb blasts that have been shaking Iraq since the withdrawal of US forces are attributed to that shady and seemingly omni-potent organisation. Elusive yet seemingly to blame for all ills and all ailments.

Meanwhile bombs explode in building sites and rubbish piles. The Iraqi government says this is the last of the insurgency. The European press says this is al-Qaeda fighting on. And the Iraqis just ask themselves when will this all stop?

Early in 2003, before troops were deployed into Iraq, George W. Bush speaking to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward (yes, Bob of Watergate fame) said that he expected that the war in Iraq would be over in a matter of weeks. Big cheese invasion general Franks concurred. A few weeks should do it.

We now know how much they didn't know then. How much they didn't understand, didn't take seriously, didn't think through. We know that the Iraqi exiles Bush's administration took advice from were horribly out of touch at best and severely biased at worst. We know that ORHA and subsequent reconstruction efforts were chaotic some of the time and shambolic the rest. We know the war was not over in a matter of weeks. And we know that although US troops are withdrawing – because Obama pledged they would – the war is not over yet. And reconstruction is but an elusive dream for all concerned.

So let's recap.
The US and their coalition of the willing went into Iraq in 2003 for four stated reasons:
1. To find and destroy weapons of mass destruction.
2. To remove Saddam from power.
3. To liberate Iraqis and bring them democracy.
4. To fight the war on terror and make the world a safer place.

So 1 out of 4.
Saddam is deposed and dead but on the rest, the scoreline doesn't look so good. Weapons of mass destruction simply did not exist and the capability for creating them was questionable at best. Iraqis are liberated from Baathist oppression but with constant violence and destruction every day over the past 6 years, liberty is not a word that springs to mind. As for democracy, we've talked about this again and again, democracy and war don't mix and while people fear for their lives and livelihoods, democratic participation and civil society are not an option.

As for making the world a safer place, well, definitions vary but however you define it and however much you stretch it, it hasn't happened.
And now they are withdrawing. Leaving behind them chaos, violence and destruction. Being none the wiser as to what it was that made the world so unsafe and so terrifying in 2001 and since.
We still don't understand so we still cannot prevent.
Meanwhile yet another country is left with smouldering piles of debris, fear and anguish.

I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like an improvement on the general state of the world to me. And until we realise that violence breeds violence and fear breeds pain and anger, we are not going to get very far fixing the mess we are in.
Bombing it didn't fix it.
Withdrawing from it won't fix it.
Somewhere in-between must be another way, the way that makes peace an option. We just need to stop shooting long enough before we start packing to figure it all out.