It is a question that has very disturbing answers.
Three years of war have torn Iraq. The British medical journal, Lancet, says that nearly 6,55,000 have been killed. The United States says 1,50,000 Iraqis have been killed. Over 3,000 American soldiers have been killed in action and 20,000 have been wounded. Around $380 billion have been spent on the war and another $100 will be required in the next one year. At the end of it, no objective seems to have been achieved. Iraq lies shattered, terrorist groups have become more aggressive, suicide attacks on troops have increased and the U.S. soldiers are wondering why they are fighting a war that no one wants. It is a question that strikes 1,66,000 coalition troops and 3,07,800 Iraqi troops everyday.
After three years Bush’s army is yet to find weapons of mass destruction that they went to search for.
Worse still, a report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found no evidence of Iraq’s links to Al-Qaeda before the war. It said that Saddam’s quest for supremacy in the region was motivated by his fears about Iran.
British intelligence had also reportedly said that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of removing Saddam accusing him of being in conjunction with terrorism and possession of weapons of mass destruction.
The occupation by US forces in Iraq has become a disaster as more body bags arrive everyday. There are daylight attacks against U.S. forces and deadly ones at that.
President George Bush said that his administration wanted to ensure that Iraq could govern itself, become self-sustaining and be capable of defending itself. After three years, none of these have happened and there are no signs of it happening in the near future. As things stand, whenever the US forces leave, there will be anarchy, as militant and sectarian groups will take over. It is just a question now of how to withdraw after carving out a face saving situation.
United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, caustically said that the situation created by the occupation was worse than that which prevailed when Saddam Hussien ruled Iraq. Can anything be more ironical?
It certainly is a case of a war gone horribly wrong.
The initial idea was to eliminate Sadaam who was an icon of sorts in the Muslim world as he wielded raw power. Having captured him, they wanted to hand over the government to a puppet government of sorts wanting to move away to safer US bases in Kuwait so that it could “supervise” the country, continue to have a hold on its rich oil resources and ultimately make its influence felt in the region as it has done in Kuwait. But as things have turned out, this also is not going to happen.
As the reality of a doomed war in Iraq and a doomed prospect at home dawns on Bush, he no more uses the phrase, “Let’s stay the course,” to emphasize that it is not pulling out of Iraq till the war on terror is not over. Staying the course or pumping in additional forces is not going to help.
Even the Republican lawmakers are questioning whether the administration’s approach in Iraq is yielding the desired results. Real democracy, for instance, seems a far cry away.
Withdrawal is not easy. If it is done in a hurry, it will be a resounding slap on the Bush administration. After spending millions of dollars and sacrificing the lives of so many soldiers, it is going to be tough to pull out. So the promises of a democratic Iraq, rebuilding of Iraq and waging the war against terrorism continue. It seems like excuses for staying on and for making a mistake seem like a good intention.
Pulling out is also not easy as there are too many questions to be answered. What excuse will the US make when it withdraws before winning the war? Why has security turned from bad to worse despite the allied forces? Why is the present elected government so weak and how can they hold once forces leave?
Will a pullback now destroy the reputation of the United States as a global cop? If Iraq does not emerge as a model of a modern, democratic and secular Muslim country, what was the point of the war?
Robert Hathaway, Director, Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington DC, says that the United States cannot easily walk away from the mess it has created in Iraq simply by pulling out. To many, both in the United States and outside, it is quite clear that abandoning Iraq now will have disastrous consequences.
At the end of the tunnel, there is little light for Bush to feel good about. More than anyone else, he knows he is walking a lonely path. History will be harsh in judging him as more will die in an unwanted directionless war.
The electorate by voting for the Democrats in the last election gave their verdict. However, Bush defied public sentiment against the war by deciding to send an additional 21,000 troops to Iraq. Well-known Republican Senator Chuck Hagel labels Bush’s move to further increase troops as dangerously irresponsible.
A poll by the prestigious Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press shows that 61 per cent of Americans oppose an increase of troop levels in Iraq. Bush would better if he cared to listen.
Democrat Senator Carl Levin, who is likely to be chairman of the next Senate Armed Forces Committee, warned that the United States was getting deeper and deeper into a hole in Iraq.
Newly elected Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed a common sentiment when she said that staying the course has not helped the United States to become safer, it has not kept the US commitment to its troops or made Iraq more stable. She said that at least 30,000 troops must be withdrawn every year. She has a good reason to demand that as the US Troops are seen as an occupation force and is like a magnet for terrorists in Iraq.
It would be foolhardy for Bush to think that his protracted war in Iraq would lead to a dramatic political change in the war torn country where democratic forces will triumph, where sectarian violence would be no more and where the leaders would mature to pull Iraq out of the dark whirlpool it is currently caught in.
A report by the U.S. Defence Department warns that Iraq could be caught in a civil war. Kidnappings are common. So are bombings and suicide attacks. The Sunni resistance has put various pockets out of bounds for the U.S. army.
Coalition forces were the targets of over 65 attacks in Iraq. As many as 6,000 Iraqi policemen have died since the U.S. occupation. No wonder, 20 per cent of the force were quitting every year and 40 per cent were absent. Morgues are overflowing with bodies.
The trauma of a battered nation struggling to find hope is showing in different ways. As the Iraq team inched into the soccer finals of the Asian Games at Doha in Qatar, there was a frenzy never seen before. Work almost grinded to a halt to watch it on TV. There were fireworks decorating the skyline at night as Iraqis celebrated. This was one straw in the wind they were clutching on to as it had hope. When the team lost the final, the TV channels chose to highlight the highs of the victory match and called the team “heroes”.
Suddenly, soccer was a source of new hope in a country pockmarked by war, uncertainty and desperation. It even became a source of sudden nationalism. When one sees the tragedy of a battered country driven by sectarianism, one can see tragic meanings in new patterns of behavior.
In Britain, Prime Minister, Tony Blair, tries to keep his chin high ruling out any attempts to look at the reality of having lost the war. Just as in the United States, Britain today grapples with terrorist attacks and threats, anger against the war, stricter immigration controls and repressive laws. It all points one finger at the failed war in Iraq.
In early January, Bush hinted his new Iraq policy would set goals to help Iraq ease sectarian tensions, stabilize the country politically and economically. These included drawing more Sunnis into the political process, finalize distribution of oil revenue and make former Baath Party members more comfortable.
Sounds good. Bush administration officials said they would like to set a realistic timetable for Iraq to accomplish this. Incidentally, all the earlier timetables have collapsed. No wonder, there is skepticism especially among Democrats.
Pelosi along with Harry Reid, the Democratic leader of the Senate have made it clear to Bush that they were against sending more troops to Iraq. The issue of body bags coming home is increasingly becoming and explosive and angry issue.
Pelosi said that Bush better justify why he wants to increase his troops, spend more on the war and also show the nation how the present troops are being supported right now. Pelosi’s tone said it all. She said that the Republicans had till now given Bush blank cheques with no oversight, no standards and no conditions.
In his annual state of the union address, Bush was unrepentant of what he had done in Iraq insisting that he should be allowed to send in additional troops and give the war another chance. Though he chanted the old mantra of how America was at war with terrorism, it seems Americans are now convinced that Iraq is not the place to fight it and going there was a terrible blunder.
What is the way out? Hamid Ansari, India’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Iran says one way out to rebuild Iraq is to get both its neighbors and the invading powers to meet and work out a realistic solution. He feels that an atmosphere of accommodation has to be generated and platforms created for dialogue. Again, despite the risk of repetition, it is not going to be easy. Iraq after all, is a country with multiple identities: ethnic, tribal and sectarian. And let us not forget the bloodbath between the Shias and Sunnis. They all have to be on the same table working at realistic solutions. There is no other way.
While this is done, it is time to ask the United Nations to rise to its role, intervene and stop the damage. It is time to ask the rest of the world to step in, spread the message of peace, understanding and tolerance and woo the angry Muslims. It is time to rebuild Iraq into a modern nation that will be a model for other Muslim countries.
Finally, a few pertinent questions. What has the war achieved? Has it ended up destroying the secular fabric of Iraq forever? Has it revived the Taliban and the Al-Queda?
Has it ended up creating intense hatred in the Muslim world towards the Christian dominated west? And, more importantly, has it increased the terror threat? Has it not destroyed the U.S. image of being a global cop? When one thinks of these factors, victory seems just too far away in the distance to be seen.