Monday, October 24, 2005

Blair's Folly

It's Iraq, just to clarify in the extremely unlikely event that you hadn't already guessed.

There's been some news on the results of the Iraqi constitutional referendum. Two Sunni provinces, Salahuddin and Anbar, have overwhelmingly rejected the constitution. A third Sunni province, Diyala, has delivered a yes vote. The result for the now crucial province of Nineveh has yet to be declared. Nineveh is the province which was causing concern last week. It looks as if the result is going to be very close there. The result is expected on Tuesday or Wednesday. Unfortunately, whichever way it goes, a controversial result is now pretty much guaranteed. That's not good news for anyone.

Just before I sat down to write this I was watching BBC News 24. As I type they are reporting that three large explosion have occurred in the area of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. There also appears to be a gun battle taking place. Details are thin on the ground as the BBC is struggling to contact its correspondants in the area (who, I think, normally stay at the Palestine Hotel). By the look of the roof-cam image the BBC is showing it's not what you'd call a peaceful day in Baghdad. Of course we'll get more coverage of this than if it had happened in another part of the city as there are so many journalists based in the area. Hopefully it won't be too serious.

Link to news of the explosions.
Update ends

There can be no doubt that the situation in Iraq is extremely grim. Last month, US military commanders predicted that the insurgency could last nine years.*
[General] Casey said the average 20th century counterinsurgency lasted nine years. "And there is no reason that we should believe that the insurgency in Iraq will take any less time to deal with,"...
Of course the coalition is planning to train up the Iraqi security forces so they can deal with this mess and the coalition troops can get the hell out of there. There's no desire in Washington to keep US troops fighting the insurgency in Iraq indefinitely. I suspect they probably would like to keep a few bases in the country but would prefer if their troops didn't have to do any of the actual fighting.

It is a disaster. And how does our great leader respond to this situation? Well, I don't even need to look it up. It goes something like this:
"Look, I understand why people took a different view about our decision to remove Saddam..." Er, that's a lie straight away, that wasn't the decision in March 2003. The decision was about non-existent WMD. Anyway, "... but the situation now is that we are in Iraq under a UN mandate fighting these terrorists and insurgents. We are there to help the ordinary people of Iraq and we will stay until the job is done. We are there because the people of Iraq want us to be there and we will leave when they want us to leave and not before."
OK, it might not be word for word but that's definitely the jist of the current mantra.

And that leads us to the results of a confidential Ministry of Defence poll which was leaked to the Sunday Telegraph. I'm assuming these figures are accurate as they don't appear to have been disputed by the government. In fact, in today's Press and Journal (not online sadly) the MoD apear to confirm their accuracy. An official is quoted as saying that these poll results relate to August which was "a particularly bad month in terms of results". And the results?
72 per cent [of Iraqis] do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.
It really couldn't get any worse. But it does.
82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops.
It really, really couldn't get any worse. But it does. Again.
Less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security.
Grim. These results show pretty conclusively that support for the occupation forces has gone into freefall. Where does that leave Blair's argument that we'll leave when the Iraqis want us to? In the same place as the "extensive, detailed and authoritative" intelligence no doubt.

I actually believe that to withdraw now would be very dangerous and that it could lead to all out civil war in Iraq. But if the Iraqis want us to leave, maybe we should. I'm afraid it's a total nightmare situation, all the options are bad. It's like it's been written by Joseph Heller. I hate to say I told you so but for crying out loud...

I still maintain that the coalition should attempt to organise a new peacekeeping force, ideally predominantly Muslim, and certainly without US or UK troops, to replace the current "multi-national" force. It's a long shot but I can't see anything else having the slightest chance of delivering a peaceful Iraq. Staying the course is not an option when you're heading for the edge of a cliff.

*I normally try to resist the Iraq-Vietnam comparisons. Although there are undoubtedly some similarities, Vietnam was a far more violent and deadly affair than the invasion of Iraq has so far proved to be. Nonetheless, I find myself wondering whether the idea of this nine year period is based on the US military's experience of fighting an insurgency in Vietnam. From a US perspective that insurgency did last about nine years. Of course it really lasted a bit longer than that (ask the French) and would probably have lasted a even longer but for the fact that the insurgents ended up winning. I could be wrong but it's not what you'd call an auspicious omen.

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