Attack kills top U.N. envoy, signals shifting strategy

A car bomb exploded in front of the hotel housing the U.N. headquarters today, collapsing the front of the building. ((r) 2003 The Associated Press)

This is serious. Very serious. In addition to at least 19 other victims, the attack killed the U.N.’s top envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
One hundred and thirty About 60 soldiers have died in combat or friendly fire incidents since May 1, many of them killed by an Iraqi resistance perceived by many to be anti-occupation or specifically anti-American. (A total of 130 have died since May 1.) But it could be metastasizing into an anti-Western intifada/Arab nationalist revival. It’s unlikely a small group of former Ba’athists led by Saddam loyalists are leading the resistance now, and it’s pretty obvious that killing Uday and Qusai Hussein was ineffective, seeing as the attacks have increased. Likewise, killing or capturing Saddam Hussein is probably equally ineffective — this is no longer about him.
So who is responsible for this latest attack? The list of U.N.-haters in Iraq is long, thanks to a decade of sanctions. (Of course, those sanctions were largely kept in place by the United States and Britain operating through the U.N. Security Council, but that distinction may be lost on some people.) Iraqi nationalism, one of the fiercest strains of Pan-Arabism thanks to the Iraqis’ position on the frontier of the Arab world, could be rearing its head and the bombing was aimed at Westerners in general, regardless of their intentions. If so, we should expect attacks on aid workers and journalists. And if this resurgent nationalism/Arabism spreads to the Shi’a south, the Americans will have a very, very tough time of it.
Alternately, the slaughter may have been the work of a resistance that saw the U.N. HQ as a “soft target,” one easier to attack than American positions. That points to either Iraqi guerillas, Islamists such Al Qa’ida and Ansar al-Islam or a combination of the two.
In support of this hypothesis are reports of Saudi militants and other Islamists allegedly entering Iraq to wage jihad, possibly through Syria. Baghdad may resemble Afghanistan _circa_ 1979-80, when young Muslim men poured into the country to resist the Soviet invasion. At least the Americans won’t be selling them Stinger missiles this time.
I suspect this is the case, and the attack, which occurred at 4:40 p.m. local time, “signals a substantive strategy shift,” according to Stratfor (reg. required). Instead of directly attacking American troops, who will almost always outgun the guerillas, attacks on infrastructures such as pipelines, water mains and other soft facilities like the U.N. headquarters will force the Americans to respond and tie them down, shifting the troops into a defensive posture. This will mean a loss of initiative and a degradation of offensive capabilities.
Thus, the U.S. faces a difficult choice. Stratfor says that if the U.S. brings in reinforcements from an already over-stretched military, that will degrade its capabilities around the world, opening up new opportunities for Al Qa’ida. The terror group is effectively a liquid, filling in holes and gaps as they appear. On the other hand, if the U.S. stands its ground in Iraq and maintains its current strength, it’s stuck with the status quo, which is obviously untenable. Iraqis and Americans will die in attrition attacks and what good that might have come from the toppling of Saddam Hussein will be undone.
I’m a little tired of writing “I told you so” regarding the Bush Administration and Iraq. We in the anti-war camp have been proven horribly right, and to be honest, the gloating continuing to point this out ain’t so much fun anymore. American credibility with the world — thanks to the WMD issue — is almost non-existent. Iraq is falling apart and a country that before the war wasn’t a haven for Islamic groups such as Al Qa’ida, is now. Pointing out the myriad flaws in logic, misplaced claims, stretched truths and unexamined untruths from Washington no longer helps.
And most important, people are dying.
Shortly after I returned from the war, I urged all people of conscience on both sides of the war debate to hold the Administration’s feet to the fire and demand that the allies’ actions in Iraq match the rhetoric. But this has spiraled so far out of control that the fire, to which I urged feet to be held, looks ready to burn us all.

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