Thursday, March 02, 2006

Iraq - Future looks fragile and uncertain

People who whould know, those whom I consider smart, informed and objective, are not speakng words of reassurance about what is now unfolding in Iraq. At this writing words of hope sound like whistling past the graveyard. Max Boot writes in the LA Times...

ARE WE WINNING or losing in Iraq? Liberals and conservatives safe at home have no trouble formulating glib answers to that fundamental question. The former can always point to setbacks, the latter to successes. The picture becomes blurrier, the future murkier when you spend time in Iraq, as I did last week.
Lt. Col. Thomas Fisher, who commands the Army battalion stationed in Baqubah, a city of 450,000, was forced to deal with the fallout. I spent a day riding in his armored Humvee as he moved around town trying to figure out what was going on (Why were the 47 men killed?) and how he should respond (Should he step up his raids or let Iraqi security forces step forward?).

Trying to calm things, Fisher sought to dispel bizarre rumors that a U.S. bomb, not explosives planted by terrorists, had blown up the Samarra mosque. He told his soldiers not to get in the way of demonstrations but to stand by in case they turned violent. (They didn't.) Then he drove to the heavily barricaded government center to confer with the mayor about what he could do as a "good neighbor" to assist the Iraqis. The answer was that the locals had everything under control.

Given the growing competence of Iraqi security forces, this may not have been sheer bravado. As we drove through town, I saw Iraqi army and police checkpoints everywhere. Not only are more security personnel in the field, but they are also not running away from a fight, as they did in 2004. Fisher told me that when insurgents recently attacked a police checkpoint, the cops chased them down and arrested them. This combination of toughness (withstanding attack) and restraint (bringing back the attackers alive) augurs well for the future of Iraq.
Worst of all, just when the situation seems to be improving, a spectacular act of violence such as the mosque bombing will bring the country to the edge of the abyss. As Jones noted ruefully during a 30-minute ride between his base and the giant U.S. logistics hub near Balad, "You can go days without anything bad happening, and then you find 47 dead bodies." Which is more important — the signs of progress that mostly pass unheralded, or the continuing woes splashed across newspaper front pages? I left Iraq more uncertain than when I arrived.

The Council on Foreign Relations has a summary of opinion pieces worth reading. This is but one paragraph out of several with a long list of references.

Iraqis have suffered through days of reprisal killings and strikes against Sunni mosques after last week’s bombing of the revered Shiite Golden Mosque in Samarra. U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, in February 28 testimony before the Senate, warned of the "possibility" of a civil war drawing in Saudi Arabia and Iran into the conflict (BaltSun). President Bush decried the latest round of violence and said the perpetrators wanted to “destroy in order to create chaos” and that Iraqis must choose between “chaos or unity.” The attack on the Golden Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam, has “pushed Iraq to the brink of war,” writes the Heritage Foundation's James Phillips, and damaged efforts to build a stable democracy. A new report by the International Crisis Group says this past year was the year “Iraq’s latent sectarianism took wings” and concludes a fully inclusive process is the “sine qua non for stabilization.” Four experts shed light on sectarian violence in TIME, including CFR's Noah Feldman and Vali Nasr. This CFR transcript and this backgrounder explain the history of Shiite-Sunni relations in Iraq.

Fayrouz Hancock's most recent situation-in-Iraq post is being updated regularly and is also worth reading. As an Iraqi she has contacts in the country that have no reason to prevaricate about what is going on. This is from a recent correspondence she received.

Life here is becoming so unbearable. At least in Basra we had some security. Now there is none of this. I have a lot of negative feelings, anger and hate. all the good we do and hope for Iraq is not strong enough because the real and active players on the scene and behind the scene are aiming against that. Whether it is his own benefit or someone else's; but sure it is not our own, the "Iraqi people."

I am so frustrated by all what is happening. and I know it will not stop soon.

As Lent begins we have much to pray about, much to reflect upon, and a long way to travel before we can rest.

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