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From Bad to Worse

Michael Jansen - Jordan Times

The situation in Iraq is going from bad to worse.

Last week, Manfred Nowak, the UN special investigator on torture, said torture in Iraq may be worse today than it was under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Nowak said militias, insurgents and government forces are violating international norms on the treatment of detainees and abductees.

The number of potential official torture victims is rising: 35,000 Iraqis are held in prisons, 13,000 by the US and the rest by the Iraqi authorities. There is a 28 per cent increase since the end of June.

While torture is routine in US and Iraqi security facilities, what happens to civilians kidnapped by sectarian militiamen is horrific. Every day dozens of mangled bodies beaten, burnt, bones broken, limbs holed by electric drills and eyes gouged out are being collected on rubbish dumps and in the streets of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities and towns.

Iraqi civilians are being seized in their homes, on the streets, at work and in hospitals, and even at the morgue when they go to fetch bodies of murdered relatives. Doctors and other professionals are threatened and killed. People attacked in the street are left to die by bystanders afraid to offer assistance. Drivers are snatched along with their cars which are fitted with bombs detonated when their owners are set free and drive away into traffic.

Such atrocities did not happen even during the darkest days of the ousted Baathist regime.

In spite of rising violence, the US and Britain continue to claim small victories in Iraq. A week ago, British and Italian forces handed over control to Iraqi forces of the southern province of Dhi Qar. At a ceremony in the provincial capital, Nassiriyah, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki described the handover as a "great day". Dhi Qar, one of the country's more pacific provinces, is the second of 18 to be transferred. Adjacent Muthanna was handed over in July. Both were under British control since the US and UK invaded Iraq in 2003 but 1,800 Italian troops have been operating under British command in Dhi Qar, carrying out security duties and training Iraqi troops. The Italians are set to go home in the coming weeks.

While Iraqi military and police are assuming security responsibility in the province, British troops will retain "operational over-watch" and assist in emergencies.

However, the handover did not signal a reduction in foreign troop levels in Iraq. Britain plans to maintain its current deployment of 7,000 while the US, which added 15,000 troops over recent months, has said it will not reduce the present level of 147,000 until next spring. The Pentagon had earlier said it would draw down the deployment to 100,000 by the end of 2006. The duty of 4,000 battle-hardened and war-weary soldiers deployed in restive Ramadi, west of Baghdad, has been extended this week by a month and a half. The US is also foregoing reductions in its 21,000-soldier force in Afghanistan, for the time being.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the US Army Chief Peter Schoomaker has postponed submission of his service's budget in order to put pressure on the Bush administration to increase the allocation for the army. The general is seeking $138.8 billion, nearly $25 billion over the limit set by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. This was an unprecedented move for a service head, but it reflects discontents in both senior staff, middle-ranking officers and the common soldiery who complain that they do not have enough men or enough equipment to do the job of pacifying the Wild West of Iraq.

Following last week's publication of a report by US intelligence agencies saying that the war in Iraq is fuelling worldwide "terrorism", two retired generals went on record calling for Rumsfeld's resignation. Major General John Batiste, a veteran critic of the Bush administration, said that Rumsfeld and his colleagues failed to come clean about the war for fear of losing public support. Major General Paul Eaton called Rumsfeld "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically", and called for him and his team to be replaced.

Rumsfeld's plan to turn the US military into a lean, high-tech force has proved to be disaster at a time Washington is fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with too few troops and outdated or insufficient equipment.

Washington cannot afford to cut its deployment or pare budgets. Violence of all kinds from a variety of quarters is rising throughout Iraq. According to a recent UN survey, fatalities reached an unprecedented high of 3,590 in July. Although there was a dip to 3,009 in August, the office of the UN Assistance Mission said the daily death toll averages 100. The monthly figure for January was 710. Of the combined total of 6,599 for July and August, 5,106 were killed in the capital. But official figures are almost certainly well below the true total because many bodies are not found and many deaths are not reported.

Deterioration in the security situation has led to greater Sunni alienation from the US and its allies. An opinion poll conducted by the US Department of Defence reveals that 75 per cent of Arab Sunnis now support the insurgency. In 2003, only 14 per cent backed violent opposition to the occupation. Two other polls show that 65-71 per cent of Iraqis want US-led foreign forces to immediately pull out of the country.

According to a State Department report, "majorities in all regions except Kurdish areas state that the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) should withdraw immediately", adding that "the MNF-I's departure would make [Iraqis] feel safer and decrease violence".

The main reason Iraqis seek the departure of foreign forces is the US failure to establish a viable authority in the country and to stem the rising tide of insurgent, jihadist, ethnic and sectarian violence which threatens to engulf all the citizens of Iraq.




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