This is not good. Insurgents shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) staged a daylight raid on a security compound and Iraqi police station today, killing at least 20 and freeing upwards of 70 prisoners. This was the second attack on the station in two days, with Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command and Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., 82nd Airborne Division commander, escaping injury in the previous attack.
The Iraqi police were apparently no match against today’s attackers.
The brazen, bloody battle on the heels of the Abizaid attack raised questions about the preparedness of some Iraqi police and defense units to take on security duties as the U.S. administration wants. After the Thursday attack, Abizaid said of the Iraqi civil defense unit in Fallujah: ”Obviously they are not fully trained. They’re not ready.”
One Iraqi policeman not injured in the attack said he may leave the force if things don’t get better. “We joined the police to provide security, but no one wants security, they (insurgents and criminals) want to chaos to continue.”
Police Lt. Col. Jalal Sabri complained that the Iraqi security forces still don’t have adequate weapons or training. “We don’t have any kind of heavy weapons, no effective weapons,” just automatic rifles, he said. Today’s attackers wore masks, carried hand grenades and used heavy machine guns, mortars and RPGs, according to NPR and the Associated Press.
In general, it’s been a bad week in Iraq. Six U.S. troops have died since Feb. 9, and eight were wounded in attacks, roadside bomb explosions and accidents. The USAID, the American aid agency, said in a confidential report that violence in general is on the upswing and that the country faces a real danger of “Balkanization.”
“High-intensity attacks involving mortars, hand-grenades and small-arms more than doubled from 316 in December to 642 in January; non-life threatening attacks including drive-by shootings and rock-throwing rose from 182 in December to 522 in January. The report also recorded a total of 11 attacks on coalition aircraft.”
The report said some of the civilian violence was ethnic, and noted that that several corpses, probably of ex-Ba’athists, were found in the south “with hands bound and bullet wounds to the head.”
On the one hand, the attack against Abizaid could be seen as a failure. They didn’t kill him. But as Stratfor points out, the chance of success in such an attack was low anyway. Abizaid is well-protected by highly armed, well trained troops. But Stratfor also points out that the attack itself was a gutsy move. The attackers got off three RPGs and the Americans got lucky. And today’s prison break, in broad daylight, should be seen for what it is: a major success for the insurgents.
This is a real problem. Since September 2003, the Americans have stepped up the offensive against the insurgency by sending intelligence teams into the “Sunni Triangle” armed with cash to buy information. They captured Saddam Hussein in December. The guerillas were thought to have been scattered into smaller groups that weren’t able to coordinate.
From the USAID report, it seems the guerillas have intensified their efforts and reestablished their communication and coordination networks. In short, it now appears that the U.S. is at best holding steady against the insurgents and could very well be losing ground again 11 months after the start of the war. In a guerilla war, if you’re not gaining ground, you’re losing.
Adding to the volatility, the United Nations said elections were unlikely before the planned June 30 transfer of sovereignty.
“It’s not a question of delaying (the handover). It’s finding a new timetable,” Ahmad Fawzi told BBC radio. “Elections will take place when the country is ready and that will be after the handover of power.”
Fawzi, a spokesperson for UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, was speaking a day after Brahimi held talks with top Iraqi Shi’a cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has spearheaded calls for elections before the June 30 handover.
Brahimi and Sistani are in a delicate dance, with everyone looking at the Americans to see if they have a handle on the situation. If attacks are increasing both in number, intensity and boldness then it’s pretty obvious that the plans for the sovereignty transfer is in serious jeopardy.
Looming over all the violence and uncertainty is the spectre of civil war, which was made all the more real by the horrific twin car bombings earlier this week which killed more than 100 Iraqis. And, as noted, the frustrations and tensions are spreading. In Kurdish Suleimaniya, thousands demonstrated for an independent Kurdistan that includes the three autonomous provinces and the disputed Kirkuk province.
In an NPR story this morning (sorry, no link yet), one expert warned of a civil war that was “a combination of Lebanon and the Congo,” which should send a chill down anyone’s back. A massive civil war in the Middle East would mean Turkey, Iran, Syria and possibly Jordan and Saudi Arabia would be forced to intervene. The region is home to 64 percent of the world’s proven crude oil reserves. A massive disruption of that supply would send the world economy into crisis that could spark other regional conflicts as countries scramble for reliable crude supplies.
It would be better to delay the transfer and prepare for the earliest possible elections that are transparent and fair than rush a transition that could lead to a spiral of violence that could lead to a catastrophe.