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[casi] A palpable sense of panic

1) A palpable sense of panic
2) Iraq council heeds shot across bow from Washington



Nov 14, 2003

A palpable sense of panic
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - While maintaining a brave face on the accelerating stream of
bad news coming out of Baghdad, the administration of President George W
Bush appears increasingly at a loss, not to say panicked, about what to do.

This week's abrupt and unscheduled return to the capital by L Paul Bremer,
Washington's proconsul in Baghdad, for top-level White House consultations,
as well as the partial leak of a pessimistic Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) report on public attitudes in Iraq, pushed the administration off

The news that at least 17 Italian paramilitary and army troops, as well as
at least eight others, were killed in a suicide attack on the Carabinieri
headquarters in the hitherto relatively peaceful southern city of Nasiriyah
on Wednesday seemed only to underline the sense that resistance to the
United Stales-led occupation in Iraq is both growing and beyond control.

"It is a tough situation," Bremer, who heads the Coalition Provisional
Authority (CPA), said after emerging from the White House on Wednesday
morning. "I have said repeatedly in my discussions, both private and public,
for six months that I am completely confident and optimistic about the
outcome in Iraq, but we will face some difficult days, like today when we
had the attack on the Italian soldiers in the south."

Asked about the CIA report that found growing popular disillusionment with
the US occupation, Bremer was unusually uncertain. "I think the situation
with the Iraqi public is, frankly, not easy to quantify." The CIA report,
whose existence was disclosed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, concluded that
growing numbers of Iraqis believe that the occupation can be defeated and
are supporting the insurgents.

The report, written by the CIA's station chief in Baghdad, was formally
presented to top officials on Monday, but word of its conclusions was also
selectively leaked to various reporters, apparently, said the newspaper, to
"make sure the assessment reaches Bush".

The Inquirer's source indicated frustration with Iraq hawks, including Vice
President Dick Cheney and the Pentagon's civilian leadership, whose
optimistic assessments of the situation had crowded out more sombre analyses
in White House discussions.

According to the newspaper, the report argued that public skepticism of US
intentions in Iraq remained very high - an assessment corroborated by recent
Gallup polls in Baghdad - and that the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), which
was hand-picked by the CPA, has virtually no popular support.

It also warned that friction between occupation authorities and the Shi'ite
Muslim community, both in Baghdad and in the southern part of the country,
was growing and could lead to open hostilities, a contingency that has been
Washington's worst nightmare since March's invasion.

Shi'ites account for at least 60 percent of Iraq's total population, more
than twice as much as the Sunnis in central Iraq, the area that US officials
have described as the main focus of Ba'ath Party "terrorists" who presumably
remain loyal to ousted president Saddam Hussein.

The CIA report was obviously written before Wednesday's suicide attack on
the Carabinieri in predominantly Shi'ite Nasiriyah as well as an incident on
Sunday in which a US soldier shot and killed the US-appointed mayor of the
overwhelmingly Shi'ite district of Baghdad, Sadr City, after a scuffle whose
circumstances are being investigated by occupation authorities.

Administration officials have publicly described Bremer's two-day dash to
Washington as routine, but circumstances belied that explanation. In coming
to Washington, Bremer was forced to cancel a long-planned meeting in Baghdad
with visiting Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller. Despite public
opposition, Miller's government has supplied more troops to the occupation
than any other country, except the US and Britain, and last week lost an
officer to hostile fire in Iraq.

Bremer met both on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings with top national security
officials, including Bush and Cheney. The main points on the agenda included
both how to respond to the increased frequency and lethality of the attacks
and whether - and how - to accelerate a political transition to an Iraqi

On the military front, the average daily number of attacks on occupation
forces now exceeds 30 - more than twice as many as three months ago - with
more than 40 US soldiers killed in just the past two weeks, according to the
US commander in the field, General Ricardo Sanchez.

In a lengthy meeting with reporters in Baghdad on Tuesday, Sanchez insisted
that the attacks were mainly the work of Ba'ath loyalists and foreign
Islamist fighters, but also admitted that Washington still lacks good
intelligence on both groups.

Sanchez also suggested for the first time that resistance forces are now
operating, at least, at the regional level and possibly with some national
coordination with respect to tactics and targets. Until now, the occupation
has depicted the opposition as small groups acting only at the local level.

It appears that the US military has decided to respond to the increased
level of resistance with much more aggressive "shock-and-awe" tactics, a
decision that was previewed last weekend with the unprecedented bombing by
US warplanes of suspected guerrilla arms caches and hideouts near Tikrit.

The military announced that some two dozen explosions heard in Baghdad on
Wednesday night were US forces carrying out attacks on a suspected guerrilla

The decision to prosecute a more aggressive counter-insurgency campaign
carries serious risks, a point stressed in the CIA report. As Milt Bearden,
who oversaw US support for the Afghan resistance in the 1980s, wrote in the
New York Times this weekend: "For every mujahideen killed or hauled off by
Soviet troops in Afghanistan, a revenge group of perhaps half a dozen
members of his family took up arms. Sadly, this same rule probably applies
in Iraq."

The political front looks equally risky. While the administration wants to
accelerate the process to put an "Iraqi face" on the government, Bremer
appears to have lost confidence in the 24 members of the IGC, including
Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi. The IGC, which has until December 15 to
submit to the United Nations Security Council a plan to draft a new
constitution, has so far failed to tackle the issue seriously, and the
administration is worried that any delay will derail its own timetable,
including plans to have an elected government in place before the November
2004 US presidential elections.

As a result, the White House is considering abandoning its previous plans
and moving instead to create a provisional government similar to the one
installed by coalition forces in Afghanistan after the Taliban's ouster,
which could oversee the drafting of a constitution. One problem is that it
has no obvious candidate to head such a government, as it did in Hamid
Karzai in Afghanistan.

Or the administration could go along with the position of the Shi'ite
authorities in Najaf, who have called for elections to a constitutional
convention. But that, too, could create new problems or further alienate the
Sunni population, due to the fact that Shi'ites would almost certainly
dominate such a process.

(Inter Press Service)



Iraq council heeds shot across bow from Washington

By Peyman Pejman

    BAGHDAD - Stunned by reports from this week's White House meetings,
officials of the Iraqi Governing Council say they are ready to become the
kind of authoritative and attentive executive body that Washington seeks.
    Reports reaching Baghdad, suggesting the council is in for a major
shake-up and could even be dissolved, have riveted the attention of a panel
whose meetings are regularly attended by fewer than half its members.
    Many spend more time traveling and attending to business interests than
on their formal duties, even as efforts to draft an Iraqi constitution and
prepare for elections have made little progress.
    Civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer and his staff have been highly
supportive in public, but their frustration with the council bubbles over in
private conversations.
    "You've got a bunch of people who are more interested in their private
business deals and boosting their political and personal portfolios among
the Iraqis than they are about getting the job done," said one official of
the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), who asked not to be identified.
    Governing Council officials say they are ready to address those
    "The Governing Council understands that it needs to reorganize itself
into a more effective decision-making body," said Qubad Talabani, son and
assistant to the council's current chairman, Jalal Talabani.
    "It realizes that there is a lack of executive authority within the
Governing Council, and the members are seriously deliberating among
themselves to find a mechanism that would give them executive authority," he
    The slow pace of deliberations is in part a result of the very structure
of the 24-member panel, argued a senior adviser to another council member.
    "You are talking about a council in which the representative of the
Socialist Party sits next to the Muslim Brotherhood who sits next to the
Communist Party," he said.
    "It is not 24 people, it's almost 24 different ideologies. It is not
easy for these people to agree on anything."
    One suggestion being discussed within the council is to establish an
executive body of three or four persons, which would be better able to make
    Another idea is to limit the overseas travel of the members. One of the
major complaints of U.S. officials is that about half of the council members
are away from Baghdad at any one time or do not attend the sessions.
    "We are probably unhappier than [the Americans] are," said Adnan
Pacheche, a council member. "We would have wanted for things to move more
    But Mr. Pacheche and others said some of Washington's demands are
shortsighted, particularly the pressure to quickly draw up a draft
    "To have a proper constitution done, many, many things need to be done
first," Mr. Pacheche said. "You have to have election laws, population
census, choosing a voting system, reform the judicial system so it can
handle any complaints, etc."
    Some council members favor the procedure followed after the 2001 war in
Afghanistan, where a provisional government was to govern while a
constitution is drafted and voted on.
    But there is no agreement on who would appoint the provisional
government or lead it.
    "We realize that appointing a provisional government by [the United
States] would be almost the same as appointing the Governing Council, just
putting in new bodies, and that probably won't solve the problem," said the
CPA official. "And we don't know of any Iraq strongman who can be the
figurehead until elections are held."

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