A fine American mess in the Middle East

Where to begin? More dead Americans in Iraq. You can almost just change the names of the dead, and maybe the city, and then run the same story day after day. This time, a soldier and an Iraqi interpreter were killed in an attack in Baghdad. US officials are still blaming "Saddam loyalists" for these attacks, despite numerous statements from Iraqi guerilla groups explicitly denying any connection with the deposed (and missing) Iraqi tyrant (see below). This continued preposterous claim demonstrates, in my opinion, the official US understanding of how the Middle East works - the local people can do nothing without the guidance of a "strong man", preferably one that the US has installed.

An earlier attack over the weekend lasted for 5 hours. No US soldiers were killed in the attack - but the fact that guerillas could fire mortars and small arms at US forces for 5 straight hours indicates both that the US has less "control" over the situation in parts of Iraq than it is letting on and that not every attack is being carried out "drive-by shooting" style by one or two "lone nuts".

An Iraqi guerilla group has issued a threat to kill any Iraqi working with the US occupation force. Salam Pax discusses the motivations behind such a threat. His point - that this tactic will work towards preventing active Iraqi collaboration with the Americans - is entirely correct. I would suggest that Bremer order more of those armored Humvees that he likes to ride around in for his appointed friends on the "advisory council" if he wants to see them last more than a few weeks in their jobs. The article also carries the most recent statement by a militant group that the parties carrying out the attacks against US interests have no connection with Saddam.

Speaking of collaboration: there are now plans for the US army to set up an "Iraqi militia" to keep order in Iraq and take the heat off the Americans. Let me be the first to predict that this plan will be an absolute failure. It is highly unlikely that the US occupation authority can find enough individual Iraqis to join such a militia and thus be seen as US collaborators among their immediate and extended families, some members of which will probably be involved in fighting the Americans. Leaders from the various religious communities in Iraq have already signalled their disapproval of collaborating with the US occupational autority. The only way that this kind of militia "policy", if I can even use this word to describe such a half-baked plan, can succeed is if the US convinces some tribes to back the occupation and contribute troops in return for a little power on the local level. It hardly needs to be stated that exacerbating tribal divisions is not ammenable to building a working democracy - but who still believes that the US interested in fostering democracy in Iraq?

Finally, news from the US's "other occupation": a US army spokesperson says that the Taliban have increased attacks against occupying forces in Afghanistan. How well is the US army doing with its occupation there? It's difficult to tell - the officials in charge have curious ideas about effectiveness in battle:
Davis [the spokesperson] said Special Operations Forces and Afghan militia patrolled the scene of the fighting on Sunday "finding indicators wounded enemy, including clothing, shoes, discarded equipment, expended ammunition and RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) casings." [emphasis added]
Perhaps, as I have never been in the army, I am missing the point - but wouldn't spent Taliban ammunition and shell casings indicate a higher likelihood of wounded American, rather than Taliban, soldiers?

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