Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Chess Masters Are at Work Again

The WaPo's Ann Scott Tyson reports that over 20,000 Americans have been wounded in Iraq since the war began, and that number has gone up significantly in the past month:

The number of U.S troops wounded in Iraq has surged to its highest monthly level in nearly two years as American GIs fight block-by-block in Baghdad to try to check a spiral of sectarian violence that U.S. commanders warn could lead to civil war.

Last month, 776 U.S. troops were wounded in action in Iraq, the highest number since the military assault to retake the insurgent-held city of Fallujah in November 2004, according to Defense Department data. It was the fourth-highest monthly total since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

The sharp increase in American wounded -- with nearly 300 more in the first week of October -- is a grim measure of the degree to which the U.S. military has been thrust into the lead of the effort to stave off full-scale civil war in Iraq, military officials and experts say. Beyond Baghdad, Marines battling Sunni insurgents in Iraq's western province of Anbar last month also suffered their highest number of wounded in action since late 2004. [The anonymous Marine whose letter from Iraq is in this week's Time magazine describes the extraordinarily high level of violence in Anbar.]

... While much media reporting has focused on the more than 2,700 killed, military experts say the number of wounded is a more accurate gauge of the fierceness of fighting because advances in armor and medical care today allow many service members to survive who would have perished in past wars. The ratio of wounded to killed among U.S. forces in Iraq is about 8 to 1, compared with 3 to 1 in Vietnam.

"These days, wounded are a much better measure of the intensity of the operations than killed," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

It's 1918 all over again in Iraq as an independent study group commissioned by Congress with Pres. Bush's approval recommends splitting Iraq into three autonomous regions:

The Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker, the former US secretary of state, is preparing to report after next month's congressional elections amid signs that sectarian violence and attacks on coalition forces are spiralling out of control. The conflict is claiming the lives of 100 civilians a day and bombings have reached record levels.

The Baker commission has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls "cutting and running" or "staying the course."

"The Kurds already effectively have their own area," said a source close to the group. "The federalisation of Iraq is going to take place one way or another. The challenge for the Iraqis is how to work that through."

The commission is considered to represent a last chance for fresh thinking on Iraq, where mass kidnappings are increasing and even the police are suspected of being responsible for a growing number of atrocities.

Baker, 76, an old Bush family friend who was secretary of state during the first Gulf war in 1991, said last week that he met the president frequently to discuss "policy and personnel."

His group will not advise "partition," but is believed to favour a division of the country that will devolve power and security to the regions, leaving a skeletal national government in Baghdad in charge of foreign affairs, border protection and the distribution of oil revenue.

The Iraqi government will be encouraged to hold a constitutional conference paving the way for greater devolution. Iran and Syria will be urged to back a regional settlement that could be brokered at an international conference.
His group has yet to reach a final conclusion, but there is a growing consensus that America can neither pour more soldiers into Iraq nor suffer mounting casualties without any sign of progress. It is thought to support embedding more high-quality American military advisers in the Iraqi security forces rather than maintaining high troop levels in the country indefinitely.

Frustrated by the failure of a recent so-called "battle of Baghdad" to stem violence in the capital, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, said last week that the unity government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, had only two months left to get a grip. Rumours abound that the much-admired ambassador could depart by Christmas.

Khalilzad's warning was reinforced by John Warner, Republican chairman of the Senate armed services committee, on his return from a visit to Baghdad. "In two to three months' time, if this thing hasn't come to fruition and this government (is not) able to function, I think it's a responsibility of our government internally to determine: is there a change of course we should take?" Warner said.

Bush and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, have resisted the break-up of Iraq on the grounds that it could lead to more violence, but are thought to be reconsidering. "They have finally noticed that the country is being partitioned by civil war and ethnic cleansing is already a daily event," said Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Notice the way these debates about Iraq's future are framed: It is the U.S. Congress, the Bush administration, the Baker commission who have "grown increasingly interested in the idea" of breaking up Iraq along ethnic lines. The supposedly sovereign new government of what we are told is a "fledgling democracy" has no say in what happens to their own country. Nothing has changed since World War I. "Iraq" is a political fiction cobbled out of the spoils of war. The victorious Western powers created "Iraq" and they can now un-create Iraq.

Juan Cole says it will never work:

This is a very bad idea for so many reasons it would take me forever to list them all. But here are a few:

1. no such loose federal arrangement would survive very long (remember the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States?), so the plan leads to the dismemberment and partition of Iraq. This outcome is unacceptable to Turkey and Saudi Arabia and therefore will likely lead to regional wars.

2. The Sunni Arabs, the Da`wa Party and the Sadr Movement are all against such a partition, and together they account for at least 123 members of the 275-member parliament. Some of the Shiite independents in the United Iraqi Alliance are also against it. I would say that a slight majority in parliament would fight this plan tooth and nail. The US cannot impose it by fiat.

3. The Sunni Arabs control Iraq's downstream water but have no petroleum resources. If the loose federal plan ends in partition, the situation is set up for a series of wars of the Sunni Arabs versus the Shiites, as well as of the Sunni Arabs and some Turkmen versus the Kurds. Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia will certainly be pulled into these wars.

It is not good for the region to have a series of wars over Iraq. It is not good for the security of the United States, since those wars will probably involve pipeline sabotage by guerrillas and will likely disrupt Middle Eastern oil flows. (Did Americans like $3.20 a gallon gasoline and $300 a month heating bills? Would they like to try $15 a gallon gasoline? What do you think would happen to the world economy?)

Finally, I just don't believe that the Arab and Muslim worlds would ever forgive the US for breaking up Iraq, and there are likely to be reprisals if it happens.

Reprisals? We should be used to those by now, no?

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