Robert Gates In, Annan Worse, Iraq Civil War On

As the Bush administration continued to deny that Iraq has descended into civil war, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the BBC that the situation is “worse” than civil war in Iraq: “Given the level of violence, the level of killing and bitterness and the way that forces are arranged against each other … a few years ago, when we had the strife in Lebanon and other places, we called that a civil war; this is much worse.” He also sympathized with ordinary Iraqis who are now saying that life was better under Saddam Hussein: “I think they are right in the sense of the average Iraqi´s life. If I were an average Iraqi obviously I would make the same comparison, that they had a dictator who was brutal but they had their streets, they could go out, their kids could go to school and come back home without a mother or father worrying, ´Am I going to see my child again?´”

His comments were not taken lightly and were rebuked by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Maliki.

Yet the incoming Defense Secretary, Robert Gates told the Senate that the United States is not winning the Iraq war.  He was ultimately approved by the Senate Armed Service Committee 21-0. He obviously expressed his honest views, something we have not heard much from the Bush White House on this issue.

Yesterday, 30 people were killed in Baghdad in two separate attacks. In northern Baghdad, a car bomb exploded on impact when it struck a bus carrying Shi’ite workers, then gunmen opened fire on people as they tried to flee the burning wreckage; in this attack, 14 people were killed and 9 wounded. Later in the day, 16 people died and 25 were wounded when three car bombs exploded near a fuel station where dozens of customers sat in their cars waiting in line to buy gas in a religiously mixed neighborhood in southern Baghdad. On Saturday, a triple car bomb tore through a central Baghdad market in a predominantly Shi’ite area, leaving 51 people dead and 90 wounded. Police in Baghdad also found 50 bodies bearing gunshot wounds earlier this week. UN officials estimate that 120 civilians are being killed daily throughout Iraq; the death toll reached 3,700 in October.

US troops and Iraqi security forces have continued raiding Sunni insurgent hideouts including those of al Qaeda militants in the city of Baquba, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad. More than 30 suspected insurgents were arrested over the weekend. The militants had been driving Shi´ite Muslims out of the city and had also attacked a police station. Baquba is the capital of the Diyala province and is located in the Sunni Triangle – along with the Sunni enclaves of Fallujah, Ramadi, and Samarra – and has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting since the US invasion. Last week, intense clashes between insurgents and US/Iraqi forces forced the city to temporarily shut down on Wednesday.

In the Anbar province in western Iraq, US troops also continued their offensive against insurgents. Over the weekend, two US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb and three Marines died in combat. Another Marine was killed and three US servicemen remain missing after a US helicopter made an emergency landing in a lake near Haditha, 150 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, a classified US Marine intelligence memo authored by Col. Pete Devlin says that US troops are unable to defeat the insurgency in al Anbar. The Washington Post recently obtained a copy of the August memo, which reportedly describes Iraq´s 20 percent Sunni minority as “embroiled in a daily fight for survival”, fearful of “pogroms” by the Shi’ite majority and increasingly dependent on al Qaeda as their only hope to counter growing Iranian dominance in Iraq.

The memo states, “from the Sunni perspective, their greatest fears have been realized: Iran controls Baghdad and Anbaris have been marginalized.” The Iranian-backed Shi’ite-majority Iraqi government seems to have systematically broken down local and provincial government in al Anbar by refusing to pay the salaries of officials, workers and security forces there. It seems fair to say that this flies in the face of the Iraqi government’s stated goal of unification; it has also served to create a political vacuum to be filled by al Qaeda. The August memo confirms that “… nearly all government institutions from the village to provincial levels have disintegrated or have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by Al Qaeda”, which is now the dominant influence and “an integral part of the social fabric of western Iraq”. In October, al Qaeda militants marched through the streets of the capital, Ramadi, to (unsuccessfully) declare al Anbar a Sunni Republic and an Islamic emirate.

Against this backdrop of civil war and the growing dominance of al Qaeda, hopes are fading fast that the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group will produce a solution on Wednesday. Political analyst and columnist Mark Shields says he is concerned that “it may be too little, too late” to redeem a strategy that was fundamentally flawed from the outset: “It seems to be that this is beyond the Baker-Hamilton [group]. And I´m not minimizing its importance, the effort or the sincerity of the people involved … we went to war without the support of the world community, without a valid rationale for going to war, with either wrong assumptions or false pretenses. Having secured that victory, we were unprepared and made bad decisions. And we took a brutal, repressive, stable, secular Iraq and turned it into a brutal, unstable, theocratic, and unlivable Iraq. I mean, as we talk about leaving, what is our responsibility?”

‘Worse than civil war, worse than Saddam’ is hardly the legacy the Bush administration had in mind when the US invaded Iraq. The US clearly has a responsibility to restore stability before its troops leave; whether the US will be able to honor that responsibility is another matter.

That job might be up to Robert Gates as he gives input and takes orders from President George Bush.

Thanks to Stephen Sabludowsky at BayouBuzz for contributing to this article.

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