So, after over five years the U.S. has yet to establish what Bush originally intended: “to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.” Even Dick Cheney knew such an idea was implausible, saying in 1994, “Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off.” In this haze of selective media reports and filtered information, what’s really going on in Iraq?
Most basically, the original goal of the U.S. in Iraq was to remove Saddam Hussein (check), liberate its people (check), and set up a sustainable democracy (not so much). One of the hardest tasks for stabilizing Iraq is the complete unification of the country under the Bush administration’s terms. Of course, when one invades a country and fails to prepare for the consequences that would precipitate from a sudden governmental collapse, that may produce an undertow in the flow to democracy.
The major impediment to national peace and economic stability is the stubborn cycle of attacks between factions competing for national power. Some groups are U.S.-funded like “Awakening Councils,” local security groups of Sunni Muslims, who are more popular among the people than the Iraqi government; although, a slew of other groups are less than favorable of the U.S. One of the more prominent groups, the Mehdi Army may be losing military power to the more violent splinter factions, some led by former-Mehdi Army commanders, but is expanding politically and socially. Since the economy and infrastructure as a whole is so unstable, groups like the Mehdi Army offer citizens basic social services – so inconsistent in the country – in return for carrying out orders by the group. Since the U.S. military wishes to limit this service monopoly, it frequently orders missile strikes and ground engagements with Mehdi Army recruits, possibly just carrying out a task to receive extra drinking water. The leader of the Mehdi Army, Muqtada Al-Sadr, has threatened the “open war” with Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s government if the U.S.-Iraqi militaries continue attacking his followers. These engagements force the U.S. into a very negative position with the public whom the soldiers work to win over in the first place. This catch-22 has been the status of the conflict for several years and has yet to be solved.
Intensifying and further confusing the situation, extremist groups make devastating attacks on a target that would prompt a breakdown of relations between sects, communities, and factions. When Al Qaeda destroyed the Al-Askari Mosque, a Shi’a holy site in Samarra, the tentative accord in much of Iraq collapsed between sects. Though much of the religious conflict has been sidelined, violence is still rampant, mostly a back-and-forth series ultimately requiring a cease-fire or involvement of coalition forces to prevent complete annihilation of each other. The Bush administration’s idea that “the insurgency” is the enemy of a free, democratic Iraq is misleading, as many citizens only wish to establish order and peace and to defend their communities from invaders. Most commonly, the U.S.
Refugees who have drained all resources by attempting to wait out the reconstruction of Iraq immigrate to neighboring countries like Syria and Jordan, both accepting over two million immigrants. The U.S., which foots a third of the total financial support for them, currently accepts only 5,000 refugees but that may increase to 12,000 by the end of the year. Syria, bordering Iraq on the northwest, offers a bulk of support to refugees but compensation for such efforts are inconsistent at best. The Syrian ambassador to the U.S., answering U.S. officials’ questions regarding what was needed to support Iraqi refugees within Syria, asked for 200 garbage trucks, ambulances, and five water-treatment facilities. The officials agreed, but nothing materialized. Instances like these are another product of the policy with negotiating with leaders the U.S. government considers a negative influence.
While religious feuds are a common device to influence conflicts, the breakdown of the economy as a result of the instability prevents the country from righting itself or even setting a foundation for reconstruction. Iraq is completely oil-independent, yet since its war with Iran, the Persian Gulf War, and the current conflict, much of its ability to produce and maintain adequate power to the country was limited if available at all. Oil has since returned thanks to Iraqi and U.S. defense measures around refineries and drilling sites, and with that comes electrical power. Iraq produces electricity at about 50%, but the public may only use about half while the rest supplies infrastructure like hospitals and government installations. Though this infrastructure is such an extremely important element for improving conditions for civilians, the real-time situation among many is too dire to allow an indirect solution. Consequentially, a striking proportion of the total resources available are provided via illicit trading, and as a consequence of that, factions have one more outlet to manipulate them. Since 2003, Iraq’s oil revenues have nearly doubled, possibly allowing a budget surplus by the end of the year, and outspends the U.S. on major reconstruction projects by about 10:1. However, of the multi-billion-dollar supplements to the Iraqi government for reconstruction, less than a fifth has been spent. This may be a consequence of little experience and training in the government cabinets, but after a five-year conflict, many Iraqis have lost faith in the government’s care. The U.S. public and politicians also grow weary of the dead-end contributions. A movement in Congress to shift from cash grants to loans to Iraq is gaining support from both Democrats and Republicans, and with the national
deficit climbing over $9 trillion and average gas prices well over $3 per gallon, such a motion would be a relief across the board.
Those feeling hardly any relief are the roughly 150,000 American soldiers on the ground. Many have faced two or three recalls to Iraq, and with the surge of 30,000 troops over the past year, ending in June, more brigades are summoned as well. In response, President Bush has mandated by August a maximum army tour of twelve months instead of the current length of fifteen months; however, he also accepted the recommendation by General Petraeus that troop reductions be halted by the end of this summer. Though reductions are out of the question, Petraeus also believes troop buildups are unlikely, even if violence escalates. Aside from national militaries, one of the most powerful mercenary organizations in the world, Blackwater USA, is profiting enormously from the war in Iraq. Since 2003, the U.S. has shelled out over $102 billion in Blackwater contracts, and the State Department just renewed the contract for diplomat protection. The daily compensation of an average active-duty U.S. service member: $227.23; the daily cost of a Blackwater mercenary: $1,222. Criticism of the U.S. administration’s priorities is not unfounded.
At the recent congressional hearing on Iraq, General Petraeus described the situation as “fragile and reversible,” but overall, “security in Iraq is better than it was… last September, and it is significantly better than it was 15 months ago when Iraq was on the brink of civil war and the decision was made to deploy additional US forces to Iraq.” The intense conflict between a failing state and an inefficient strategy is wearing on Iraqi and American publics alike. Success can hardly be measured in any overall gain if the goal is unconditional peace and acceptance of a democratic political system that the modern Iraq has never seen.