Sunday, June 20, 2004

A View from Iraq

This was passed along by someone I trust. She's working with a contracting outfit that is doing the bulk of its work in waterway projects in the south of Iraq. She's wise and observant, and skilled at grasping big pictures through jungles of detail. I hope to post more of her work here.

I came here to do one job, which was basically to assist in producing and presenting an accounting of work that we have overseen or advised on, primarily for cost purposes. As one might imagine the government taking control at the end of the month wants a fair and full accounting of the U.S. and foreign debt that it and the later elected government will assume responsibility for. This has caused an increase in foreign workers coming into Iraq in the past few weeks.

My arrival seems to have coincided with that of many others, and radicals have stepped up activities in response. There is some indication that insurrgents have moved into areas and either driven away those normally there or in some cases forced by threats activities aimed against foreign workers. This is most evident where they have either buried explosives or intend to actually engage workers and security with guns. Some of it is pretty minor, but several workers were killed on the day I arrived, which delayed my departure from the airport several hours.

The general idea is to make any attack appear as large as possible. In one case, it appears that several busloads of residents from Fallujah traveled freely out of that city only to emerge later at the site of an explosion in Baghdad, protesting violently at the site against police and I believe some U.S. troops. Marines have detained several since that time reentering Fallujah, but it is very difficult to say any of them had anything to do with the explosion, or if they did, if they were forced to.

You probably have also heard of explosions along the major open oil pipeline routes. The locations do not directly impact the places where our company has been involved, though security in the south along the waterways and offshore stations has fallen underneath our oversight. Still, there are several pipeline sections that we are connected with that require security, as well as numberous other projects. For the moment, the Iraqi pipeline security that has been established, at first piecemeal and now as a bonified force of several thousands, may be shifted from some of our areas to others. This gives us some concern that not only lesser projects related to water travel and irrigation will be left vulnerable, but also major items including drinking water supplies. So even while we're trying to complete accounting for what has been already done, we're trying to secure it. There are a lot of dollars being blown right now by bad people working on the cheap, and some things will have to change.

Marines changed tactics around the Fallujah area shortly after they withdrew. They have concentrated on the areas off the major roadways that feed that area and continue on into Baghdad while the Army has increased patroling the roadways themselves. This has been done in an effort to reduce the movement of weapons and explosives as well as to catch those moving them. So many of the attacks at this moment are felt to be actually "local" in nature, meaning the supplies used are literally coming out of the neighborhoods where they occur. This would sound ridiculous in any other place, but in Iraq, weapons are literally buried all over the place. The same movements are being done further south by the Army, where US and coalition forces are concentrating more on the areas outside of the cities where they can use their equipment to greater advantage, particularly at night when these people seem to prefer to move. The British sector has been able to do this for quite some time, primarily because the built up areas they are responsible are small, even compared to their number in relation to the US, and are arranged in a relatively narrow corridor. They also have substantial international assistance offshore.

Of course all this indicates a movement of US troops outside of the city centers. The security for those is slowly being passed to Iraqi troops and police, in some locations more quickly than in others. Most likely you've been told nothing good about Iraqi troops and police, and it is true some have been worthless, or at least too weak to do their jobs. The police in particular have major difficulties being left to deal with insurrgents, so at the moment they're all getting a bad rap. But at the moment they are under equipped, most don't even have cars, automatic weapons, flak jackets, or radios. On the other hand, these things are coming to them, if slowly. They are also increasing in number, and the army is growing in size and equipment as well.

There is a growing idea here that if the coalition can control the movement of weapons and insurrgents coming into the cities that the police and the Iraqi army can finish building themselves up. And even if it requires the assistance of some of the various militias established by many clerics, they can drive out the last of the Baathist hardliners as well as foreign terrorists and their Iraqi supporters. This means door to door if necessary.

This may be necessary. But the Iraqi's themselves can do this and get away with it while the US and others cannot. The US would primarily serve to catch the rats as they were driven from the cities.

So at this point, the questions involve the strength of the Iraqi military and police, the resolve of the Iraqi leadership and their ultimate influence, the ability of these terrorists to hide themselves or escape, and the desires of the bulk of Iraqis themselves for either peace or war.

The press, of course, will get lost in all of this. It's easy to beat up on the US, especially if you hate the administration. But it's pretty difficult to completely reverse course and suddenly back the Iraqi people when they are fighting the same problems the US is. Our feeling is that they will present it all as an Iraqi civil war with the US presiding over the whole thing. But that will take the level of dishonesty you've presented above cubed. The membership in the present government is incredibly diverse, as is the Iraqi army, police force and industrial security force. Eventually the world press isn't going to just be laughable, it's going to be it's own bonified political party.

I admit that much of this is second hand and even third. But considering the time in country and the connections, I'd give it some consideration.