by Gerry Foley
Despite the U.S. government’s claims of successes for the “surge,” that is, increased numbers of American troops in Iraq, there is hardly any doubt that the major defeats suffered by al-Qaida and other intransigent resistance forces have come from the occupation forces’ success in enlisting local tribal and gang leaders as auxiliaries.
U.S. officials are calling this strategy “Iraqi solutions.” In fact, it is based on two factors. One is a reaction against the intimidation and the ruthless and largely indiscriminate killing by al-Qaida and similar groups. The other is the Yankee dollar. In a country where wages are low and jobs scarce, the U.S. offers fighters in the so-called Awakening groups $10 a day and provides them with arms.
However, this collection of Sunni gangs is a can of worms, or more accurately, a basket of snakes, for the U.S. occupiers. In the first place, they are generally hostile to the U.S. client government, and in the second place, their alliance with the U.S. is very unstable and, moreover, they are riddled with internal conflicts and increasingly with infiltrators.
An example of the conflicting loyalties among clan groups probably was the suicide bombing of a gathering of Awakening group members near Fallujah on Jan. 20 in which four members of the group were killed. The New York Times reported Jan. 21: “Mr. Hussein had just been released after being detained by American forces for three days, and he had invited friends and relatives for a celebratory meal, Mr. Jamal said. It was not clear why he had been detained. Those arriving were searched, but the bomber, who survivors of the blast estimated was in his mid-teens, slipped through without being inspected because he was young and known to everyone from the neighborhood.
“‘He was a child and one of our people, so he did not raise doubts,” Mr. Jamal said. “Al Qaeda expected that Awakening members would attend the lunch.’”
Since the Awakening groups are irregular bodies, their leaders have no way to vet their members and entourage. In the Jan. 28 issue of the British Independent, Patrick Cockburn noted: “The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, warned last week it would be ‘very dangerous’ if the Awakening movement’s 80,000 fighters were not absorbed into the army and police. ‘They are not that well organised and could easily be manipulated by al-Qa’ida,’ he said.”
Most of Cockburn’s article was based on an interview with a local Awakening leader. He wrote: “A crucial Iraqi ally of the United States in its recent successes in the country is threatening to withdraw his support and allow al-Qa’ida to return if his fighters are not incorporated into the Iraqi army and police.
“‘If there is no change in three months there will be war again,’ said Abu Marouf, the commander of 13,000 fighters who formerly fought the Americans. He and his men switched sides last year to battle al-Qa’ida and defeated it in its main stronghold in and around Fallujah.
“‘If the Americans think they can use us to crush al-Qa’ida and then push us to one side, they are mistaken,’ Abu Marouf told The Independent in an interview in a scantily furnished villa beside an abandoned cemetery near the village of Khandari outside Fallujah. He said that all he and his tribal following had to do was stand aside and al-Qa’ida’s fighters would automatically come back. If they did so he might have to ally himself to a resurgent al-Qa’ida in order to ‘protect myself and my men’.”
The U.S.-sponsored predominately Shiite government, however, has good reason to be suspicious of the Awakening groups. The British journalist noted: “The Iraqi government fears ceding power to the Awakening movement, which it sees as an American-funded Sunni militia, whose leaders are often former military or security officers from Saddam Hussein’s regime and are unlikely to show long-term loyalty to the Shia and Kurdish-dominated administration.”
The leader Cockburn interviewed made no bones about his past loyalty to Saddam Hussein and his membership of the dictator’s repressive forces: “Abu Marouf … says he was ‘security officer’ before the US invasion of 2003. Afterwards he became a resistance fighter and, though he will not say which guerrilla group he belonged to, local sources say he was a commander of the 1920 Revolution Brigades. He is also a member of the powerful Zubai tribe that was at the heart of anti-American resistance in an area which saw the fiercest fighting during the Sunni rebellion against the occupation.”
Cockburn also quoted Marouf as saying: “The worst day of my life was when Saddam Hussein fell in 2003.” The Sunni gangs that have turned to the U.S. for sponsorship also have good reason to despise the occupation’s client government. Not only is it sectarian, but it has made little progress in restoring the economy. Nor has the United States, despite draining the pockets of U.S. taxpayers in the name of rebuilding the country wrecked by the American military.
Scandals continue to erupt over the misuse of money allotted to construction projects in Iraq. The latest to date was reported by the New York Times of Jan. 9: “Rebuilding failures by one of the most heavily criticized companies working in Iraq, the American construction giant Parsons, were much more widespread than previously disclosed and touched on nearly every aspect of the company’s operation in the country, according to a report released Monday by a federal oversight agency.
“Previous reports by federal inspectors and by news organizations identified numerous examples of construction failures in Parsons Corporation projects in Iraq, including dozens of uncompleted or shoddily built health care clinics and border forts, as well as disastrous sewage and plumbing problems at the Baghdad police academy that left parts of it unusable.
“But the new report, by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent federal agency, examined nearly 200 Parsons construction projects contained in 11 major “job orders” paid for in a huge rebuilding contract. There were also three other nonconstruction orders. The total cost of the work to the United States was $365 million.”
The total amount wasted in such dubious projects must run into many billions of dollars. Eventually, an accounting will have to be made. Perhaps the occupation authorities’ most extravagant promises to repair the damage they created were made to the city of Fallujah, which was almost totally destroyed by the U.S. military in retaliation for the killing of some employees of the notorious uncontrolled U.S. security firm, Blackwater. It appears that none of the pledges were kept.
The Independent’s Cockburn visited Fallujah recently and reported on what he saw in the Jan. 28 issue of the British daily: “The city has been sealed off since November 2004 when United States Marines stormed it in an attack that left much of the city in ruins. Its streets, with walls pock-marked with bullets and buildings reduced to a heap of concrete slabs, still look as if the fighting had finished only a few weeks ago.
“I went to look at the old bridge over the Euphrates from whose steel girders Fallujans had hanged the burnt bodies of two American private security men killed by guerrillas – the incident that sparked the first battle of Fallujah. The single-lane bridge is still there, overlooked by the remains of a bombed or shelled building whose smashed roof overhangs the street and concrete slabs are held in place by rusty iron mesh.”
Cockburn reported crowds of residents shouting to him that they had no water or electricity.
It is obvious that the U.S. war machine and corruption have wrecked the country and it is continuing to fall apart. There is no way to predict how much damage the continuing collapse will do to the Iraqi people or to the United States. But it is clear that it is in the interest of the American people and all humanitarian and progressive-minded people to demand that the U.S. withdraw totally and immediately from Iraq.