The Iraqi quagmire

It may not be top of the news agenda any more, but the situation in Iraq is terrible. This week’s Economist has a sobering Special Report. Here’s an extract on how the home-grown Iraqi security forces (on which the Bush Administration bases its fantasies about early withdrawal) are faring:

A recent night-time raid with Iraqi soldiers and police commandos in Khalis, a mostly Sunni district north of Baghdad, illustrated both progress and shortcomings. The Iraqi officers were stirred to issue orders to move only on learning that their American mentors—part of a new scheme to embed 10,000 American troops in the ISF—were on the way. The orders then sparked terror in the ranks. Soldiers asked to be excused from the mission, complaining of sore limbs or faulty weapons. Many took sedatives, which Iraqi troops use to control their panic. “Better they take drugs than run away,” an Iraqi officer explained. “Most of these guys haven’t had much military experience or training and the insurgents are ferocious.”

Having encircled the first target-house, the stoned warriors charged, firing their Kalashnikov assault rifles into the night sky. Inside the house, they grabbed two youths and shot a third in the shoulder as he tried to escape. They then ransacked every room, found a video camera and several cassettes and threatened the prisoners with summary execution. The youths admitted to having filmed insurgent attacks. Both were soldiers of the old regime and former residents of Fallujah. The injured prisoner received no medical attention as the ISF rampaged on to the next target.

It gets worse…

No wonder they were scared. The past two months have seen a staggering explosion in violence, even by Iraq’s standards. Over 1,000 people have been killed, mostly by some 160 suicide bombers. On June 14th, a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured more than 80 in Kirkuk, an oil-rich city disputed between Kurds and Arabs. Throughout this week, dozens of bodies of soldiers and government contractors were found littered across western Iraq, most of them shot in the head.

So much for the notion that Iraq’s elections in January had quelled the insurgency—a delusion to which some American officials are still prone. “I think everyone understands that it’s getting better every day,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Gibler last week in Mosul, which was hit by over 30 suicide bombers in April and early May. “Of course, every nation that’s got IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and drive-by shootings and suicide bombers has definitely got some security issues, and this country has got those. But we’re working to change that.” The colonel received a phone call minutes later, informing him that four of his men had been injured by a suicide bomber.

There’s no way out. If the Americans pull out (as Bush and Co would like to do), the country will rapidly degenerate into worse violence. If they stay, the only way to make progress is to pour in yet more troops. That’s my definition of a quagmire.