Fallujah punctures US’s optimism

Jim Lobe

April Fools’ Day is traditionally one of good-natured mischief, but not this year. Indeed, US President George W Bush’s trademark smirk, which normally fits the day’s spirit, was nowhere to be seen Thursday. The reason was clear enough: Iraq suddenly, if gruesomely, recaptured the headlines with Wednesday’s horrific killings of four private US security contractors.While television and cable networks here censored or otherwise obscured the most graphic images of their deaths and mutilation, the public Thursday was still absorbing the meaning of the images that so clearly recalled the grisly scenes in Mogadishu, Somalia more than 10 years ago.

The fiery re-emergence of Iraq in the public consciousness makes it clear that the Bush administration’s optimistic depictions of the situation there might be as misleading as its pre-war claims about Baghdad’s weapons of mass destructions (WMD) and ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist group of Osama bin Laden. Such a conclusion was reinforced by the coincidence Wednesday of the worst single attack on US forces in several months. Five US soldiers were killed when their armoured personnel carrier ran over a particularly powerful “improvised explosive device” on a highway not far from Fallujah.That incident brought to 48 the number of US military combat fatalities in March, making it the worst month since last November, and bringing the total US combat toll since May 1,when Bush declared an end to major hostilities, to a new milestone: 600.Attacks against foreign civilians are also on the rise. Twelve were killed in March, the highest toll to date. Among the victims were four missionary workers and several other security guards, including a Canadian and Briton, who were gunned down last Sunday in Mosul, also to the cheers of a crowd of onlookers. As noted by veteran ‘New York Times’ correspondent John Burns on Thursday, both the Fallujah murders and the latest roadside killings should prompt military and occupation officials to re-think their conclusions in early February that foreign and local Islamist terrorists had replaced loyalists of former President Saddam Hussein in the “Sunni Triangle” of north-central Iraq as their principal enemy in the country and that they had “turned the corner” in putting down the insurgency of the Ba’ath Party supporters.The pattern of these attacks suggested to TX Hammes, a senior military fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies that occupation forces face a real insurgency that will not be defeated soon.Nonetheless, tougher measures were precisely what was urged by the neo-conservative ‘Wall Street Journal’, which called for occupation forces to institute military trials and executions of irregulars, a recommendation not immediately accepted by the military in Iraq.

Washington had been hoping that the transition to the Jun. 30 handover of sovereignty from the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to an interim Iraqi government and initial disbursements of some 18 billion dollars in US reconstruction and other economic funds would also help to curb the insurgency. But continuing manoeuvring by various factions and personalities in the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and the persistent uncertainty about the UNs’ role in the transition have reportedly contributed to a rise, rather than a lessening, in sectarian tensions.At the same time, the growing insecurity, particularly in the Sunni Triangle, is raising serious questions about how economic development and the investments that it is supposed to promote can proceed. — IPS