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Grim Forecast Challenges Bu$h

The report, compiled by the prestigious Centre for Strategic and International Studies, is all the more devastating because of the unusual level of access given to its author, Dr Anthony Cordesman, a specialist on Iraq. He concludes that American soldiers are dying because of the Administration's ideological approach, and "four years into office, the Bush national security team is not a team".
Grim forecast challenges Bush

20.11.2003

By PATRICK COCKBURN

American policymakers are studying an unprecedented and bleak assessment of the deteriorating military situation in Iraq which contradicts many claims made by the Bush Administration.

The report is based on briefings by Paul Bremer, the US de facto governor of Iraq, military commanders, unnamed intelligence officers and Dr David Kay, the American who leads the hunt for Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The report, compiled by the prestigious Centre for Strategic and International Studies, is all the more devastating because of the unusual level of access given to its author, Dr Anthony Cordesman, a specialist on Iraq.

He concludes that American soldiers are dying because of the Administration's ideological approach, and "four years into office, the Bush national security team is not a team".

Cordesman accuses the Administration of preparing the ground for defeat "by underplaying the risks, issuing provocative and jingoistic speeches, and minimising real-world costs and risks".

Senior US officials were also deeply scornful of Administration officials' claims that Saddam and his former aide Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri are orchestrating guerrilla attacks.

Bremer is quoted as saying that Saddam is felt "to be isolated and on the run. Douri is felt to be dying".

US military officials said the leadership of the resistance is coming from former generals and colonels from the now disbanded Saddam-era Iraqi Army, who see no future for themselves.

This means that US successes in picking up the remaining 15 senior Baath Party officials and military leaders they are seeking will have no effect on the strength of the resistance.

The report makes it clear that the US military has no long-term future for the US military in Iraq. "Some Sunnis and others will always treat the US as 'antibody'," it says.

The US could not get intelligence "up to the point where it will stop all attacks".

Kay says "Iraq was actively violating accords during later 1999 to 2003".

But despite a prolonged and expensive search for chemical weapons there was no evidence of weapons production, although Iraq could have produced sarin in two years and mustard gas in two months.

Interviews with former Iraqi commanders showed none had chemical weapons under their control, but they believed that other units did have chemical weapons.

Bremer said that there was no evidence of a direct role by al Qaeda, though he felt that the devastating suicide bombs were carried out by non-Iraqis.

But he had "no hard intelligence to confirm that they were foreigners".

Bremer said the most critical problem was gathering information about on local guerrillas and possible foreign supporters.

"We do not have a reliable picture of who is organising attacks, and the size and structure of various elements," he said.

He suspected opponents of the US were co-ordinated at local and regional levels.

Baghdad was believed to have at least eight resistance cells, each with about 25 members.

The report, based on a visit to Iraq by Cordesman this month and titled Iraq: Too Uncertain To Call, says the US Army is confident it can contain guerrilla attacks, but the attackers are becoming more sophisticated and tactics are changing.

Cordesman suggests the Coalition Provisional Authority should abandon its heavily fortified headquarters in Saddam's old Republican Palace in central Baghdad.

He says: "The CPA's image is one of a foreign palace complex replacing Saddam's, and far too many CPA Americans in Baghdad are talking to Americans who should be working with Iraqis."

He says US officers in the main combat divisions see the CPA as an over-centralised bureaucracy which is isolated from the military, relies too much on contractors "and is not realistically evaluating developments in the field."

Cordesman identifies an important flaw in US planning since the northern mid-summer when the Interim Governing Council was established as the Iraqi face of the occupation.

He says that it has delayed "nation-building" in Iraq because of divisions, personal ambitions and lack of local following.

A question which may determine the success or failure of Bush's plan to create a provisional Iraqi government with real legitimacy, is how far the failings of the council are carried over into a new body.

Iraqi politicians independent of the US-appointed governing council believe the council wants to delay elections because its members feared they would not be elected. "They just want time to loot the country and then get out," said one Iraqi leader bitterly.

There is little in the track record of the US Administration to suggest that Cordesman's recommendations will be carried out, particularly at a time when Washington wants to show results in Iraq before next year's presidential election.

One problem is that the US Army is designed for major combat. It does not have the resources or training for the conflict it is now fighting. "The Army as a whole does not have the MPs, civil action, intelligence, and trained counter-insurgency assets it needs," says the report.

The report concludes that the US Administration's advocacy of "democracy" in the Middle East has an overall problem.

"It is largely advocating undefined slogans, not practical and balanced specifics."

Key findings

* Attacks on Americans by Sunni Iraqis will continue "until the day the US leaves".

* Saddam Hussein forced his officers to read Black Hawk Down - Mark Bowden's account of the shooting down of US helicopters in Mogadishu during America's disastrous intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s - to convince them the US would leave if it suffered major casualties.

* The Iraqi resistance movement is believed to have a war chest of up to US$1 billion - with a further US$3 billion hidden in Syria - and it is paying between US$25 and US$500 for each attack on US forces.

* Suicide bombings are largely carried out by foreigners, but 95 per cent of the threat is from Saddam loyalists.

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