[Marxism] "They are just hitting us hard and everywhere"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 31 07:02:51 MDT 2004


LA Times, August 31, 2004

Sovereign Iraq Just as Deadly to U.S. Forces
With attacks more frequent, the hand-over of power has not mollified 
insurgents.

By Patrick J. McDonnell, Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Two months after the U.S. handed sovereignty back to Iraq amid 
hopes of reduced violence, more than 110 U.S. troops have been killed 
and much of the country remains hostile territory. The toll of U.S. dead 
since the war began last year is fast approaching 1,000.

Although attention in recent weeks has focused on Najaf, where U.S. 
forces battled Shiite Muslim militiamen, most of the deadly 
confrontations for American troops in newly independent Iraq have 
occurred in the Baghdad area and the so-called Sunni Triangle to the 
north and west.

The concentration of attacks in those areas is a reminder that the 
fiercest and most organized opposition to U.S. forces and the 
U.S.-backed interim government continues to be in Sunni-dominated 
cities, such as Fallouja. Nationwide, U.S. forces are being attacked 60 
times per day on average, up 20% from the three-month period before the 
hand-over.

The occupation of Iraq has technically ended, but a U.S.-commanded 
multinational force of more than 150,000 is still there, tasked with 
providing security to the fledgling government. Ubiquitous graffiti 
denouncing the continued occupation indicate that insurgents see little 
change in their enemy — U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies.

With Iraqi security forces still largely in training, U.S. forces 
continue to run raids and conduct patrols in many areas, maintaining a 
very visible presence, especially on the roads. Pulling back to the 
garrisons now, commanders agree, would open the door to even more chaos 
and violence.

Although U.S. authorities did not expect casualties to plummet 
immediately after the transfer of power June 28, American, Iraqi and 
international officials expressed optimism that restoring sovereignty 
and officially ending the U.S. occupation would curb the violence.

"We hope that this is going to be a true beginning, and those who are 
opposing occupation will now consider that opposing occupation is not 
necessary anymore," Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy who helped select 
Iraq's interim government, said on the day of the transfer.

But many of the underlying grievances that have stoked the insurgency, 
such as the presence of U.S. troops and the slow pace of reconstruction, 
remain. The number of fighters — including loyalists of former President 
Saddam Hussein, religious militants and others dissatisfied enough to 
take up a gun or plant a bomb — shows no sign of decreasing.

"There was a government in South Vietnam all those years ago, and we 
lost a lot of people back there," noted U.S. Army Col. Dana Pittard of 
the 1st Infantry Division in Baqubah, a zone of conflict northeast of 
the capital.

In August so far, 63 U.S. troops have died, and 54 died in July, the 
first complete month after the hand-over of power. In June, 42 American 
troops died, according to Associated Press and the Pentagon.

Neither July nor August come close to the death tolls of April and May — 
135 and 80 troops, respectively. Still, July and August rank among the 
deadliest months for U.S. forces in Iraq this year.

Overall, 974 U.S. troops had died in Iraq as of Monday, the vast 
majority — 836 — since President Bush declared an end to major combat 
May 1 of last year, the Pentagon said. About 6,500 have been wounded. 
Since January, the majority of attacks on U.S. forces have come in the 
form of "indirect fire" — such as mortar and rocket strikes — along with 
homemade roadside bombs.

There is no reliable accounting of Iraqi civilian deaths, but some rough 
calculations top 10,000. The number of Iraqi military dead is in the 
5,000 to 6,000 range, according to think-tank estimates cited by Reuters.

"There are munitions all over this country, remnants of the Saddam era," 
said Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, deputy director of operations for 
the multinational forces. "So you can't expect to rid the country of all 
its weapons in a month or two."

Although daily attacks are up, debate continues over whether the armed 
insurgency is growing. U.S. officials have stuck with an estimate from 
last year that the number of hard-core insurgents remains between 4,000 
and 6,000, a calculation others call low. The military has arrested more 
than 40,000 suspected insurgents, most of whom have been released.

"We're losing more people because the resistance is just firing more 
shots at us," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings 
Institution in Washington who supported the decision to go to war. "They 
are just hitting us hard and everywhere. The reason they are effective 
is because they just have more people shooting at us."

Pittard in Baqubah, like many field commanders, is openly skeptical of 
official U.S. estimates of the insurgency's size. He puts the hard-core 
support at about one half of 1% of the Iraqi population of 24 million — 
or about 120,000.

The fighting in Iraq has unfolded in stages, as insurgents have turned 
to different and often bolder techniques. The sovereignty era has seen a 
wave of takings of foreign hostages and attempted assassinations.

Efforts to kill government officials are so frequent that interim Prime 
Minister Iyad Allawi remarked last week on the menacing messages he 
receives daily. "Every day there is a threat," he said. "One of them may 
succeed, I don't know."

Government ministers must travel with bodyguards and vary their daily 
routes. The government itself meets inside the heavily fortified Green 
Zone in central Baghdad, protected by U.S. tanks and machine-gun nests.

Iraqi civilians have suffered tragically from the violence, with scores 
dying in bombings and other attacks directed at officials and police 
outposts.

Contributing to the U.S. death toll in August and the rise in daily 
attacks was the three weeks of intermittent combat in Najaf with Shiite 
militants that killed at least 10 U.S. troops.

"Not to be callous, but this is war. People get hurt," said Maj. Douglas 
Ollivant, operations officer of the Army's 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry 
Regiment, in Najaf. "Once you start a war, you don't know where it's 
going to end. The enemy has a vote."

The fact that the Najaf battles didn't spark fierce uprisings in other 
areas of the country — as happened during the fighting in Fallouja and 
elsewhere in April — is viewed by some as a hopeful sign. "The people in 
Najaf, the people around the country, have grown more and more tired of 
the insurgency and the killing," Lessel said.

Muqtada Sadr, the militant Shiite cleric whose forces were battling U.S. 
troops in Najaf, ordered his militia last week to leave the city and has 
asked all of his armed supporters to cease fighting while his group 
makes plans to join Iraq's emerging political process. Still, much of 
the goodwill once enjoyed by U.S. forces among Iraq's Shiite majority — 
which was repressed during the rule of Hussein, a Sunni — has evaporated.

Efforts by Allawi to offer amnesty to former combatants and otherwise 
reach out to fighters have been less well received among Sunni insurgents.

The Sunni Triangle — more accurately a vast half-moon stretching from 
Baghdad to the west and north — remains a bastion of armed opposition to 
the U.S.-led coalition. The city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, has 
joined Fallouja as basically a no-go zone for U.S. troops and a 
sanctuary for insurgents.

Periodic violence continues to rack Ramadi, Baqubah and other 
Sunni-dominated areas. In the northern city of Mosul — a longtime 
stronghold of Hussein's Baath Party once heralded as an occupation 
success story — there are almost daily attacks and frequent bombings.

Iraqi security forces, though numerous — totaling about 240,000 — are 
still largely in the training stage, and there is no word on when their 
presence may result in a drawdown of U.S. forces.

U.S. commanders are hopeful that much of the country will be at "local 
control" — meaning that Iraqi forces will shoulder much of the security 
burden — by January, when elections are scheduled.

"Of course, the hope is to put the Iraqis out front — we're just not 
there yet," a senior Army official in Washington said. "This is going to 
take a really long time."
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