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imperialism & war

An Iraqi 'quackmire' in the making

Now, more than two months after US troops established control over the area around Tikrit and Baghdad, not only have no WMD been discovered, but evidence of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, let alone Iraqi knowledge or complicity in the September 11 attacks, is simply non-existent.

If that were not embarrassing enough, Washington still has about 150,000 troops in Iraq - twice the number projected before the war - and is desperately seeking as many as 30,000 more troops from its "coalition" partners, all expenses to be paid by the US taxpayer. That such a number may not be nearly enough was underscored this weekend when unknown persons in a remote desert area blew up a key oil pipeline that supplies Baghdad power plants.
An Iraqi 'quackmire' in the making

By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - "We know where they are," Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld assured television interviewers about the location of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) March 30, two weeks into the war in Iraq. "They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad."

"I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators," Vice President Dick Cheney declared on television just as US troops massed along the border between Kuwait and Iraq on the eve of the war.

"Wildly off the mark," declared Rumsfeld's deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, when asked by senators just before the war whether then army chief of staff Eric Shinseki's estimate that more than 200,000 troops would be needed as an occupation force after hostilities was reasonable.

"I believe it is definitely more likely than not that some degree of common knowledge between [al-Qaeda and Iraq] was involved [in the September 11, 2001, attacks]", former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief and member of Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board James Woolsey testified before a federal court just before the war.

Now, more than two months after US troops established control over the area around Tikrit and Baghdad, not only have no WMD been discovered, but evidence of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, let alone Iraqi knowledge or complicity in the September 11 attacks, is simply non-existent.

If that were not embarrassing enough, Washington still has about 150,000 troops in Iraq - twice the number projected before the war - and is desperately seeking as many as 30,000 more troops from its "coalition" partners, all expenses to be paid by the US taxpayer. That such a number may not be nearly enough was underscored this weekend when unknown persons in a remote desert area blew up a key oil pipeline that supplies Baghdad power plants.

The "Q" word - for quagmire - has also made it back into mainstream-media discourse as the impression grows that US troops may be facing a guerrilla war, rather than isolated "pockets or resistance" of die-hard Ba'athists.

Some officers on the ground have complained before television cameras that they are far too thinly spread to impose order over such a large country, particularly when it appears that, at least in some parts at least, the natives do not particularly appreciate the presence of US troops, and a well-armed and tenacious few are trying to kill them. What's more, they are succeeding, and at an accelerating rate; in the past couple of weeks - that is, six weeks after Bush declared the war won, they have killed an average of about one US soldier every two days and wounded several more.

"Facing daily assaults from a well-armed resistance, US troops in volatile central Iraq say they are growing frustrated and disillusioned with their role as postwar peacekeepers," was the way the Washington Post reported it. "The war is supposed to be over, but every day we hear of another soldier getting killed," a US sergeant told the Post. "Saddam [Hussein] isn't in power anymore. The locals want us to leave. Why are we still here"?

"The army is getting bogged down in a morale-numbing fourth generation war in Iraq that is now taking on some appearances of the Palestinian intifada," noted one recent comment on an all-military website, Defense and the National Interest, while another on the same site predicted that the Pentagon's plans for rotating new units into occupation duty could well "melt down" the army's personnel system within the year.

And then there was this little-noticed headline that appeared in USA Today based on a Senate hearing in which Wolfowitz had testified, "US troops may be in Iraq for 10 Years: defense officials reportedly seek up to $54 billion a year." Wolfowitz, who before the war had ridiculed Shinseki's estimates, now agreed that a US withdrawal was not in prospect.

Indeed, he suggested, permanent bases may have to be built to house them, a notion that cannot be expected to go down well, even with US-backed exiles, like Ahmed Chalabi, who spent much of the past two weeks back in the US complaining vehemently about how the US occupation authorities are, essentially, blowing it.

Meanwhile, a prestigious joint task force of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society released a report suggesting that if the United States did not sharply increase its commitment to peacekeeping and reconstruction in Afghanistan, the country could quickly collapse back into the chaos that resulted in the rise of the Taliban.

The question that comes to mind is, what is going on? Until now, most foreign policy analysts in the US - if not the regional specialists - have been inclined to give Washington's hawks the benefit of the doubt about whether their basic assumptions about Iraq corresponded to any tangible reality on the ground. After all, no one has ever accused Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz or Woolsey of being stupid.

So how could they have gotten the nation into this position? One probability is that they, like many policymakers, tend to believe the own propaganda which they and their supporters have been spouting since even before the dust of the World Trade Center towers settled over Lower Manhattan. The degree to which they themselves helped twist the intelligence about Iraq has become increasingly clear over the past few weeks as angry intelligence professionals have taken their complaints to the press.

Hints of a second, not unrelated reason may be found in recent, plain-speaking comments on the enormous budget deficits the administration is running up, even as it continues its drive to cut taxes. "The lunatics are now in charge of the asylum," declared the Financial Times last month in an editorial seconded by New York Times columnist and Harvard economist Paul Krugman about George W Bush's fiscal policy. They argued that administration ideologues were creating, apparently deliberately, a fiscal crisis in order to achieve their goal of doing away with a social and economic system that ensured domestic tranquility since the New Deal.

"The people now running America aren't conservatives: they're radicals," wrote Krugman. "How can this be happening? Most people, even most liberals, are complacent. They don't realize how dire the fiscal outlook really is, and they don't read what the ideologues write."

The same may now be said about the Iraq hawks. Despite the radical trajectory on which they have taken US foreign policy since September 11, the complacency, especially among Democrats, has been truly remarkable, and much of the "opposition" still isn't reading, or at least absorbing, what the foreign policy ideologues behind Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz write or say, for that matter.

"This fourth World War, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us," Woolsey said in the third week of the war, as Rumsfeld was locating the WMD between Baghdad and Tikrit. "As we move toward a new Middle East over the years, and, I think, over the decades to come ... we will make a lot of people very nervous."

They're succeeding.

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