Kissinger: Iraq Mission Impossible But Terror Likely as al Qaeda Expands

As Henry Kissinger declares military victory ‘impossible’ in Iraq, and as the US gears up for an intense debate over changing course, US intelligence officials have now confirmed a troubling and predictable consequence of the war – a bigger, stronger, expanding al Qaeda network. Critics have long argued that the Bush administration dropped the ball on terrorism by diverting massive amounts of military and financial resources into Iraq; it is now clear that the war has also served to bolster al Qaeda’s power base.

In Afghanistan, where al Qaeda trained recruits in the years leading up to the 9/11 attacks, the terrorist organization has firmly re-established itself and is growing at an ‘alarming’ rate according to Gen. Michael Hayden and Lt. Gen. Michael Maples. Last week, Gen. Hayden, director of the CIA, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that al Qaeda and the Taliban have combined forces to forge an insurgency that has overwhelmed the Karzai government, US Special Forces and NATO troops. He said, “The direct tissue between Iraq and Afghanistan is al Qaeda,” and added that the tactics learned by recruits in Iraq are now being used in Afghanistan, where attacks now number 600 per month and the death toll sits at 3,700 so far this year. There are also increasing concerns that al Qaeda is again operating terrorist training camps; recruits are reportedly now being dispatched from Afghanistan to new missions in Europe, Somalia and a number of Arab countries.

Meanwhile in Iraq, al Qaeda now controls al Anbar Province, about 30% of the country’s land mass. Banned outright by Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda arrived in Iraq and easily entrenched itself in al Anbar during the US occupation while American troops concentrated on Baghdad and other urban trouble spots. At the same time, al Qaeda filled a political leadership vacuum in the Sunni province which enabled it to infiltrate the social fabric of local communities, radicalize local Sunni militias and recruit young disaffected Sunnis. Lt. Gen. Maples, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that al Qaeda had managed to “capitalize on the current cycle of sectarian violence, by creating the perception that its attacks are designed to aid and defend the country’s Sunni minority.” Last month, al Qaeda militants marched through the streets of Ramadi, the capital of the province, to (unsuccessfully) declare al Anbar a Sunni Republic and an Islamic emirate – a clear attempt to claim territory, political power and the endorsement of the local population.

The Washington Post recently reported that the chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq, Col. Pete Devlin, filed a classified report in August which concluded that the prospects for securing al Anbar Province are dim and that there is almost nothing the US military can do to improve the political and social situation there. One Army officer who read the report summed up its argument that in al Anbar, “We haven’t been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically – and that’s where wars are won and lost.” So it appears that focusing the fight on nationalist Iraqi insurgents and Baghdad has effectively handed western Iraq over to al Qaeda. At the same time, the failure of US troops to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Iraqis, and the tendency to regard all forms of resistance as ‘the enemy’, have also been key factors in the failed occupation. Al Qaeda will continue to gain momentum in al Anbar as long as the US remains fixated on Baghdad, nationalist insurgents and sectarian conflict.

On top of the horrible debacle in Iraq, the US is losing the war on terror. Many are hoping that the 110th US Congress will reorganize the nation’s priorities to drive al Qaeda out of Iraq, end the US occupation with reduced levels of violence, and advance a strategy that counters the global expansion of terrorism.


President Bush: Iraq War Peacemaker?

After last week’s seismic reconstruction of the political landscape in Washington, a shaken George Bush is stepping carefully into the strange new role of bipartisan consensus builder.

Undoubtedly, the ‘thumping’ force that delivered the House and the Senate to the Democrats was driven by the Bush administration’s Iraq debacle, with 60% of Americans now believing that the war will ‘hurt the long-term security of the United States’.

It is significant that President Bush has nominated Robert Gates to replace the unrepentant Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defence. Apart from his central role in the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, Dr Gates is an old Bush family friend and trusted former CIA director under George H W Bush. Although Dr Gates was tainted by his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration, he is revered by his supporters for being a ‘realist’ when it comes to international politics.

Arguably, it is realism that has been lacking in the Bush administration’s course in Iraq. While drawing up the plans for the US invasion, Rumsfeld believed the installation of a US-friendly democratic government would supported by the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, and would be a straightforward matter. He took little interest in the social and political history of Iraq, and thus had no understanding of how Iraqi society would fracture once US forces had toppled Saddam Hussein. He refused to even consider post-war Iraq in terms of either the US occupation or exit strategies.

So when social and political tensions burst open like angry wounds all over Iraq, the Bush administration was caught off guard and without enough troops to control the chaos. The sectarian violence in Iraq has generally been described as a ‘civil war’, yet the Center for American Progress has recently identified four separate conflicts: a Shiite-Sunni civil war in the center, intra-Shiite conflicts in the south, a Sunni insurgency in the west and violence between Arabs and Kurds in the north.

These conflicts have gained considerable momentum on the Bush administration’s watch over the past three and a half years, and House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has stated that this has severely eroded the availability of good exit strategies for the US. Nevertheless, Americans have demanded that the Bush administration and Congress reach some form of agreement to change course in Iraq.

It is highly unlikely that the US will immediately withdraw all its troops, because neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want to ‘cut and run’ without first reducing the level of violence and restoring civil order in Iraq. This is a moral imperative for some, and a matter of prestige for others.

One option that has been doing the rounds is the partitioning of Iraq into three states – one each for the Shiites (south), the Sunnis (west) and the Kurds (north). This plan has a diverse support base which includes James Baker, Robert Gates, Bush administration neoconservatives – and President Ahmadinejad of Iran. It was recently reported that Mr Baker supports “…a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue.” Dr Gates has also been a proponent of the partition plan within the Iraq Study Group. His support, along with that of Mr Baker, probably means that the Bush administration will start pushing the case for partitioning Iraq.

Meanwhile, President Ahmadinejad apparently favors partition because he believes this would maximize internal conflict and leave the regions open to Iranian invasion. When Iran licks its chops and prays for partitioning, that should sound alarm bells for the Bush administration. At the same time, critics of the partition plan also believe that the partitioning of Iraq would escalate instability, mainly because of the uneven geographical distribution of oil reserves (e.g., there are no oil fields in the west, the proposed Sunni state) and the complex way that ethnic and religious groups are intermixed and intermarried throughout the country. Turkey has also threatened to invade any future Kurdish state. So it seems that the partition plan would cause more conflicts than it would resolve. And with Iran poised to capitalize on any resulting instability, the partition could pose the greatest threat yet to Iraqi sovereignty.

Another alternative that has been gaining support centers on the devolution of power to the actual power structure as it exists in Iraq, where local leaders are the authorities recognized by local people. Just over two weeks ago, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki expanded his government’s power base by negotiating a power-sharing arrangement with defacto local ruler Muqtada al-Sadr. Maliki then convinced US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley to meet with them in the hope that the US would begin treating al-Sadr as a partner in restoring order in Iraq, especially in Baghdad. Maliki has meanwhile persuaded seven insurgency groups so far to disarm and join the political process. The Maliki government has also offered an olive branch to disaffected Sunnis by inviting former members of the Ba’ath Party to be re-instated in various government positions, including the police and security forces.

This combination of devolution, diplomacy and power-sharing seems to offer the most promising and realistic prospect for political stability in the new Iraq.

Prime Minister Maliki has recently expressed profound disappointment in the Bush administration’s ignorance of Iraq. He said that, when he first heard that the US would be invading Iraq, he figured they understood the reality on the ground in terms of Iraq’s history, society, economy and politics. He says it is now clear that they had no such understanding. Last month, after President Bush started publicly prodding the Iraqi Prime Minister to quickly gain control over the sectarian violence – which US troops have been unable to do for three and a half years – Mr Maliki pulled off the gloves and hit back at the Bush administration’s still-tenuous grip on reality.

At the end of the day, Nouri al-Maliki is the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iraq. He understands his native Iraq and he wants to lead a peaceful sovereign nation. Instead of treating him as a puppet, the US needs to stop dictating unworkable goals and support Mr Maliki’s strategies to resolve sectarian conflict in a way that is realistic in Iraq. A similar compromise position is being struck in Afghanistan, where it just isn’t realistic for the Prime Minister (jokingly referred to as the ‘Mayor of Kabul’) to control all the regions.

Instead of pursuing vaguely defined and unrealistic goals in an open-ended mission, the Bush administration should adopt a scaled-down mission with clear exit criteria: support the democratically-elected government’s initiative to reduce sectarian violence through negotiation and power-sharing, and drive al Qaeda and other jihadist groups out of Iraq. Then return our troops to the US homeland.

Louisiana, New Orleans Katrina Victims Need Mental Health Services

Anyone who read Chris Rose’s account of his battle with depression in post-Katrina New Orleans is not likely to forget it. The Times-Picayune journalist described in spellbinding detail each facet of the illness that silently consumed his life: the mind-numbing trauma of reliving and writing about the destruction of his beloved city, the debilitating sense of alienation that made even the most casual social contact unbearable, and the incomparable sense of unreality that manifested as ‘the thousand yard stare’.

Multitudes of Katrina survivors know exactly what Rose is talking about. Yet the well-documented local increases in depression and anxiety have not been met with an increase in services. It is a bitter irony that, at a time when the need for mental health care in Louisiana has never been greater, services have been downsized to a fraction of pre-storm levels. Thus, there is growing support for mental health care to be included as an integral part of any major disaster relief process.

Last week on November 8 and 9, experts in the field of disaster-related mental illness gathered in Atlanta at the 22nd Annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy to discuss the psychological consequences of hurricane Katrina. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former US President Jimmy Carter and the former First Lady, and its mission includes advancing human rights and alleviating human suffering. The Katrina symposium featured presentations, work groups and panel discussions that debated ways to improve disaster planning, preparedness, and response in order to recognize the mental health implications for disasters survivors.

“People in New Orleans and evacuees who moved to other areas around the country are still suffering from the trauma of Hurricane Katrina,” said Mrs. Carter.  “Our goal is to use the lessons learned from that catastrophic event to improve the mental health outcomes for people affected in the next disaster.”

The event was co-hosted by Dr. Thom Bornemann, who helped organize mental health professionals in response to hurricane Katrina. He said, “The impact of Hurricane Katrina on victims was unprecedented for our nation. People suffered multiple traumas not only from injury and loss of possessions, but from the perception that agencies and authorities were unable or unwilling to help them.”

One study on Katrina survivors published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization found that mental health problems in Katrina-affected areas roughly doubled after the hurricane, with 11.3 percent of respondents suffering serious mental illness. A further 19.9 percent reported mild to moderate mental illness. The report also noted that the survey was limited to Katrina survivors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and there is no similar data available for residents who were displaced to other areas of the country. It seems safe to say that the impact of being separated from one’s community and social support network is likely to exacerbate any mental illness, and thus further research is warranted.

An earlier study estimated that 25 percent of households affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes contained one or more members in need of counselling services, but only 1.6 percent contained a person who had received counselling services by October 2005.

At a time when the local need for mental health services is obviously outstripping supply, there is no sign that the federal government appreciates the urgency for Katrina survivors. In September, the Times-Picayune revealed the federal government’s shocking disregard for community health clinics who provided mental health care to people on Medicare or Medicaid while their certifications were pending. A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services commented that local clinics who had applied for certification had to wait their turn until inspectors were already scheduled to travel to the area. He also confirmed that the federal government would not reimburse clinics who had provided services to Medicare/Medicaid patients prior to certification, and proposed that the clinics who had cared for these patients would need to take responsibility for their ‘business’ decisions.

Meanwhile, there are scores of working people in Louisiana who either can’t afford health insurance, or whose insurance policies don’t cover mental illness. They are left to cope with untreated depression and anxiety while they process the enormity of their losses, hold down their jobs, take care of their loved ones and rebuild their city. This does not seem tenable and makes a compelling case for mental health care to be provided for survivors as part of any major disaster relief process.

Following the Katrina symposium on mental health, the Carter Center will now collate the results, recommendations and action plan developed by participants. These will be distributed to individuals, organizations and policy makers involved in mental health and disaster response.

These policy recommendations could well find their way to the US Congress, where there is talk of a more rigorous inquiry into the federal government’s response to Katrina. It would be a solid, positive outcome if the lessons of Katrina were truly learned and government responses were improved to respect and address the enormous psychological suffering of disaster survivors.

Rumsfeld, Gonzales Tried for War Crimes

Former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld may soon be tried for war crimes if a German court decides to prosecute a complaint due to be filed on November 14, 2006.

The complaint is brought on behalf of 12 torture victims – 11 Iraqi citizens who were held at Abu Ghraib prison and one Guantánamo detainee – and is being filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights, the Republican Attorneys’ Association and others, all represented by Berlin Attorney Wolfgang Kaleck.

The complaint is being filed under the Code of Crimes against International Law, enacted by Germany in compliance with the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court in 2002, which Germany ratified. The CCIL provides for “universal jurisdiction” for war crimes, crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity.

The complaint alleges that 12 high-ranking military and civilian officials in the US – including Donald Rumsfeld, Former Chief White House Counsel (now US Attorney General) Alberto Gonzales and former CIA director George Tenet – have committed war crimes against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the US-controlled Guantánamo Bay prison camp in Cuba. The complaint alleges that the defendants “ordered” war crimes, “aided or abetted” war crimes, or “failed, as civilian superiors or military commanders, to prevent their commission by subordinates, or to punish their subordinates.”

The Abu Graib plaintiffs claim that they were severely beaten, deprived of sleep and food, sexually abused, stripped naked and hooded, and exposed to extreme temperatures. The Saudi national detained at Guantánamo alleges that he suffered fifty days of severe sleep deprivation, 20-hour interrogations, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, physical force, prolonged stress positions and prolonged sensory over-stimulation.

Although there have been some high-profile convictions in the US of soldiers involved in prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, the US has so far refused to consider the responsibility of those higher up the military chain of command.

No international courts or personal tribunals in Iraq were mandated to conduct investigations and prosecutions of responsible US officials. The United States has refused to join the International Criminal Court, thereby foreclosing the option of pursuing a prosecution in international courts. Iraq has no authority to prosecute. Furthermore, the US gave immunity to all its personnel in Iraq from Iraqi prosecution.

The Pentagon has so far declined to comment.

Bush’s Iraq War Course Is GOP Election Failure

With only days to go to November 7, and with the US body count in Iraq confirmed at 103 for October, the war in Iraq is still trumping local issues in the GOP’s mid-term crisis.

Confronted by daily reports of escalating violence, 65% of Americans believe that the US should withdraw its troops within a year. Some Republican candidates took their cue early on the campaign trail and distanced themselves from the Bush administration’s “stay the course” rhetoric. More recently, President Bush was forced to do the same.

Yet what is the right “change of course” in Iraq? Where did we go wrong? Have we lost the war? Can we stop the violence?

When Coalition forces rolled into Iraq in March 2003, the Iraqi army hardly put up a fight. Less than four weeks later, we had won the war. In April 2003, with Saddam Hussein deposed, most Iraqis were happy and supported the US presence. Yet after the military victory the Bush administration forgot that we also had a political war to win, social tensions to manage and an economy to rebuild. The consequences of that neglect have been considerable. We won the war, but lost the occupation. It is costing $6.4 billion a month for the US to remain in Iraq – where the majority of the people now want the troops to leave because they only seem to be inciting more violence.

At the same time, a number of other factors have turned ordinary Iraqis against the US occupation, including the failure to provide for the reconstruction and security of Iraq, prisoner abuse at Abu Graib and the rape and murder of civilians. Then there are the daily miseries of having no jobs, no electricity, crippled infrastructure and deadly bombings. It may well take a generation to rebuild Iraq. Yet three and a half years into the US occupation, with Iraq bleeding and burning out of control, it still took the threat of losing Republican control of Congress to instil a sense of urgency in the Bush administration.

It is worth considering the relative success of British troops in the south of Iraq. The British have a fair amount of experience as an occupying force, most recently in Northern Ireland. In Iraq, they made an effort from the outset to engage the local people while policing the streets, especially in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city. They eschewed helmets that concealed their faces. They talked to residents and shopkeepers. They showed respect for the local people and their plight. This is not to say that everything has gone perfectly; but the British troops established and maintained control, and have made measurable progress. The Edinburgh News recently reported that murders in the region have been reduced from 30 to 11 per month, as the British army conducts extensive repairs to schools, broken drains and faulty lighting throughout the city. This has restored a sense of hope and pride for Iraqis in Basra, and has weakened the insurgency by weakening local support for it. Yet even as the people of Basra start rebuilding their lives, they still do so in the crossfire of continuing conflict.

Unfortunately, the democratically-elected government of Iraq has failed to establish its authority, including in the all-important area of security. Whenever the Iraqi security forces engage local militias in battle, it’s usually the security forces who come off second best. To be fair, they face enormous challenges: the forces are made up of new recruits; they are frequent targets of deadly attacks by insurgents and militias; their desertion rate is a staggering 25%; and the recruits are reluctant to leave their home towns and regions, making their mobilization to other trouble spots difficult.

There has understandably been a tendency to focus on the violence, yet the longer-term path out of the violence involves putting Iraq’s infrastructure and economy back together. The reduced level of violence and insurgency support in Basra, enabled by the British-led reconstruction effort, supports this strategy.

Eric Davis, Professor of Middle East Politics at Rutgers University and now a Bush administration advisor, has been pushing the case for reconstruction and economic development as a strategy for reducing the violence in Iraq. Earlier this week, he said on the Jim Lehrer News Hour: “I made the argument that, without turning the Iraqi economy around, we can’t expect the decline in political violence nor can we expect to move towards political stability in Iraq. This may have been the stated policy of the Bush administration, but little has been done on the ground. The key problem is unemployment. We have an unemployment rate in Iraq estimated between 40 percent and possibly 60 percent. If you also realize that 61 percent of the Iraqi population is under 25 and there’s been almost no new job creation since 2003, it doesn’t take very much arithmetic to realize who are the most susceptible to recruitment to insurgent groups and sectarian death squads.”  So the promise of dangerous work and a sporadic income is better than the prospect of no work and no income at all.

In other words … it’s the economy, stupid.

The economic breakdown in Iraq has exacerbated social tensions, fuelled sectarian violence and given strength to local militias, insurgents and terrorist groups. Needless to say, in such a lawless and volatile environment, the violence won’t just vanish when rebuilding gets underway. Troops and security forces will still be needed to ensure that economic recovery and development won’t be stymied. That could well mean focusing development in areas where the available number of troops and security forces are actually able to maintain effective control.

Most importantly, the forthcoming “change of course” debate must not get bogged down in existing task-oriented military operations. The new course needs to progress toward the goals of local and regional economic development, and the creation of jobs for Iraqis, because that will build a base for the country’s future political stability.

Thus, the GOP’s mid-term crisis has created a window of opportunity to turn the situation around and develop a strategy to bring the US occupation of Iraq to a reasonably successful conclusion.

Long buried but not forgotten is Donald Rumsfeld’s prediction that the Iraqis would “greet us in the streets with flowers”. Perhaps when the troops are finally able to pack up and start heading out of Iraq, Mr Rumsfeld might just get his wish.

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