Friday, February 19, 2010

Ok, so? Yes? Iraq?

During the health care debate, those of us who favored actual national health care were often admonished to not let the "perfect" be the enemy of the "good." The rejoinder was that neither should we use "supposedly better" as a cover for "still bad."

That same answer applies to Iraq. Things are "better" than they were but they are "still bad." First, it should be acknowledged that
2009 was characterized by the lowest levels of violence in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
(Link via Newshoggers.)

This was due to a combination of factors, including the Anbar Awakening and the related Sons of Iraq movement, the dismantling of Shiite militias, and Iran's reduction in support to militants. None of which, I can't help but note, had anything to do with the "surge" - no, not even the Anbar Awakening, which was prompted by Sunnis getting fed up with the brutality of the self-proclaimed al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia née al-Qaeda in Iraq, which had always been seen as every bit as much of an outsider as the US. Nonetheless and whatever the combination of causes, the result has been an end to large-scale fighting that in turn has led to almost a 50% drop in deaths in 2009 as compared to 2008.

Iraq has more casualties from terrorist attacks than any other country in the world.
In 2009, Iraq Body Count recorded an average of 13 deaths a day from such attacks, which continue to occur in all parts of the country and most especially in areas with mixed populations. The idea that ethnic and religious tensions are largely a thing of the past is true only to the extent that Iraq has been ethnically cleansed - more accurately, ethnically segregated - and the various ethnic and religious groupings simply have less contact than they used to.

Then add this: Maplecroft is a company that provides risk analyses for corporations that wish to do business in line with the UN's Principles for Responsible Investment. As part of that, it issues an annual "Terrorism Risk Index," ranking nations based on a combination of the likelihood of terrorist incidents and the likelihood of them causing mass casualties.

According to their listing, Iraq is the place in the world where you are most at risk of a terrorist strike. (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Lebanon round out the top five.)
According to the TRI[, the company says,] even though the terrorist situation in Iraq has improved, the frequency, scale and human impact of attacks still makes it the most extreme risk country for terrorism, with nearly 4,500 civilians killed in 2009.
So yes, things are "better" - but then again, skin cancer is "better" than lung cancer but that doesn't mean it's a desirable or healthy state.

This year has started off offering more of the same. Juan Cole reports that Iraqi officials say that
196 non-insurgent Iraqis were killed in political violence in January, 135 of them civilians and the others police or soldiers. ... The total of wounded this January was 782, 620 of them civilians.
That is a total which February is on track to meet or pass.

February 1: At least 56 people were killed and 144 wounded in Baghdad by a female suicide bomber targeting Shiites taking part in an annual religious pilgrimage to Karbala. She entered a tent where women pilgrims could get water and set off the explosive before she could be checked.

The attack was described as one "that Iraqi officials had predicted but could not stop,"
underscoring the ability of insurgents to outmaneuver the country’s security forces, seemingly at will.

Two more attacks - one with a grenade, another with a roadside bomb - later struck still more pilgrims in southern Baghdad, wounding 16.
February 3: More than a score of people were killed and more than 100 wounded in Karbala in another bombing aimed at the Shiite pilgrims arriving in the city. As is often true, the details surrounding the blast are unclear; only the dead are a certainty.
Local officials said the attacker drove a motorcycle, pulling a cart laden with explosives, and detonated the bomb by remote control after parking in a crowded area. However, an official at the Interior Ministry said that it was a suicide bombing, with the attacker steering a minibus rigged with explosives into a crowd....

Several smaller attacks were also directed at pilgrims this week. In Baghdad ... three separate bombings killed one pilgrim and wounded nine, according to security officials.

In Karbala ... militants attached a bomb to a car belonging to a military official and killed three people, according to the officials. Thirteen pilgrims were wounded.
February 10: A "frequently-attacked" oil pipeline in Rashidiya, just north of Baghdad, was bombed again, cutting oil production at the Dora refinery in the capital by half. It was unclear when the pipeline would be fixed.
Also on Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed two policemen and wounded four west of Baghdad, the police said.
February 16: A string of bombs targeting Iraqi army patrols and police around Mosul killed at least four people.

February 17: Reuters reported that
[f]our Christians have been killed in the last four days by gunmen in Iraq's turbulent north, weeks ahead of an election in which the minority group's vote could be a factor in a Kurd-Arab tussle for power.

Bombings and shootings are recorded almost daily in the violent northern city of Mosul, where a struggle for territory and power between Arabs and Kurds has hampered effective policing and been exploited by al Qaeda. ...

With Iraq's March 7 parliamentary vote looming, a spike in attacks against Christians could be a sign of voter intimidation by factions in the bitter Kurd-Arab dispute, or another attempt by al Qaeda to derail the election.
While some of the violence as the election approaches could be chalked up to the latter cause, in this case I think it unlikely: Tensions remain high in the north of Iraq, where Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish interests and communities mingle - and attacking a minority group seems a poor way to intimidate the majority into abandoning the elections. Either factional intimidation or straightforward, non-election-related ethnic violence - which many fear is returning after having subsided for a time - seems considerably more likely both here and in many of the other cases. Contrary to the tendency of the US media, not every drop of blood shed in Iraq should be attributed to al-Qaeda.

(Sidebar: Yes, I know most Kurds are Sunni Muslim but they largely think of themselves as "Kurdish" rather than "Sunni" and so are a separate community with their own interests that may and do diverge from those of Sunni Arabs in Iraq.)

February 18: Two dozen people were wounded by a car bomb near a police building in Mosul.

Also on February 18: At least 13 people were killed and more than two dozen wounded when a suicide bomber struck a police checkpoint near government offices in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province. As the BBC noted,
[u]ntil 2007, the Sunni insurgency was strong in Anbar province.

Local Sunni tribes and their followers then turned against the militants and began co-operating with the Iraqi government and US forces.

But after a period of relative calm, the province is again suffering from mounting violence.
But hey, why should any of that concern us? That would only detract from the "Roaring Success!" meme of what is now officially "Operation New Dawn" - disturbingly enough, also the name of the operation that pretty much leveled Fallujah in 2004 - as US forces in Iraq drop below 100,000 for the first time since the invasion. I mean, after all, only six Americans were killed in Iraq in all of 2010!

And that's the only thing that really matters, yes?

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