US warns Iraqi PM 'living on borrowed time'

Issue 

Testifying to a January 12 US Senate hearing on President George Bush's new Iraq war strategy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Nuri al Maliki, Washington's puppet Iraqi prime minister, that he was "living on borrowed time".

The next day, in testimony before the US Senate armed services committee, newly appointed US war secretary Robert Gates echoed Rice's threat. Asked what would happen if Maliki failed to fully support Bush's new war plan, Gates replied: "I think the first consequence that he has to face is the possibility that he will lose his job."

Bush's new strategy, announced on January 10, centres on deploying an extra 17,500 US troops to war-torn Baghdad, allegedly to combat "sectarian violence" between Sunni and Shia Muslims. An extra 4000 US marines are to be sent to the adjacent western Anbar province.

There are currently 24,000 US troops in Baghdad, which has a population of 6 million, and 30,000 US troops in Anbar, which is inhabited by 1.2 million, overwhelmingly Sunni, Iraqis. Since last August, US commanders have admitted they have lost political control of the province to Iraqi resistance fighters.

The January 15 New York Times reported that in "the new approach, American soldiers will establish a much greater physical presence in neighborhoods across Baghdad, operating hand-in-hand with the Iraqi Army and police at newly created joint security sites … many in police stations that have been among the most frequent targets in the war".

Where there are no police stations available, "the planners are seeking alternate locations, including large houses, that will have to be fortified with 15-foot-high concrete blast walls, rolls of barbed wire and machine-gun towers".

"At every level of command, Americans and Iraqis would be closely paired", thus making even clearer the puppet character of the Iraqi Army, which is recruited, trained and "advised" by US forces.

The NYT also reported that "Maliki has offered only tepid public support for the new security plan, waiting a full 48 hours after President Bush announced the new strategy before commenting". It added that "until recently, Mr Maliki reportedly staunchly opposed having more American troops sent to Baghdad, and voiced his opposition to President Bush as recently as November in a meeting in Jordan".

Maliki's reluctance to publicly support the US troops increase is understandable given the widespread hostility among Iraqis to the US military presence in their country.

A public opinion survey conducted for the US State Department in June found that in Baghdad, "nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if US and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65% of those asked favoring an immediate pullout", the September 21 Washington Post reported.

According to a September 1-4 survey by the University of Maryland's Program for International Policy Attitudes, 61% of Iraqis support insurgent attacks on foreign occupation troops.

"While American officers are confident the additional troops will make a major impact, they worry about what will happen when the American troop commitment is scaled down again, and Iraqi troops are left facing the main burden of patrolling the city", the January 15 NYT reported.

"That prospect raises the specter of repeating what has happened on several other occasions in Baghdad: Americans clearing neighborhoods house-by-house, only for insurgents and militiamen to reappear when Iraqi security forces take over from the Americans and prove incapable of holding the ground … That was the pattern with Operation Together Forward, the last effort to secure Baghdad, which began with an additional 7000 American troops over the [northern] summer, and effectively abandoned within two months when Iraqi troops failed to hold areas the Americans handed over to them."

Indeed, both the August-October "surge" in the deployment of US troops in Baghdad and Bush's plan for another "surge" this year demonstrate the complete failure of Washington's efforts over the last three years to create a puppet Iraqi Army that can act as a reliable counterinsurgency force.

With unemployment in Iraq running at 60%, most of those in the Iraqi Army are in it to secure a regular income, and most probably have little desire to combat the anti-occupation resistance fighters, estimated by the Saudi Arabian intelligence service to number about 80,000.

Nor do the Shiite Arabs who make up most of the soldiers in the new Iraqi Army display any willingness to take on anti-occupation Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr's 60,000-strong Mahdi Army militia, which controls Sadr City, Baghdad's 2-million-strong Shiite slum district.

The January 15 Washington Times reported that Maliki's government plans to pay an up-front US$150 "bonus" to "Iraqi soldiers who follow orders and deploy to Baghdad next month". Many of the Iraqi soldiers ordered to deploy to Baghdad in August-October simply refused to go.

According to the January 16 Washington Post, of the three extra Iraqi Army brigades the Pentagon wants to deploy to Baghdad, two will be made up of soldiers recruited from the Kurdish peshmerga militia, most of whom "don't speak Arabic".

The Post reported that a week earlier, "Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker and a prominent member of the Iraqi Kurdish Coalition, declared his opposition to Kurds going into Baghdad. 'There are fears that a fight like this, pitting Kurds against the Arabs, is bound to add an ethnic touch to the conflict', Othman told the Iraqi newspaper Az-Zaman. 'I am against the move … and there are many in the Iraqi parliament who are against it, too.'"

The Pentagon's plan to station its extra troops in 30-40 heavily fortified outposts throughout Baghdad is very similar to the "clear and hold" strategy that has been applied since June in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.

The January 5 Los Angeles Times reported that in Ramadi, US "Army and Marine personnel have established outposts and police stations throughout the city … But Ramadi, with a population of about 400,000 people, remains a dangerous place … Police stations have been attacked twice in recent weeks … The provincial governing council fled to Baghdad, leaving the city with no functioning local government. American casualties are high …"

The December 11 Time magazine described Ramadi as "the most dangerous place in Iraq" for US troops, reporting: "Tallies of the war dead from August to November show that more than two-thirds of the US casualties in Iraq were outside Baghdad, with four in 10 of those deaths occurring in Anbar Province. Much of the killing happens in Ramadi, where insurgents … attack Marines, US soldiers and Iraqi security forces almost daily."

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