Is the "security situation" in Iraq improving? The best clue may be George Bush's two-hour, top-secret visit to Iraq on Thanksgiving Day, in which he never left the heavily fortified grounds of the Baghdad International Airport.
Bush was not the first official to visit Iraq in recent weeks. Paul Wolfowitz was the target of missiles launched at the Al Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad where he recently secretly spent the night. Only two days before Bush's photo op, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, on another secret overnight stay in Baghdad, was awakened in the dead of night by another barrage of incoming missiles.
It's a miracle that Bush's plane even landed. Jordanian commercial planes that flew aid groups and journalists in and out of Baghdad have now ceased serving the airport. Just a few days before Bush's visit, the only commercial plane that was still making regular flights into Baghdad, a daily DHL plane delivering packages, was hit by two shoulder fired missiles on takeoff and had to turn back to make an emergency landing. This, at an airport that was operationally ready for full commercial air traffic back in July. It now has no commercial traffic. [Editor's note: DHL cargo flights to Iraq resumed on Tuesday, Dec. 2nd, but Jordanian planes have not resumed passenger flights.]
The US media is emphasizing the US military's ongoing preemptive strikes against the Iraqi guerrillas: Operation Iron Hammer and Operations Ivy Cyclone I and II. We see and read about mortars fired into vacant fields, orchards bombed because guerrillas might hide behind trees, and farmhouses evacuated and demolished, uprooting families in a form of collective punishment forbidden by the Geneva Convention. US forces shoot up an abandoned dye factory in Baghdad over several days, while puzzled residents watch, wondering where the guerrillas are and why no weapons cache has been found.
Pentagon spokesmen go on TV and declare that the security situation in Iraq has improved and that attacks on US soldiers have fallen off sharply. But evidence on the ground suggests otherwise.
Take, for example, George Bush's quick dash in and out of Baghdad International Airport. If security is getting better, why couldn't he hop a Humvee into Baghdad and stay the night with Paul Bremer? Well, there's the little problem of unexploded roadside bombs and rocket propelled grenades, which continue to kill US troops on an almost daily basis. Seventy-nine US troops have died in November, more than died in the previous two months added together. There's also those continuing, pesky nighttime mortar and missile attacks against US military installations all over the country, even in Baghdad, where donkeys have been drafted into the guerrilla movement.
Oh, and car bombs. So many cars and trucks have exploded in Iraq that the media has now lost count. Every week it's at least two or three more. The recent favorite target is the Iraqi police--last week in Baquba and Khan Bani Saad, car bombs exploded outside police stations, killing 18 people (including two young children) and wounding over 50. The Bush administration hopes to build a 100,000-man Iraqi police force to take over security patrols from US troops, but only 10,000 men are currently in training, and hundreds of new policemen are quitting their jobs because of the violence. Iraqi police complain that they lack decent equipment^Teven police cars--necessary to do their jobs, and their stations lack any barriers that would keep suspicious cars away. Losing their ranking officers is also a blow: last week guerrillas assassinated the police chief of Latifiyah, a town near Baghdad, and killed a police colonel in Mosul who controls the force responsible for guarding Iraq's oil infrastructure.
Speaking of oil, guerrillas are still regularly sabotaging oil and gas pipelines, undermining Iraq's export income and the iffy--and very necessary--flow of fuel oil for domestic consumption. Two were set ablaze last week. On Thanksgiving Day, Baghdad suffered a blackout, an all-too-common occurrence these days. It wasn't until Friday that Baghdad residents were able to turn on their TV sets and see that George Bush had paid a visit. Not that he had talked to any Iraqis--unless you count a couple of US-appointed members of the Governing Council. Most Iraqis don't.
Finally, we get news that US military divisions stationed in the Sunni triangle have not seen any decrease in attacks against them. Maybe erecting an enormous barbed-wire fence around the entire town of Tikrit--effectively turning it into a concentration camp--could be part of the problem. Certainly the entire Arab world has made comparisons with the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, a failed program that's earned criticism from Israeli generals and members of Ariel Sharon's own government. That's the spirit, George. Do something that's guaranteed to make things worse!
Like a secret visit to Iraq, engineered entirely for the TV cameras back home.
Sources for further reading:
to Iraq Becomes Talk of Baghdad," Niko Price, Associated
Press, 11/28/03; "Army Is Planning for 100,000 G.I.'s in
Iraq Till 2006," Eric Schmitt, The New York Times, 11/21/03;
"U.S. Military Return to War Tactics," Rajiv Chandrasekaran
and Daniel Williams," Washington Post, 11/21/03, http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A5040-2003Nov21?language=printer; "Rights group questions
house demolitions in Iraq, Pentagon denies collective punishment,"
Agence France Presse, 11/21/03; "Attacks Target Iraq Hotels,
Oil Ministry," Niko Price, AP, 11/21/03; "US forces
hail success of Baghdad operation," Charles Clover and Peter
Spiegel, Financial Times, 11/21/03; "U.S. razes houses of
suspected Iraqi insurgents," CNN, 11/19/03; "Americans
turn Tikrit into Iraq's own West Bank," Phil Reeves, The
Independent, 11/18/03, news.independent.co.uk/low_res/story.jsp?story=464771&host=3&dir=75;
"American Copter In Collision Was Chasing Gunman," Daniel
Williams, WP, 11/17/03, http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A49565-2003Nov16?language=printer; "Large Explosions
Are Heard in Baghdad," Hamza Hendawi, AP, 11/25/03; "Bombers
kill 14 in Iraq; Missile Hits Civilian Plance," Ian Fisher
and Dexter Filkins, NYT, 11/22/03; "3 G.I.'s Are Killed in
Iraq, Including 2 With Slashed Throats," Ian Fisher and Dexter
Filkins, NYT, 11/23/03; "Rash of incidents hit Iraq's pipeline
network," AFP, 11/17/03; "Major Pipeline in Iraq Ablaze,"
Associated Press, 11/26/03; and "Shift seen in target of
Iraqi guerrillas," Colin Nickerson, Boston Globe, 11/26/03.