Iraq: Bush revives al Qaeda bogeyman to justify war
"Nearly five months into a security strategy that involves thousands of additional US and Iraqi troops patrolling Baghdad, the number of unidentified bodies found on the streets of the capital was 41% higher in June than in January, according to unofficial health ministry statistics", the July 4 Washington Post reported.
During June, "453 unidentified corpses, some bound, blindfolded, and bearing signs of torture, were found in Baghdad, according to morgue data provided by a health ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information", the Post reported.
June also capped the deadliest three-month period for the US armed forces since they invaded Iraq in March 2003. In the first quarter of this year, 244 US troops were killed — an average of 2.7 per day. But in the second quarter, 331 US soldiers were killed — an average rate of 3.6 per day.
By the end of June, the Pentagon had reported that a total of 3578 US troops had been killed in Iraq since the start of the war. In addition, the May 18 New York Times reported, based on examination of insurance claims recorded by the US Labor Department, almost 1000 US civilians employed on contracts for the US government had been killed in Iraq between March 2003 and the end of March this year.
The July 4 Los Angeles Times reported that according to government figures it had obtained, there are now 180,000 private contractors working for the US government in Iraq — 20,000 more than the number of US troops (160,000). The paper commented that the "total number of private contractors, far higher than previously reported, shows how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of Iraq".
US Army General Joseph Fil, who commands the 40,000 US troops deployed in the Baghdad area, told reporters on June 29 that the US casualty rate had risen in the last three months because Iraqi anti-occupation fighters were "starting to fight very hard" as the US forces entered areas of the Iraqi capital where these fighters had free rein. US troops were facing "a skilled and determined enemy", Fils said.
Earlier that day four US soldiers had been killed during a patrol of Rasheed, a mixed Shiite-Sunni district in southern Baghdad, when their armoured vehicle was hit be a large bomb buried deep in the ground. Seven US troops were wounded in a follow-up firefight with Iraqi guerrillas. One of the wounded US soldiers died later that day.
Fils described the attack, which he attributed to an "al Qaeda cell", as displaying a "level of sophistication that we have not often seen so far in this campaign".
Reporting Fil's media conference, Associated Press noted that Iraqi insurgents "have used similar 'swarming' tactics for years, mostly in rural areas to the north and west of the capital. Militants have also been burying explosives deep in the ground, making them difficult to detect and triggering them as vehicles pass by.
"Such 'deep buried bombs' have been especially effective against US vehicles, including Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles and Strykers, prompting commanders in some areas to shift to foot patrols to avoid losing so many soldiers in a single blast."
Since US President George Bush announced his troop "surge" strategy in January, US commanders have attributed every attack against their occupation forces to "al Qaeda terrorists" — in line with a renewed White House attempt to link the Iraq war to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3000 people.
In a June 28 speech at the US Naval War College, Bush claimed that most attacks on US troops in Iraq were being carried out by the same group that had organised the 9/11 attacks — Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden's Afghanistan-, now Pakistan-, based al Qaeda terrorist group. He called al Qaeda "the main enemy" in Iraq.
Reporting Bush's speech, the US McClatchy Newspapers chain noted that "US military and intelligence officials, however, say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaeda are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops. The group known as al Qaeda in Iraq didn't exist before the US-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides.
"Bush's references to al Qaeda came just days after Republican senators Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, and George Voinovich of Ohio broke with Bush over his Iraq strategy and joined calls to begin an American withdrawal ...
"Bush's use of al Qaeda in his speech had strong echoes of the strategy the administration had used to whip up public support for the Iraq invasion by accusing the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein of cooperating with bin Laden and implying that he'd played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Administration officials have since acknowledged that Saddam had no ties to bin Laden or 9-11.
"A similar pattern has developed in Iraq, where the US military has cited al Qaeda 33 times in a barrage of news releases in the last seven days, and some news organizations have echoed the drumbeat."
Up until last month, the official US line attributed most of the violence in Iraq to "sectarian" attacks between anti-occupation "Sunni insurgents" and "Shiite militias", principally the Mahdi Army militia of anti-occupation Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr.
In its March quarter report to Congress, for example, the Pentagon claimed that "the conflict has changed from a predominantly Sunni-led insurgency against foreign occupation to a struggle for the division of political and economic influence among sectarian groups and organised criminal activity".
This was despite also reporting that 70% of the average of 1100 rebel attacks per week in Iraq were targeted against the US and allied occupation forces, with most of the rest targeting Washington's puppet Iraqi security forces.
However, the claim that the conflict in Iraq is basically a sectarian civil war between Iraqis — with US occupation forces acting as supposedly neutral peacekeepers — has failed to reverse majority public sentiment for US troops to be withdrawn.
Indeed, it has given congressional and other US elite critics of Bush's war strategy an argument for reducing the US troop presence: If it's an internal Iraqi conflict, why should US troops' lives be put at risk there?
Bush's latest attempt to whip up support for the US war in Iraq by invoking the al Qaeda bogeyman contradicts his own admission in a November 2005 speech at the US Naval Academy that the "terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda" were "the smallest" of the three "enemy" groups US troops faced in Iraq.
In that speech, Bush argued that the "enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunnis Arabs, who ... reject an Iraq in which they are no longer the dominant group."
Bush went on to claim then, as he does now, that if Washington did not occupy Iraq, the "terrorists" would be "plotting and killing Americans across the world ... By fighting these persons in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people."
In reality, by sending several hundred thousand US troops across the world to fight an unwinnable war against ordinary Iraqis who reject having US officials as the dominant group in their country, Bush has been responsible for the deaths of more US citizens than Osama bin Laden.
And despite the fact that no Iraqis were involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks — of the 19 airline hijackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt and one from Lebanon — it is Iraqis who have been the main victims of Bush's "war on terror".
According to a peer-reviewed July 2006 study of Iraqi mortality rates carried out by the Baltimore Center for International Emergency Disaster and Refugee Studies, and published in the October 11, 2006 edition of the British Lancet medical journal, the US war on Iraq had cost 655,000 Iraqi lives.
Based on news reports, the widely cited ICasualties.org website calculated the number of Iraqis who have died violent deaths between July 2006 and the end of June 2007 at 25,878. The website, however, notes: "This is not a definitive count. Actual totals for Iraqi deaths are higher than the numbers recorded on this site."