Can the Iraqis Fight for Sovereignty?

- by M. Junaid Alam

The much-touted official handover of Iraq by American occupation authorities to Iraqi officials handpicked by American occupation authorities has come to pass. A new phase in the liberation process, in which the task of securing and stabilizing Iraq must now be largely carried out by Iraqis themselves, has been declared. Now is the time to "let freedom reign" as President Bush enthusiastically scribbled down on a note to the new Iraqi Prime Minister. Of course, it has been stressed that the handover ceremony itself was to be mostly symbolic, a sign of things to come more than any concrete achievement in and of itself. It symbolized quite a bit, though nothing positive for the "coalition".

The handover took place in the dead of the night, hurriedly and secretly arranged for a select few huddled into some section of the cloistered Green Zone, outside of which lies the vast majority of Iraq. Only a handful of reporters were even aware and able to attend the event, which they were informed of mere minutes before it occurred. And so, in the looming shadow of the growing Iraqi insurgency, representatives of the world's most powerful country and its few authorized puppets cowered and crept about, passing around and signing all the necessary paperwork with great haste and secrecy.

That the terms of the ceremony were dictated by the Iraqi insurgents could not have brought much relief to White House propagandists, who hoped to hail the event as a signal that the troops are closer to coming home and that the worst part of the 'post-war' war is over. In reality, nothing at all has been accomplished or is in the process of being accomplished in the way of "progress" for the occupation. In the unforgettable words of Senator Biden, "So while we've handed over political sovereignty, we haven't handed over practical capacity…for the Iraqis themselves to provide security, defend their borders, defeat the insurgency, deliver basic services, run a government and set the foundation for economic progress." One wonders what the good senator thinks "political sovereignty" consists of if not the very "practical capacities" he lists as missing from the scene.

Biden's remarks came in response to a report released on June 29th by the General Accounting Office, the Senate's investigative arm, which concluded that Iraq is worse off today than it was before the war began. It found that electricity levels now are lower than they were prior to the war for the vast majority of Iraqis, the judicial system is in tatters, the security situation is in shambles, and only one-fifth of the $58 billion pledged for Iraqi reconstruction has actually been spent, with most of the spent portion expended on maintaining various ministries. The GAO report coincides with the release of three reports issued by the inspector general of the now formally-disbanded CPA, which explained that the CPA wasted millions of dollars in Kuwaiti resort hotels, lost track of how many members it has, failed to track the flow of money in reconstruction projects, and has no clear financial accounting record. (1)

Against this dismal backdrop of incompetence, it would appear that the US government has little political or rhetorical maneuvering room in arguing that its purported mission of creating a democratic, stable Iraq is even remotely salvageable.

Enter Lieutenant General David Petraeus.

A top graduate of West Point, Princeton PhD material, and three-star general, this is the man entrusted with the task of saving the United States from political humiliation, military entanglement, and strategic failure in Iraq. Since the Bush regime has pinned blame for all of the occupation's failures on the insurgency and has demonized it is an outfit of insane terrorist "dead-enders", it has appointed Petraeus to train an all-Iraqi fighting force capable of crushing the insurgency. Petraeus has been featured on the front-cover of Newsweek and presented in the headline article (grandly titled "Can this man save Iraq?") as the administration's one-man exit strategy, having been anointed with his third star and personally assured by Bush and Wolfowitz that he will have full support to carry out his mission.

The appeal of this kind of solution for the US is immediately identifiable. First, it resets the domestic political focus from the concept of America as occupier and Iraq as occupied to that of Americans merely helping the responsible and democratic group of Iraqis weed out and defeat reckless and crazed bandits. It then appears that the main burden of responsibility falls upon the new official Iraqi government, not America. And most important, a revamped and strengthened Iraqi anti-insurgency force would eventually be left to do most of the fighting and dying, brightening prospects for the return of hundreds of thousands of US troops from a dangerous war zone.

There is only one problem with this arrangement: Iraqi soldiers and police are just as likely to flee, desert, or switch sides than stand and fight, at least so far. Police often find themselves overrun and cede their stations to insurgents, or are too intimidated by local residents who view them as collaborators to act effectively. Such was certainly the case in many Shiite cities, including Najaf and Karbala, during the revolt organized by al-Sadr. The newly renamed Iraqi National Guard was tested in battle in Samarra over two months ago, during which "entire units switched sides to the insurgents", Newsweek tells us. And finally, the actual Iraqi army has seen combat action only in Fallujah, where large-scale mutinies ensued as the soldiers were kept entirely in the dark as to their mission until they arrived on the battlefield. (2)

Petraeus and the US war planners are well aware of this record of abysmal failures. To stem the tide, billions of dollars are flowing into the effort to better arm, equip, and train both soldiers and police forces, entice them with higher pay envelopes, streamline their numbers, and provide better armor. Whether or not these measures will produce concrete results is an open question, but so far there has been no decisive performance by any US-backed Iraqi forces in routing or even confronting the opposition, stemming the tide of attacks and assassinations, or improving overall security.

There is, however, one particularly competent group of Iraqi fighters who may pique Petraeus' interest and save the US much in the way of time, money and manpower. They are capable of fighting in "large, coordinated squads" and can even "set complex ambushes", creating a "frantic pace of combat," raves the Washington Post. (3) The group is becoming "increasingly potent", "nimble", and "entrenched and energized", the LA Times chimes in. An Army Lieutenant General Thomas Metz dubbed them as "effective" and a terrorism expert working for the US Army hails them as "the equivalent of the Minutemen." (4)

There is only one thing stopping the US from utilizing the clear advantages presented by this capable, popular, intelligent fighting force: they are the insurgents themselves. The Iraqi resistance currently holds all the advantages that American training, funding, and even military support cannot supply for the soldiers of its puppet colonial government. Indeed, it is the very presence and behavior of the US in Iraq which has created the widespread nationalist resentment required for the resistance to thrive in; the former CPA's own June polls showed an impressive 1% of the population trusting of the occupation and a majority desire for the Americans to withdraw from the country. (5) Perhaps this is why General Metz says he "can't find…a particular command and control structure that leads to one or two or three particular nodes" and General Petraeus opines, "These kind of networks, you chop off one part and another keeps on moving." (6)

The fact of the matter is that there is no grandiose melodramatic dilemma in getting Iraqis to fight effectively for Iraq and no last-minute heroics from American generals and American dollars required to make this happen: Iraqis are already fighting effectively on behalf of Iraq - just not the Iraq which the US wants to control, occupy, and mold for its own imperial purposes. The entire framework depicting a benevolent America graciously "helping Iraq get back on its feet" as the common expression now goes, is mere political sophistry that obscures the undeniable fact that so far America has only "helped" get thousands of Iraqis six feet under the ground and left millions more in the midst of poverty, ruin, corruption, and chaos.

Unfortunately for our aspiring magicians at the White House, standing reality on its head is not an "exit strategy." It only turns things upside down.

M. Junaid Alam, 21, Boston, co-editor of radical youth journal Left Hook (, feedback:


1. "Iraq is worse off than before the war began, GAO reports." Knight Ridder Newspapers, June 29, 2004. 2. "Can this man save Iraq?" Newsweek, July 5th, 2004 issue.

3. "Adversary's tactics leave troops surprised, exhausted." Washington Post, June 25, 2004.

4. "Iraq insurgency shows signs of momentum." Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2004.

5. "Grim numbers." Newsweek, June 15, "Web exclusive".

6. Same source as note 4.

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