Nov 27, 2006
THREE YEARS AGO, ALMOST TO THE DAY a short article appeared on page A20 of the Post. It was the day after a truck bombing had killed 12 Italian troops. It had been the 13th bomb over a period of 3 months. America was shocked at the level of Iraqi violence: an average of one bomb each week.But there was more grim news: 17 soldiers had died in the collision of two helicopters, caused by enemy fire. The toll had risen to the unthinkable: 404 troops dead.'Mission accomplished' had been declared 6 months earlier by the Codpiece-in-Chief. Now he hurried to reassure: it was the work of 'foreign fighters' and Saddam loyalists. But they would soon be defeated. We would not be there for 'years and years'. After all, he had just sent proconsul Bremer back to Iraq with orders to speed up establishment of an Iraqi government.Meanwhile, little noticed, came the article on page A20: Iraqi Shiites Move to Fill Security Role.It was a perfect storm of events. But like the frog in the slowly heating water, few could see the inevitable result ahead.
BACK TO PAGE A20 IN A MOMENT, BUT FIRST:
The war was barely eight months old. Most of Iraq was relatively peaceful, but the 'Sunni triangle' -- the area west of Baghdad where the big trouble seemed to be coming from -- had entered the American lexicon. This was where tens of thousands of people with guns and military training had been stewing for months after being told by the Americans that they were no longer employable.
The Iraqi army -- 300,000 strong -- had been disbanded as the second act of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Going home without work and without a future, they had only their tribal and religious loyalties to count on.
The first act of the CPA had been 'de-Baathification', the elimination from government of members of Saddam's Baath political party, most of whom had joined for the increased pay and benefits which membership in the party offered.
They had been the country's administrators, the ones responsible for the everyday things people take for granted: water, electricity, trash collection, sewage disposal. Now, with de-Baathification, the government had dissolved into mist and the basics of everyday living were dissolving away with it.
In the place of actual government was the CPA and the Iragi Governing Council (IGC). The IGC had been appointed by proconsul Bremer. It was made up wholly of Iraqi's, but everyone knew that they were little more than an Iraqi face for American rule.
Although America had come in promising liberation, eight months later it was clear that this was an occupation. And not a well organized one at that: back at the CPA, Iraq was being run by twenty-somethings with no experience in administration -- actually no experience in anything much at all -- but who had serendipitously posted their resumes on the Heritage Foundation website.
Their interviews had consisted of political questions, including their votes in 2000 and their views on Roe v. Wade. Their CPA offices were festooned with 'Bush-Cheney 2004' stickers. "I'm not here for the Iraqis," one told a reporter over lunch. "I'm here for George Bush."
Which explained the state of the country. The military had been tasked, almost by default, with providing all security for the country, including policing. But it was much too small a force for such a role. Its size had been purposely limited by Rumsfeld, designed only to conquer Saddam's army and then to gather the rose petals that the grateful Iraqi's would be strewing in its path.
Now road bombs aimed at troops had progressed into car bombs aimed at the fabric of society. Insurgents were staging actual attacks. And in true guerilla fashion, the military was having an impossible time identifying just who and where the attacks were coming from.
It was in the midst of all this that, the day following the 13th bombing, the Washington Post reported on page A20:
NASIRIYAH, Iraq, Nov. 13 -- Hours after a car bomb devastated the headquarters of the Italian military police here, the relatively tranquil streets took on a different cast. Barricades were thrown up across roads, cars were searched at hastily arranged checkpoints, sometimes marked by rocks in the street, and men in blazers rifled through identity papers.
Police? one of the men was asked. "No," he replied. Party? "Yes."
Religious parties, a wild card in the politics of Iraq's Shiite Muslim south, filled a perceived security vacuum after Wednesday's bombing and deployed dozens of men across Nasiriyah, signaling their intention to take security into their own hands. The show of strength underscored widely held beliefs in this Euphrates River city that occupation forces are incapable of countering an insurgency that has staged 13 vehicle bombings over three months. Only dramatic moves by local leaders can prevent more attacks, people here say.
"If the coalition forces will not do something for us, we'll do something for ourselves," said Abdel-Hamid Hasuri, the representative of the Islamic Current Party, a small, moderate Shiite group.
"The mission of the Americans now is to protect themselves, not to protect the Iraqi people," said Faris Habib, 51...
Back in Washington, the President remained unconcerned. "My generals tell me that 85 per cent of the country is completely calm," he would say weeks later. "Only 15 per cent has some problems and those are low level."
But in Iraq, some were seeing the currents just beneath the calm. "The town is divided into two parts," one American translator said of his post. "Those who hate us and those who don't mind us but want us to go."
THE FROG IN THE WATER, PART TWO: "IRAQI'S HAVE HEAVY BLOOD"
Nine months later, on September 8, 2004, the Washington Post had a page A1 report:
U.S. Toll in Iraq Crosses 1,000 Milestone Pentagon Expects Continued Violence
The number of soldiers and Pentagon civilians who have died in Iraq topped the 1,000 mark yesterday, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld declared that the insurgency is likely to turn even more violent in coming months as the fledgling nation heads toward democratic elections...
At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said suicide bombings and coordinated attacks were claiming more lives and displaying the insurgency's ability to frustrate the coalition with increasingly sophisticated tactics...
While offering that sober assessment, Rumsfeld was resolute when asked about reaching the 1,000-casualty mark, emphasizing the need to continue the fight against terrorism despite the sacrifices.
The attacks over the past week reflect a determined opposition to U.S. and coalition forces that threatens to extend a war that U.S. officials once estimated would long be over by now. As U.S. forces work to build Iraqi security forces and support a new government, they find themselves still targets of an elusive and adaptive enemy.
"The enemy is becoming more sophisticated in its efforts to destabilize the country," Myers said.
Militias had always been part of daily life in modern Iraq. Along with Saddam's vaunted 'Republican Guard' , his personal 'protection' force which was part of regular army, there was the Saddam Fedayeen -- a brutal paramilitary group of up to 40,000 Sunni's, who acted as Saddam's enforcers, carrying out some of the most heinous acts of his rule.
In the Kurdish north, there was the peshmerga, some 50,000 strong, dedicated not only to opposing Saddam but fighting Turkey and Iran as well, all towards an independent Kurdistan. Since the end of Operation Desert Storm the Kurds had enjoyed American protection, and had been trained and equipped by the Americans and others to become a formidable military force in their own right.
In the Shi'ite south, there was the Badr Brigade, some 10,000 paramilitary fighters. Trained in and funded by Iran, it was the muscle behind the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), whose goal was to turn Iraq into a Iranian-style Shi'ite theocracy.
But new militias were recruiting as well. The most prominent was the Mahdi Army, formed in opposition to both the U.S. occupation and the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade. It had been organized by Moqtada al-Sadr, the son of a revered Shi'ite cleric, whose following consisted of some two million of Iraq's poorest citizens.
Sadr saw SCIRI and its Badr Brigade as another foreign movement. But behind that belief lay generations of rivalry. For SCIRI was headed by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, whose father also had been a revered Iraqi cleric. Both families vied for influence in Shi'ite Iraq.
But al-Hakim had fled Iraq in 1980. And it didn't help matters that the SCIRI was coordinating with the Americans, or that al-Hakim had been a member of the Bremer-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.
To Sadr and his followers, al-Hakim, SCIRI and the Badr Brigade, were an American-Iranian face for Iraqi Shi'ism. And so in the preceeding nine months, Sadr set out to cause trouble for both the Americans and SCIRI.
These then, were the bubbling ingredients of the witch's brew in the red-hot cauldron that was Iraq.
The insurgents were both Sunni and Shia. On the Sunni side they consisted of military and Fedayeen fighters, displaced and unemployed. But even the Sunni's were not unified, for 'foreign fighters', dubbed al-Qaeda in Iraq, had come in to the equation, promoting the most extreme of Islamic visions. And so the Sunni insurgents were divided between Iraqi nationalists and those who advocated holy war, a.k.a. jihad.
While on the Shia side of the insurgent coin, were al-Sadr's followers, reviling both Americans and SCIRI.
In opposition to the insurgents were the Badr Brigade and peshmerga. Several months earlier they had 'disbanded' in the guise of entering the 'security forces' . They were no longer considered private militias. They now were the police, and the National Guard.
And so violence had been raging: Iraqi's against Americans, and Iraqi's against Iraqi's. Sunni's against Americans and Sunni's against each other. Shia's against Americans and Shia's for Americans. Attacks at the training and recruiting centers for the Shia police and National Guard, by Sunni and Shia insurgents. Rival attacks by Shia police and National Guard on the Sunni cities. It was a fight for and against an occupation, and a jihad, and a civil war.
But all this came as no surprise to Iraq's neighbors. Knowing the volatile personalities and inclination to violent disputes that had defined the country, there had been a saying amongst other Arabs: "Iraqi's have heavy blood".
THE FROG IN THE WATER, PART THREE: "WE WILL USE A SLEDGEHAMMER TO CRUSH A WALNUT"
Six months later, in early March, 2005, the Houston Chronicle reported:
U.S. death toll passes 1,500 in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq has topped 1,500, an Associated Press count showed today after the military announced the deaths of three Americans, while car bombs targeting Iraqi security forces killed at least four people in separate attacks.
Two suicide car bombs exploded outside the Interior Ministry in eastern Baghdad today, killing at least two policemen and wounding five others, police Maj. Jabar Hassan said. Officials at nearby al-Kindi hospital said 15 people were injured in the blasts, part of the relentless wave of violence since the Jan. 30 elections.
Another car bomb targeting a police convoy exploded in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the capital, killing one Iraqi policeman and a civilian, the U.S. military said. Six police and 10 other civilians were also wounded.
Amid the violence, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi extended the state of emergency, first announced nearly four months ago, for another 30 days until the end of March. The order remains in effect throughout the country, except in northern Kurdish-run areas.
The emergency decree includes a nighttime curfew and gives the government extra powers to make arrests without warrants and launch police and military operations when it deems necessary.
The latest reported American deaths brought the toll to 1,502 since the United States launched the war in Iraq in March 2003, according to the AP count.
Yes, elections, sort of, had happened, sort of. And just two years into the occupation.
But it hadn't been the idea of the Americans. Proconsul Bremer had laid out a plan that would take up to four years before the Iraqi's reached the ballot box. Before they did, however, Americans would hand-pick Iraqi's to write a new constitution. But Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani had issued a fatwa against any constitution drawn up before elections had taken place. And in the face of the fiasco that was unfolding in Iraq, the Americans complied.
The first step towards the election had taken place a year earlier, when the Iraqi Governing Council, an interim government, approved an interim constitution. This was followed in June, 2004 with the hand-over of 'sovereignty' to the IGC and the departure of Bremer.
'Sovereign' Iraq, with 130,000 foreign troops on its soil, was now led by Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister, whose job as head of the interim government was to pave the way for elections in January, 2005 of a transitional (provisional) government.
And so elections, sort of, had happened, sort of.
The goal was to elect a National Assembly, which would elect a President and two Vice Presidents, those three then unanimously electing a Prime Minister, who then would appoint a Cabinet, which would have to be approved by the National Assembly.
But there had been virtually no campaigning. Violence was raging across Iraq, and it was far too dangerous to hit the stump, have a rally, or hand out leaflets. Too dangerous, in fact, to even include names. Instead, Iraqi's voted for the slates of political parties, whose names were announced only after the election.
So in Shi'ite areas, voters were dependent on being told by their clerics or tribal leaders which slate to vote for. In Sunni areas, insurgents promised death to anyone who dared to even try to vote.
Not that the Sunni vote would matter, anyway. For instead of being locally based, where voters choose representatives from their district, the vote was nationally based, where everybody voted on every one of the slates. With Sunni's comprising only 20% of the population, they were guaranteed to have little, or no representation.
Nor, in fact, had the elections been tamper-free. "Voter intimidation, ballot stuffing, bribery, and the falsification of returns" were reported by veteran investigative reporter Sy Hersch as possibly linked to a covert CIA operation to limit the election of 'religious' Shi'ites, as was a 'one man, two votes' phenomenon that seemed to play out at Kurdish polling places. Which may or may not account for the fact that the slate represented by then-Prime-Minister Allawi, whose support was gauged at 4% of the electorate, came in third. Or why the Kurds, representing 15% of the population, took 25% of the vote.
But elections, sort of, had happened, sort of. And the next step would be writing a permanent constitution to be voted on in a referendum, followed by an election to replace the transitional government with a permanent one.
Meanwhile, violence raged across the country.
Eighteen months earlier, Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division had promised, "We're going to go ahead and take the fight to the enemy using everything in our arsenal necessary to go ahead and win this fight. We will use a sledgehammer to crush a walnut."
Now, following the November assault on Fallujah, the insurgency had risen up in force in Mosul, Baghdad, Baiji, Baquba, Ramadi, Sammara, Tal Afar and Suweira. The sledgehammer had scattered walnut pieces everywhere.
THE FROG IN THE WATER, PART FOUR: "SPECIFIC AGENDAS AND ULTERIOR MOTIVES"
On October 26, 2005, the Washington Post moved past dry prose to report:
Military Has Lost 2,000 In Iraq
The number of U.S. troops who have died in the Iraq war hit 2,000 yesterday, a toll felt deeply at big military bases across America that active-duty soldiers and families call home, as well as in hundreds of communities where the National Guard and reservists work, live and train.
The threshold was crossed with the Pentagon's announcement that Staff Sgt. George Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen, Tex., had died at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas on Saturday of injuries suffered in Iraq earlier this month, when a bomb planted by insurgents exploded near his Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
Since the March 2003 invasion and quick march to take Baghdad, U.S. troops have been dying at about 800 a year, with most killed in action by crude but powerful roadside bombs and in firefights against an unrelenting insurgency. More than 90 percent of the deaths have come after President Bush declared an end to "major combat operations" on May 1, 2003...
Unique to the war in Iraq, however, is the way in which the combat deaths are hitting home, with the Guard and reserves paying a high price because of their unprecedented involvement overseas. While accounting for about a quarter of those killed, such citizen-soldier units in recent months took especially heavy losses, sending the shock of death throughout cities and towns in most every state, sometimes in devastating clusters.
"This is exponentially beyond anything we've seen since World War II," Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in an interview. "The casualties are felt not only in the immediate family but in the community . . . so the loss is shared and felt even beyond the lives of the normal tragedy. When you call up the Guard, you call up America. It's significantly why the American people continue to support the soldiers even though they may not support the way the war is executed or even [that] we went to war."
The daily casualty tolls are not usually big enough to jar the American public as a whole, apart from events such as helicopter crashes, a suicide bombing at a chow hall or rare heavy losses in battle. Yet flag-draped coffins arriving from Iraq at the rate of two or three each day visit grief upon one town after another -- posing in intimate terms stark questions about the war.
The occupation was in its 32nd month, but the war drums had been percussioning for over a year before it began.
The White House was salivating over the idea of war, hungry for the taste of Iraqi blood. They would do anything, say anything, to have their Iraqi meal, including the idea of staging the downing of a military air patrol as the pretext for invasion. But in the end they found playing on fear to be the most satisfying.
And so rumors that were so ethereal that they were mere hints of rumors floated out of the White House: Iraqi intelligence had met with a hijacker in Prague. Bin Laden had been in Baghdad two weeks before. Saddam had a terrorist training camp complete with a Boeing jetliner to practice hijackings. The anthrax used in the attacks were weaponized, and likely from Iraq's vast biological warfare program. Saddam was lending Bin Laden a few of his nuclear weapons.
None of it had happened. But to the gullible media, it felt like it should be true, and was dutifully broadcast worldwide.
And thus, masterstroke by masterstroke, they drove us into war.
For fodder, they had a new generation of eager young men and women, most of whom were just coming into adolescence in September, 2001. Their world-view was formed by that, and by the endless propaganda that followed.
Many had been raised in small communities, where they heard on the street corners and in the churches and at their family dinners that service to their country is a duty. Many of them came from families with a military tradition, where it was ingrained early on that it was up to them to continue the legacy.
But they were also a new generation in the kind of world they'd come from, growing up with movies and video games where all violence is painless pretense, a two-dimensional fantasy. How could they be expected to realize the real-world consequences of violence before they had personally experienced it, when society at large, and those who'd raised them, had told them nothing different?
And so they were left to learn on their own, as insurgents sniped from safe havens, dropping the soldier standing next to them. They were left to learn on their own, as they watched legs, arms and heads instantaneously evaporate, leaving a bloody stump lying where a friend had been standing moments before. They were left to learn on their own as they wheeled around a VA hospital still feeling legs that were no longer there. They were left to learn on their own as 12-month tours extended into 18. And they were left to learn on their own as they came back for their second and third tours 'of duty' in the midst of ever-escalating carnage.
It has always been thus in war -- the old send the eager young to do their bidding, promising glory, and it is only afterwards that the soldier comes to understand war's savage -- and often eternal -- reality.
But even as the bodies piled up, first hundreds upon hundreds, then thousands upon thousands, the White House war hungry continued to lie. Increases in troops were just temporary. Draw downs were coming soon. The insurgency was in its last throws. Next year, the force would be a mere 60,000.
And, as the toll reached it's grim milestone, an email went out to reporters from a public relations officer in Baghdad. It described the fallen -- those bright young men and women, who had marched in their high school bands, counseled their little brothers, brought a smile to friends with their pranksterish ways, or who had seen war as a 'step up' from life on the west side, and even those who had yet to hold their infant child -- it described those 2,000 dead as an "artificial mark on the wall, set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives."
THE FROG IN THE WATER, PART FIVE: "THIS IS A DAY WE WILL NEVER FORGET"
On June 16 of this year, the Houston Chronicle reported:
U.S. toll in Iraq at 2,500
WASHINGTON - American deaths since the invasion of Iraq have reached 2,500, marking a grim milestone in the wake of recent events that President Bush hopes will reverse the war's unpopularity at home.
The Pentagon provided no details on the nature of the 2,500th death. Nevertheless, reaching the marker shined a new spotlight on the continuing violence in Iraq just after an upbeat Bush returned from a surprise visit to Baghdad determined that the tide was beginning to turn.
"It's a number," White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters at the White House on Thursday.
In December, 2005, another round of elections had taken place. But the theocratic Shi'ites were not in charge of the new permanent government. Though Sadr and SCIRI had put aside differences to form the United Iraqi Alliance, they captured only 128 seats in the 275 member National Assembly. 25 seats had gone to the slate led by interim Prime Minister Allawi, a secularist who not only opposed religious rule, but was no fan of democracy itself.
The Kurdish Alliance had brought together rival factions as well, winning 58 seats. Even Sunni's were represented, with the Iraqi Accordance Front taking 44 seats and another faction taking 11. Voter turnout had been 70%. Violence had been kept to a minimum. Four months later, after much wrangling, Nouri al-Maliki emerged as the new Prime Minister.
The only minor wrinkles were that the new government depended on forming a coalition amongst rivals in order to govern. And there were still 130,000 foreign troops on 'sovereign' Iraqi soil.
Only that, and an earlier incident in Samarra.
Samarra was one of countless sites in Iraq with an ancient lineage. 7,000-year-old pottery found there was revered by art-lovers and archaeologists alike for its depiction of animals, as well as its geometric patterns. Towns, cities or entire civilizations had variously been there throughout the history of the civilized world, and had seen the rise and fall of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, until it itself became the capital of the Muslim world, circa 800 a.d., and stayed the capital for nearly 100 years.
The city is also home to the Al-Askari Mosque. Built over a thousand years ago, then crowned by a magnificent golden dome, the mosque is one of the most important in the Shia Muslim world, where lay the mausoleums of Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari -- the tenth and eleventh Shia Imams, infallible manifestations of God and perfect interpreters of the Qur'an. It was also the hiding place of Muhammad al-Mahdi, the twelfth and final Imam, known as the "Hidden Imam", who speaks today through the mujtahids, and who will return at the end of time to bring justice to a fallen world.
On the morning of February 21, at 7 a.m., a dozen men dressed in paramilitary uniforms entered the shrine and handcuffed four guards who were sleeping in a back room. The men then placed a bomb in the dome and detonated it.
The golden dome was no more.
Tens of thousands of Shia's rioted at the outrage, vowing revenge. "This is as 9/11 in the United States," said Adel Abdul Mahdi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents.
On a street outside, a Shia said simply, "This is a day we will never forget".
The civil war, which had been about politics and control of resources, was now religious war... and unstoppable.
THE FROG IN THE WATER, PART SIX: "IF YOU HAVE TWO NIGHTINGALES, WHAT DO YOU FEED THEM?"
On November 26, 2006, Forbes reported:
U.S. Military Deaths in Iraq Hit 2,876
As of Sunday, Nov. 26, 2006, at least 2,876 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,303 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers. The AP count is seven more than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Friday at 10 a.m. EST.
A Sunni taxi driver from western Baghdad is stopped by Sunni militiamen while driving in his neighborhood. They pull him out of his car. He thinks he is surely dead.
But then one of the gunmen asks...
'If you have two nightingales, what do you feed them?'''
He tells them 'grain', and they let him ago.
At first he doesn't understand what has taken place. He later figures it out: Shiites from southern Iraq pronounce the Arabic word for grain differently than Sunnis from Baghdad. His accent had saved him from certain death.
Later that night, some would not be so lucky.
THE FROG IN THE WATER, PART SEVEN: "THE FROG IN THE WATER"
Life in Iraq today:
Sons dragged into the streets and shot in plain sight, with nobody daring to help. Fathers dragged from their homes never to be seen again. Brothers dragged from mosques and set on fire. Gunmen going from house to house shooting entire families to death. Former friends now deadly enemies. A police force made up of death squads. Checkpoints of death. Tortured and mutilated bodies found by the dozens every day. Mass kidnapings. Mortar shells fired from one neighborhood into another. Road bombs, car bombs, suicide bombs. Mass graves of the unidentified and the unclaimed.
How could it come to this? How could we have let it come to this: an entire country now a vast concentration camp which exceeds even Auschwitz in its numbers and savagery.
Ask the frog in the slowly heating water.
And if you dare repeat the frog's answer, you might also want to explain it to the 2,876.
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