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Malta Today January 01, 2006

Gulf grief - America's Iraqi quagmire

By James Debono

2006 will usher in the third year of occupation in Iraq, almost three years since May 2003 when US President George W Bush proclaimed that the war was over. Events in the next two years proved Bush wrong and his statement will be remembered as one of the greatest misjudgements in history.

The number of US soldiers sent back in body bags, 2158 in all, has drawn parallels with Vietnam, but the situation in Iraq is even more complex as the country is fast degenerating in a civil war pitting fundamentalist Sunnis against fundamentalist Shiites and separatist Kurds. The number of reported civilians killed since the US invasion of Iraq stands at between 27,569 and 31,088.

On average, 34 ordinary Iraqis have met violent deaths every day since the invasion of March 2003. The statistics have been meticulously compiled by the international organisation Body Count, a project set to establish an independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq.

Women and children accounted for almost 20 per cent of all civilian deaths. Only 30 per cent of civilian deaths occurred during the invasion phase before Bush proclaimed the end of the war in May 2003.

US-led forces killed 37 per cent of civilian victims. Anti-occupation forces and insurgents killed 9 per cent of civilian victims. Post-invasion criminal violence accounted for 36 per cent of all deaths. Over half of all civilian deaths involved explosive devices.

Air strikes caused most of the explosives deaths. Children were disproportionately affected by all explosive devices but most severely by air strikes and unexploded ordnance.

Ironically it also emerges that the US have used chemical weapons in a war whose very justification was the elimination of these weapons. The revelation by a RAI journalist, that the US have used white phosphorus in siege of Falluja, stands out as one of the greatest blows to the US war propaganda machine.

Globalsecurity.org, a defence website, says: “Phosphorus burns on the skin are deep and painful... These weapons are particularly nasty because white phosphorus continues to burn until it disappears... it could burn right down to the bone.”

But Washington is not a signatory to an international treaty restricting the use of the substance against civilians. The Italian TV documentary revealing the use of white phosphorus in Iraq was broadcast on 8 November. Its screening sparked fury among Italian anti-war protesters, who demonstrated outside the US embassy in Rome.

Sham democracy

Despite the approval of a divisive constitution in October and the holding of two elections, the war in Iraq has entered its third year with the US military still bogged in a quagmire of complexities which defy neo-conservative logic.

According to this logic democracy in Iraq would have unleashed a domino effect in the whole Middle East. Iraqis might have followed the US pied piper’s tune to the ballot box and have even defied Al Qaeda to cast their votes.

But the majority have voted for a fundamentalist Shiite alliance which includes Moqtada Al Sadr, the leader of the Al Badr brigades, known for his fiery anti-Americanism and for closing stores selling alcohol.

Another component of the alliance is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) which has close ties with the Iranian regime. With tensions with Iran escalating, the US has become wary of growing Iranian influence in Iraq.

Yet the first results for the December 15 election in occupied Iraq indicate that the largest block of the 275 seats in the next parliament will be once again held by the Shiite fundamentalist United Iraqi Alliance with most of the remainder held by other explicitly sectarian formations – the Kurdish Alliance and coalitions of Sunni Arab parties.

The only encouraging sign coming from these elections is that for the first time Sunnis have voted en masse. Sunnis make up as much as 20 per cent of the population and provide the main popular backing for the armed anti-US resistance. They overwhelmingly boycotted the 30 January vote, assisting the Shiite UIA to win an outright majority in the parliament.

This time the Sunni turnout pushed the UIA share to well below 50 per cent. To facilitate this, the US military went as far as withdrawing troops from the major Sunni city of Ramadi allowing insurgents to organise the ballot. With masked guerrillas guarding polling stations, turnout in the city of 300,000 was estimated at 80 per cent.

The elections have also exposed a rift between nationalist Sunni insurgents who backed the elections and Al Qaeda in Iraq. This could suggest that Al Zarqawi’s days in Iraq are numbered. His popularity received a big blow when bombs in Amman left a whole Palestinian family celebrating a wedding among its victims.

The breakdown of Iraq along ethnic and religious lines could be the end result of the short-sightedness of those who toppled Saddam without having a clue on what to do once he was removed.


Copyright 2006, Malta Today