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[casi] Quagmire? What quagmire?

1) Quagmire? What quagmire?

2) Al-Hakim: No shortage of suspects


Sep 5, 2003

Quagmire? What quagmire?
By Daniel Smith

(Posted with permission from Foreign Policy in Focus)

In the months leading up to the war in Iraq and in its aftermath, Bush
administration officials were forced to continually change their rationale
for launching the attack to topple Saddam Hussein. Where they have not
wavered, and where they have received consistent support from top Pentagon
military commanders, is in their insistence that Iraq is not another
Vietnam, not a quagmire. The further the US and the world move from the fall
of Baghdad on April 9, the more it seems that the administration is correct:
Iraq is not a quagmire. It is really a black hole.

A quagmire is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as (1) "Land with
a soft, muddy surface" or (2) "A precarious or difficult situation". In
either definition, circumstances are not irreversible. A "soft muddy
surface" suggests something more solid somewhere beneath, while "difficult"
is not the same as impossible.

But media reports the past week in August have made it very clear that the
administration has plunged the US over the lip - what is called the "event
horizon" - of the human and financial black hole that is post-war Iraq. The
significance of passing the astronomical event horizon is that whatever
crosses it, even light, cannot recover or be recovered. It is a one-way trip
down a "tunnel" at whose end there is no light, only crushing gravity.

Consider the human costs of the Iraq adventure to date:

a.. The US death toll from all causes since May 1, the date that President
George W Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq, now
exceeds the death toll from the three weeks required to seize Baghdad (March
20-April 9) and the three weeks thereafter. The 286 US fatalities in the
2003 war is fast approaching the 293 killed in the 1991 Gulf War with Iraq.

a.. The British lost four more soldiers in late August, bringing their
post-May 1 losses to 12. This is nearly one-quarter of the UK's total
fatalities since March 20 and doubles total UK fatalities in the 1991 Gulf
War. And the British are operating in an area the coalition expected to be
very receptive to the occupation authorities.

a.. Not routinely reported are the number of US wounded, who total 1,127 as
of September 2.

a.. The United Nations' foreign staff lost 16, killed when its Baghdad
headquarters was blown up by a vehicular bomb in August. Other relief and
humanitarian workers have also been targets, and one Danish soldier has been

a.. Unreported are the Iraqi dead and wounded from encounters with invading
and occupation forces and the series of car bombings in August and early
September. And then there are the fatalities caused by inadequate or
insufficient public services - electric power, clean water, sanitation - as
well as lack of basic security brought on by the wholesale dismissal
("cleansing") of the Iraqi police force, army and border guards in May.
According to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, Baghdad has 6,000
policemen, most of whom are in training. Before March 20, the city had
20,000. And today the "army" consists of 1,000 recruits.

The financial aspects of the black hole that is post-war Iraq are

a.. The cost of the war itself is estimated at US$48 billion, with the
Pentagon's ongoing operations costing another $4 billion a month - and no
decrease forecast.

a.. Reconstruction costs for just the post-war part of fiscal year 2003,
which ends September 30, have been estimated at $7.3 billion. The
administration refuses to estimate costs for 2004, let alone future years.
Independent estimates depend on what is included; for example, the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences has a range of between $106-$615 billion over
10 years, while estimates by Taxpayers for Common Sense run between
$114-$465 billion.

a.. The administration had already signaled it would ask Congress for new,
substantial Iraq supplemental appropriations in October. Now it says that it
will need a "few billion more" just to get through September.

a.. L Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA),
acknowledged that rebuilding Iraq would cost "tens of billions" of dollars
and that most of this cost would be paid by US taxpayers. Bremer recently
set the cost of providing clean water at $16 billion and reliable electric
power at $13 billion. He made no estimate about the cost of rebuilding the
oil industry, although he did suggest it might cost $100 billion over the
next five years to reconstitute Iraq's "national infrastructure."

a.. In March, even before Baghdad fell, a non-competitive contract to
rehabilitate Iraq's oil fields, with an upper limit of $7 billion, was
awarded to Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, by the
Army Corps of Engineers. (As of the end of August, Halliburton had already
been paid $700 million for oil field work, according to information the
corps provided the Washington Post.) As recently as June, the CPA had said
Iraq's oil production would return to pre-war levels by the end of August.
In July this slipped to October; now it has slipped to October 2004. Yet as
early as March 27, one week after the war began and well before any
evaluation of the condition of the oil infrastructure was possible, Deputy
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz assured the House Appropriations Committee
that oil would be Iraq's self-financing rebuilding engine: "We're dealing
with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and
relatively soon."

Facing an ever-growing black hole from failed oil revenues, the CPA unveiled
in late August its latest gambit to revive Iraq's economy: opening the
country to outside investment. The US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council,
according to the New York Times, reacted very cautiously. Even though it
nominally will have the opportunity to review major investment offers, there
is concern that traditional industries, rendered relatively inefficient by
23 years of war, sanctions and under-investment, would quickly be swamped by
new factories, throwing more people out of work in a country where
unemployment hovers near 60 percent.

Indeed, food and agriculture, services and manufacturing are among major
segments of the economy not exempted from foreign investment. What the CPA's
scheme does exclude are natural resources (including oil), basic services
(electricity, water, and sewage) and areas that would remain under CPA
control because of "national security" reasons (eg "retraining" members of
Iraq's former intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, to work for the CPA).
Moreover, the CPA's proposal omits any requirement for investors to reinvest
their profits in Iraq. This sets up conditions similar to those in
post-Soviet Russia when billions of dollars were exported and stashed in
foreign banks while the economy plunged.

While foreign investment is generally considered a plus for economic growth,
the terms of the CPA plan seem to run counter to recommendations of the
Pentagon-appointed review group that visited Iraq in late June to assess
conditions. Headed by former deputy defense secretary John Hamre, the panel
put economic development as the third of seven priorities (behind public
safety and greater Iraqi involvement in reconstruction efforts).
Specifically, it recommended:

a.. Creating short-term, large-scale public works projects that would absorb
sizable numbers of people in the labor pool;

a.. Jump-starting a significant number of state-owned enterprises, even
those that would not be competitive, because of the great need to produce
more job opportunities;

a.. Initiating a "massive" micro-credit program, similar to those that have
been successful in impoverished, war-ravaged countries, that would open new
avenues for economic activity to new players, especially women.

Private foreign investment will not be interested in any of these areas as
economic returns would be minimal, if any, and not worth the risk given the
lack of security in Iraq.

One characteristic of black holes is that they grow in size as they absorb
energy from the surrounding cosmos. Iraq has already snuffed out thousands
of lives and absorbed tens of billions of dollars. Bush reiterated that a
"substantial commitment of time and resources" still lies ahead.

Yes, Iraq is not a quagmire. But at a time when US budget deficits of $401
billion this year and $480 billion for 2004 are forecast, Iraq looms as an
ever-expanding funnel into which human lives, human talent and monetary
resources are being poured, never to be recovered. That, by any measure,
defines a veritable black hole.

Dan Smith ( is a military affairs analyst for Foreign Policy in
Focus and a retired US army colonel and senior fellow on military affairs at
the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

a.. ---------------------------


Sep 5, 2003

Al-Hakim: No shortage of suspects
By Kathleen Ridolfo

A symbolic funeral was held in the holy city of Najaf in Iraq on Tuesday in
memory of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim. The
ayatollah was killed in a car bombing on August 29 as he left the Imam Ali
Mosque in Najaf following a noon Friday prayers sermon. Some 80 Iraqis were
killed and more than 100 injured in the incident. Al-Hakim's body has yet to
be identified, and mourners carried a casket containing only his wristwatch,
ring and pieces of his turban in a three-day procession from Baghdad to

The tension in the holy city is a reflection of the environment of turmoil
seen in other Iraqi towns, where acts of sabotage and terrorism occur far
too often in the post-Saddam Hussein era. Just one week before al-Hakim's
killing, his nephew, Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim, was targeted when his office
in Najaf was bombed. He escaped uninjured. While Iraqi police claim that
they already have suspects for the August 29 car bombing in custody, there
would be no shortage of non-Iraqi suspects. Al-Hakim was indeed a target for
Saddam loyalists, but he also could have died at the hands of Iranians,
rival Shi'ite groups, or Islamist militants.

Al-Hakim came from a prominent Iraqi Shi'ite family, and like many of his
relatives he was a leading opponent of the Ba'athist regime. He was jailed
in 1972, 1977 and 1979. On his release in 1980, he sought refuge in Iran and
in 1982 founded the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq
(SCIRI), which became the most prominent Iraqi Shi'ite group. SCIRI enjoyed
Iranian political and financial support, and used Tehran as a base for
operations for its armed wing, the Badr Brigades. Prior to the US-led war in
Iraq this year, the SCIRI claimed to have some 10,000 armed men inside Iraq.

The group had contacts with the US and participated in the pre-war meetings
of Iraqi opposition groups. After the downfall of the Saddam regime, many
Badr fighters returned to Iraq and established a presence there. The armed
wing was reportedly disarmed by the US in early June, although a small
number of men remained armed to provide security for high-ranking SCIRI
members. Al-Hakim returned to Iraq in May and reinstated himself as a
leading ayatollah at the al-Hawzah al-Ilmiyah Shi'ite seminary in Najaf. He
told reporters that month that he would not seek a political role in Iraq,
but would remain the spiritual leader of SCIRI.

But in the holy city of Najaf, things were not peaceful. A fierce power
struggle erupted between the older, established clerics and the younger
generation of clerics, none more vocal than Muqtada al-Sadr, the young son
of slain grand ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was gunned down along
with Muqtada's two older brothers, reportedly by Saddam's men, in 1999.
Muqtada's followers, the Sadriyun, are thought to be responsible for the
April 10 killing of US-supported cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, who was killed
in a bloody attack just steps from where al-Hakim was assassinated at the
Imam Ali Mosque. Accounts vary, but it is believed that al-Khoi was killed
when assailants attacked him and the mosque's custodian, an Iraqi Sunni
cleric who might have been collaborating with the Saddam regime, as the two
men emerged following a meeting of reconciliation. It is unknown whether
al-Khoi or the Sunni cleric was the target of the attack.

Muqtada al-Sadr denied that the Sadriyun had any role in the attack. He has
since become increasingly critical of the US-led occupation, and has
established the Imam al-Mahdi Army, a volunteer movement that he claims will
protect the Shi'ite seminary in Najaf and spur a nonviolent movement to rid
Iraq of coalition forces. Al-Sadr has also clashed with more prominent
Shi'ite clerics in Najaf, largely because of doctrinal differences, and has
openly criticized clerics who are on good terms with the US. A cleric of
little standing, al-Sadr attached himself to Qom-based cleric Ayatollah
Kazim al-Ha'iri and relies on the elder cleric to issue fatwas, or religious
edicts, that support his agenda. Soon after al-Khoi's death, al-Sadr
criticized Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for meeting with US officials,
which might have prompted the ayatollah to announce that he would have no
relations with the US-led coalition. Al-Sistani promptly took refuge inside
the Al-Hawzah, refusing visitors and interviews.

Al-Sadr was equally critical of al-Hakim and the SCIRI, particularly when
the ayatollah's brother, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, assumed a seat on the
25-member Iraqi Governing Council, which al-Sadr refused to recognize as it
was set up by the Americans. Furthermore, al-Sadr, while of little religious
standing, reportedly claims thousands more followers than the SCIRI, and is
particularly popular with the young, the poor and the disenfranchised. But,
while al-Sadr and his Sadriyun have a motive, it is unlikely that he would
sanction a terrorist attack of this kind just steps from the holiest mosque
to Shi'ites in Iraq.

Another possibility is that elements within the Iranian regime targeted
al-Hakim. While al-Hakim and his men lived under the patronage of Iranian
clerics for more than 20 years, his return to Iraq was reportedly viewed in
Tehran as a loss for the clerics in Qom, both in standing and in financial
terms, since Qom had become the center of Shi'ite theology over the past two
decades. Furthermore, the decision of the Najaf clerics to welcome Hossein
Khomeini, the grandson of Iran's 1979 revolution leader Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini - who moved from the Qom-based al-Hawzah al-Ilmiyah in Iran to the
Najaf Hawzah in early August - might also have ruffled the feathers of some
clerics in Qom.

Khomeini, who said that he moved to Najaf to continue his religious training
and to teach, quickly made a name for himself by criticizing the Iranian
clerics. International press reported that the move reflected a growing
division in Iran between some Qom-based clerics and the Iranian religious
authorities. Moreover, Khomeini praised the US-led war in Iraq, and claimed
that Iranians were ready to topple their regime, and might even welcome the
assistance of the US in doing so.

Arab militants have also been suspected in the attack on al-Hakim. While the
number of foreign militants inside Iraq is unclear, US government officials
continue to claim that foreign fighters - particularly from Iran, Syria and
Saudi Arabia - infiltrate Iraq on a daily basis. A leading Saudi cleric told
Associated Press (AP) on August 31 that the militants, once shielded and
supported by the Saudi regime, are now under fire at home due to US pressure
on Saudi Arabia to crack down on terrorist cells. "Most youths think the
only safe road is to go to Iraq," Muhsin al-Awajy said. "They are trapped
between the international campaign against terrorism and this campaign at

Kuwait's reported on August 27 that Iraqi Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan sources claim that some 1,200 foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda
had made their way into northern Iraq from Afghanistan via Iran in recent
days. A senior Iraqi police official told AP that there were nine key
suspects in the bombing in custody, including two Saudis and one Palestinian
carrying a Jordanian passport. The official said all nine, the remainder
being Iraqis, admitted ties to al-Qaeda, the news agency reported.

Muhammad Husayn al-Hakim, the son of Muhammad Sa'id, may have unwittingly
foretold the attack on Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim when he was quoted in the same
article as saying, "We ask the American forces to set up numerous border
posts," alluding to the possible involvement of foreigners in terrorist
attacks on the UN and Jordanian embassy. "If they managed to reach and
attack UN headquarters, they can carry out assaults in Karbala and [Najaf],"
he said.

Saddam loyalists have also been blamed for the assassination of al-Hakim,
and, as noted earlier, there was no love lost between the ayatollah and
deposed Iraqi president. The governor of Najaf province has said that the
number of Iraqis being held after the bombing is fewer than five and that
all are Iraqis tied to the former regime. It is also possible that al-Qaeda
fighters have teamed up with Saddam loyalists to launch attacks to sow
discord and chaos in Iraq.

Saddam has purportedly denied any involvement in the incident in an
audiotape released to Arab satellite channels on September 1. However, the
type and amount of explosives used indicate the involvement of regime
forces. Moreover, nearly every leading Shi'ite figure blamed Saddam
loyalists for the attack, with many expressing disbelief that any rival
faction - be it Shi'ite or Sunni - could carry out such a deadly attack on a
site revered by both sects. Shi'ite leaders - in fact all Iraqi leaders -
agree that the loyalists' motive is to stir up discord among Iraqis in the
hope of setting off a civil war in the country. The US has yet to comment,
but the Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting in the investigation.

In his final sermon on August 29, the slain cleric denounced Saddam
loyalists. "The Ba'athist regime targeted the marjiya [leading Shi'ite
religious leaders] and carried out acts of aggression against the marjiya.
It killed ... [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Gharawi, and Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr,
and targeted al-Sistani and Bachir al-Najafi [leading marjiya]," Agence
France Presse quoted al-Hakim as saying. "The men of the ousted regime are
those who are now targeting the marjiya," he said. He might have been right.

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