Iraq: Lack of Security and Deteriorating Conditions
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Resistance, Militants, Insurgency
Ever since the war ended, British and American forces have faced a rising death toll from groups fighting back. These groups have been characterized as being from isolated groups, to fully organized units that are pro-Saddam, or fighting the occupation. At time of writing, in the mainstream, it appears a bit vague as to the nature of these groups, but there is already talk of coalition forces being bogged down in a quagmire, evoking the days of the Vietnam war. Whether that is premature or not is early to say, but already the loss of American and British lives is raising questions in those countries about the progress of various aspects of post-war Iraq, such as setting up an Iraqi government.
As former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter notes, not all the resistance is foreign in nature:
There have also been criticisms of the conduct of the coalition forces in Iraq from various angles. For example, there has been signs of finger-pointing as if it were, between American and British forces, about why Baghdad has had such high crime levels and lack of security compared to other parts of the country, as The Guardian reported ( May 24, 2003 2).
Concerns About Inhumane Treatment of Civilians and Detainees
There have also been concerns at the inhumane treatment of civilians and detainees. For example:
- The Observer, part of the Guardian newspaper in UK, reported (May 25, 20035) that,
The United States is illegally holding thousands of Iraqi prisoners of war and other captives without access to human rights officials at compounds close to Baghdad airport.
- Some of these are civilian they also pointed out.
- In addition, they add that
The International Committee of the Red Cross so far has been denied access to what the organisation believes could be as many as 3,000 prisoners held in searing heat. All other requests to inspect conditions under which prisoners are being held have been met with silence or been turned down.
- The article also discussed possible inhumane treatment of prisoners, which also goes against the Geneva Conventions.
- Amnesty International, likewise, raises concerns though differs on the estimated number of people held, but claims that
Iraqis taken prisoner by coalition forces have been tortured, and about 2,000 are still detained without any outside contact, as reported by Inter Press Service (May 16, 20036).
As further examples of the effect the lack of security has had, consider a documentary aired by BBC on September 28, 2003, in their regular Panorama program that followed a number of American troops in Baghdad for three months:
- The documentary describes the soldiers as those who came to help rebuild but found themselves sucked into an urban guerilla war, instead.
- It also noted that the people of Baghdad’s gratitude over liberation is in danger of being squandered amidst a deepening unease over occupation.
- The documentary also featured the last television interview with UN Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, just 48 hours before his office was destroyed in a car bomb attack.
- The documentary noted various examples of increasing tension and for various reasons, U.S. soldiers reacting badly. For example:
- A mass protest of some 400,000 ex-Iraqi soldiers had taken place due to being dismissed without pay.
- As the protests got louder and more angry, the U.S. army shot into the crowd, killing someone.
- Their press release claimed that they believed someone had a weapon and shot at them, and they were retaliating, but an interview with a U.S. military doctor at the scene said he heard no shots.
morale deficitwas leading to a
shoot first, ask laterscenario, even though it wasn’t something U.S. troops wanted to happen.
- Of many reasons for the low morale of the U.S. troops, one was the lack of support from their superiors, some of whom, the documentary also noted, were living in those lavish palaces, that were once the subject of criticism when Saddam Hussein was living in them.
- One soldier admitted that the lack of support from above, meant in turn, that they took some of their frustrations out on Iraq civilians, which, while they didn’t want that to happen, was hard to avoid. The documentary showed some disturbing or violent scenes or in appropriate level of beating or aggression by U.S. forces, and very angry Iraqis in return, vowing all sorts of things against American troops.
- In effect, the U.S. military personnel on the streets had to perform many roles that they were not trained or prepared for.
- Sergio Vieira de Mello noted that a military is not equipped or meant for rebuilding, but for attack or defence.
- Many times the documentary showed interviews with head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that is the name given by the U.S.-led occupation forces, headed by Paul Bremer, who, when confronted by claims of being removed from what was happening on the streets, would simply reply that this was not the case, etc.
- Iraq, being one of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East was now described and shown by the Panorama team as lacking basic facilities such as waste management. The busiest hospital in Baghdad was shown to be almost completely empty and unusable because power was being tapped away by nearby residents, because they didn’t have any of their own.
- Restoring power to pre-war levels, which the documentary pointed out as being one of the obligations of an occupying power was proving difficult.
- Iraqis couldn’t understand, the documentary pointed out, how such a mighty superpower couldn’t even get this done.
- The violence and deteriorating security situation was also highlighted by filming a morgue, where what used to be about 5 bodies a day during Saddam’s regime, was now seeing as many as 45 per day.
- During Saddam’s reign, anyone shooting guns in the air at weddings or funerals etc would have been jailed or put to death, an Iraqi said on the program. Instead now, it happened all the time, with the reporter noting a loud series of gun shots going on for half an hour, with the U.S. troops helpless to do anything about it, and the documentary suggesting that troops were losing control and violent segments of Iraqi resistance getting bolder as a result.
- The documentary showed what Mello described as
unnecesarily roughtreatment of detainees, using hoods over detainees, bare cells with no beddings, etc. which Paul Bremer just shrugged off.
- Soldiers seemed passionate about why they were there, but some methods used by soldiers raised questions about their suitability to peacekeeping as Mello and the documentary raised on various occassions.
- While there were signs of development and reconstruction, lack of security was undermining all this.
- Soldiers were seen firing on a busy group of Iraqi onlookers near a skirmish, killing at least one. These onlookers were not in the direction of the skirmish.
- When asked how many Iraqi civilians had died, CPA head Paul Bremer said he was not keeping count. As mentioned further above on this page, Iraqi civilian casualties has not been something followed by the U.S.
- The claim that attacks on occupation forces were by Saddam Hussein and Ba’ath loyalists looked increasingly unrealistic, the documentary said.
One year on from the above concerns of abuse and torture, the U.S. and British governments appeared surprisingly to be stunned about new revelations of torture.
Fighting in Fallujah
Deteriorating Living Conditions for Iraqis
On May 9, 2003, the United Nations reported that in Iraq’s second largest city, Basra, there were now fears of a cholera epidemic23 because of the current security situation and the difficulty in restoring safe water supplies, weeks after the war had ended. The same news report also noted that many could be left homeless, due to the eviction of Palestinian refugees.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports (May 24, 2003) that in some parts of Iraq, women are losing freedoms in the chaos of postwar Iraq 24. Inter Press Service (IPS) adds at the beginning of October, 2003, that in effect, women’s rights have been put on hold25.
IPS also reported (June 30, 2003) that 27 million Iraqis, or virutally 100 percent of the Iraqi population are now entirely dependent upon food aid26. Before the war started in March, it was about 60 percent of the population.
In October 2003, a study by the medical charity Medact said that the consequences of the war in Iraq on people’s health may be felt for generations 27. It noted, amongst many other things that:
The impact of war on health is usually assessed primarily in terms of its most direct and visible effects—death and injury through conflict.
- In the period between March 20 and October 20, 2003, between 7,800 and 9,600 Iraqi civilians are estimated to have died from death and injury through conflict, and 394 Coalition combatants. Estimates of the number of Iraqi military deaths range from 13,500—45,000.
The full effects of war are, however, felt through many other less direct but potentially equally deadly or more deadly pathways. Here the death toll and disease burden could be numbered in tens of thousands. Yet it may never be known for certain, owing to the lack of accurate data, lack of functioning health information systems, lack of commitment to collecting or disseminating the data, and the absence of agreed conceptual models for measuring the effects of conflict on health.
- Noting the principle that health and health care are fundamental social rights, the study also suggested a re-establishment of an Iraqi health sector.
- Given the deteriorating conditions where people are generally worse off then before the war, the importance of this is more urgent.
- The report also noted that Europe and Japan benefitted from investment in a public health system after World War II.
- Instead, in Iraq, the Coalition administration and other agencies are proceeding in an
uncoordinated and fragmented wayIn addition,
There is also a reported policy intention to model the future health system on the American model of commercialised and market-oriented health care, and little commitment to exploring the various options of rebuilding and restructuring the health system through an Iraqi-led process.
The Future Does Not Look Good
During the war, it was reported well how employees from the Ministry of Information in Iraq had to accompany foreign journalists and were often trying to obstruct them in their work. Some of the most ludicrous forms of blatant propaganda and lies came from the ministry’s spokespeople. And yet in terms of propaganda upon the Iraq people, could there be a worse irony than the following: