While U.S. media attention has decreased significantly in the weeks since the June 28 so-called “hand-over of sovereignty,” the U.S. occupation remains very much in place, and the level of violence in Iraq has remained constant. Although U.S. casualties remain high (36 GIs dead as of July 17, compared to 42 for all of June) resistance forces have shifted much of their attacks to Iraqi military and police institutions. Assassinations are on the rise, with Iraqi “interim government” ministers and police officials the primary targets of shootings and car-bombs. However, particularly with car-bombs, indiscriminate casualties are escalating, with increased deaths and injuries to many Iraqi civilians, including children, with no connection to the interim Iraqi government or to the U.S. occupation.
The election-driven U.S. goal of “Iraqization” of the casualties is well underway, helping to divert public opinion from the continuing crisis on the ground in Iraq, the huge numbers of Iraqi casualties, and the diminishing levels of international support. The “coalition,” always more symbolically than militarily significant, is largely unraveling. The impact is felt more at the political than military level, with the Bush administration’s claim that it is “leading an international coalition” in Iraq increasingly indefensible.
The unraveling began with the withdrawal of Spain’s 1300 troops after the defeat of the Bush-backing Aznar government. Spain’s pull-out led Honduras and the Dominican Republic to recall their small contingents soon after. The latest premature withdrawal, that of the entire Philippines contingent to prevent the execution of a captured Filipino contract worker, is only the most visible. Hostage-taking and execution of nationals of countries with military troops in Iraq has continued, with the seizures of citizens of Japan, Poland, Bulgaria, South Korea, the Philippines and the U.S. The effect has been to increase political pressure on governments to end their military’s unpopular deployments.
Earlier this month Norway pulled out 140 of its 155 troops. New Zealand and Thailand have both announced plans to pull out their troops by September. The Netherlands and Poland will reportedly leave before the middle of next year. While eastern European and former Soviet countries remain the most committed to the U.S. war, even Estonia has announced pull-out plans. Other countries have reduced their already tiny contingents; Singapore left only 33 soldiers in Iraq out of 191, and Moldova, already the smallest group with 42 soldiers, is now down to 12.
For the first time, a majority of Americans believe the war was wrong, that the U.S. should have stayed out – now 51%, up from 46% in June. In a new New York Times/CBS poll, public anger is rising with the continuing casualties among U.S. soldiers in Iraq, with 62% saying they believed the war was not worth the loss of American lives.
Striking another blow against the Bush administration’s only remaining claim of justification for the war, interim Iraqi prime minister Allawi has made clear as he consolidates his claim on partial authority, that democracy is not on his agenda. Whether he will go down in history as “Saddam Hussein lite” remains uncertain, but what is clear is that his rule is already characterized by the ruling style of the Ba’athist regime in which he got his start as an intelligence official, combining widescale repression with selective co-optation. Allawi’s own familiarity with brutal rule emerged on July 17th, when an article in the Sydney Morning Herald documented Allawi having shot dead six hand-cuffed and bound suspected insurgents in cold blood in the courtyard of a Baghdad police station, just days before the U.S. occupation “handed over sovereignty” to him. Thus Allawi’s July 7th announcement of emergency powers, authorizing his government to carry out most of the unpopular moves of the official U.S. occupation including curfews, closures, random searches, and more, gives a better indication of his intentions than does all the obeisance to democracy of the double Pauls [Bremer and Wolfowitz]. And, like its hands-off position regarding the repressive practices of the earlier Ba’athist regime under Saddam Hussein, the U.S. appears to think it’s fine that repression and co-optation are the hallmarks of occupied “sovereign Iraq” today. (The announcement by Iraq’s human rights minister that he will “investigate” the Allawi murders must be viewed with significant skepticism.)
The co-optation side is seen in the effort to divide the resistance between the largely foreign Islamist forces and the indigenous Iraqi opposition (including both secular nationalist and Islamist sectors). It takes such forms as the reopening Moqtada al-Sadr’s newspaper, al-Hawza, closed by the U.S. occupation authorities, as well as offering amnesty to some resistance fighters. But the limits of the co-optation strategy are also visible in situations such as Fallujah, where the U.S. had allowed the local Fallujah Brigade to take control of the city, but at the same time Allawi is reported to have approved the recent continuation of U.S. military assaults that are killing numerous Fallujah civilians.
In both the U.S. and the UK, official reports were released condemning the false, flawed and exaggerated intelligence that both the Bush and Blair administrations used to justify their invasion of Iraq. The Senate Intelligence Committee, under Republican pressure, refused to examine the role of the administration in hyping pre-war intelligence, focusing instead on the CIA’s failures. These included a widespread “group think” – defined as the unfounded “collective presumption that Iraq had an active and growing weapons of mass destruction program.” Only after the 2004 elections will phase two of the investigation of pre-war intelligence begin, and even then it remains uncertain whether they will examine the role of the administration. In the UK, in the meantime, Tony Blair admitted that his constant claim that “400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves” was untrue, and that only about 5,000 had been found. While 5,000 murdered Iraqis is certainly sufficient evidence of a serious crime against humanity, Tony Blair’s manipulation of the numbers provides useful insight into his cavalier attitude towards the truth.
Beyond the insufficiently critical media accounts of the Senate Intelligence Report, there is a growing media focus on a single aspect of the forthcoming 9/11 Commission report. That is the claim that because some of the hijackers apparently traveled through Iran en route to the U.S., that there must be Iranian complicity in the attacks. Of course by this logic, Germany must be deemed a key ally of al-Qaeda for harboring the terrorists before 9/11, and for that matter so must Florida. Perhaps trying to bolster his agency’s “group-think” image, acting CIA Director John McLaughlin recently admitted that, “We have no evidence that there is some sort of official sanction by the government of Iran for this activity. We have no evidence that there is some sort of official connection between Iran and 9/11.”