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     Volume 4 Issue 22 | November 26, 2004 |

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Mustafa Zaman

With the re-election of George W Bush to the White House, Iraq is all set to take more jolts than ever. Pacifying Falluja seems like a resounding success as far as US is concerned. And to prove that America rules, either by proxy of the Iraqi interim government or through maneuvering both the Iraqi law enforcement agencies and the formidable coalition forces, US is doing the needful. Safe havens like Fallujah are being flushed off of insurgents. With this aim in mind, the US is about to embolden their efforts. Thousands of troops are to join the existing redoubtable force, which now stands at 138,000.

The US claims to have killed more than a thousand of their enemy during the assault that they dubbed Operation Dawn. The official figure stood at around 1200 from the enemy camp and 51 of their own, according to last week's count. The US claims that 1200 were active rebels fueling the insurgency; and they were out to dislodge the stability of Iraq in the face of the elections scheduled in late January next year.

While more and more Iraqis are burying their dead, who knows how many civilian deaths remain unreported. As for the first city that took the heat, Falluja has gone through the full-fledged trial of cleansing. And the degree of devastation was something that outraged many. Even the Western media shoed-in in the role of the critic. Now they are speculating a greater repercussion. As the rebels dispersed, they are not only being weakened, they are also getting desperate in their attempt to hit back. The US-led forces are over-stretched as they are forced to hunt for these rebels seeking out newer hideouts.

Ahead of the January elections, since March of this year, Operation Dawn was the biggest assault mounted in Iraq. And it has ushered in the extreme phase of the Iraq War. Extreme in the sense that the US-led coalition has the "end of war" in sight. If one is ready to rely on the vision of the Americans, Operation Dawn and similar operations in other rebel strongholds are their last resort before withdrawal. This extreme phase as well as the third phase is marked by its rise in civilian casualties and retaliation from the suicide bombers and hostage takers. The first phase being the invasion that led to toppling of Saddam and second being the tenuous fight against insurgency, and the third, being the final battle that aspires to end insurgency.

The US earlier announced a date of withdrawal. It was ten months after the election that the occupying army first envisaged their departure. But leaving is not an easy task, as it involves rebuilding, which has an Asian interpretation, 'destroy and then rebuild'. Rebuilding the infrastructures and normalisation of services are not an easy task in the face of continuous incidents of suicide bombings and kidnappings by the rebels. Even aid workers and bussinessmen are being targeted by some extreme rebel outfits. Safety is one thing that the Iraqi interim government continously fails to ensure. Hence, the need of enforcement of marshal laws. US has complete or at least partial pacification of the rebel strongholds in mind. For this the time of withdrawal has been extended. But can they deliver?

The US wants to leave behind a stable democracy, which could be interpreted in many ways. Afghanistan can provide a cue as fighting still rages on in different regions. Though the international media is prone to brand this as 'sporadic disturbances', Afghanistan's election has given the world a glimpse of what lurks behind the facade.

Whether one is willing to look at Iraq as a subsequent "disaster zone" that followed the Afghan effort or misadventure, out of which US came out as a victor of sorts is a matter of choice. And this choice is now defined by geography. The Atlantic seems to be symbolising the rift between Europe and America. France's President Chirac still sticks to his argument that Iraq was a "mistake". In most of Asia Iraq's bumpy and forceful ride towards democracy is seen as nothing but an intervention by a superpower.

However ignominious it is for US to be branded as an invader, it is even more shameful for it to turn around and leave without pacifying this oil giant. The former dictator helped lay the stone for the US to step in, and now, however degenerating the scenario looks, US will do anything to restore it to the "face saver" status. A status of cosmetic precision is what they achieved in Afghanistan. Whether they would be able to replicate it in Iraq is the only challenge facing the US-led coalition.

Iraq is the stage where international politics and power play are being acted out. It is also the ground zero of media frenzy. Although the chunks of news that are being served on the internationally reputed platters are not necessarily the whole picture. They represent only a glimpse of what is going on, -- a partial view.

As war gradually unfolds its newer phases, there is no doubt about one thing, that America is unsparing as ever. They intensified their resolve and stepped up their actions. Newsmen cry out: Now US is killing even the unarmed. Caught on videotape by an embedded journalist is the scene of killing inside a mosque. Is it an aberration or a regular practice? This question gnaws at our conscience. But did this happen before in Iraq and any other country invaded by US. At the onset of the Fallujah onslaught, apache helicopters bombarded Falluja to bring it down to its knees, few newsmen went looking for civilians killed during that time.

At present, Fallujah is a mess. While the physical characters of Fallujah have been altered beyond recognition, sporadic fights are reported to be taking place in a few remaining pockets of the city. The formerly rebel-held city is now a scene of devastation. It has seen its houses and commercial buildings being leveled to the ground. Not even mosques were spared. Perhaps the showering of bombs from air had left them mostly untouched, but the marines who scoured through the city did what was needed to oust the rebels from their last resorts -- the mosques. Falluja may no longer remain a safe heaven, but the rebels are yet to be fully cleansed out of Iraq.

Operation Dawn was launched on November 8, apparently to "wrest the Sunni Muslim city from insurgents". Eleven days after the operation Lieutenant General John Sattler declared the city as being secure but not safe. Safety could not be won by enforcing full-throttle military might. The Bushites and the generals who are planning the war for the president, however, see it as the only option. There is enough proof that the conditions in Iraq are deteriorating and it is a direct result of the intensification of US-led assaults.

BBC claims that the US military is over-stretched while trying to eradicate the rebels. Even though the prospect of being able to overwhelm the enemy seems brighter, the rebels are everywhere now. Several of the suspected Fallujah insurgents were arrested from the streets of Baghdad. The task of cleansing Iraq of its anti-American elements is becoming harder each day. It certainly is a hard-to-win gamble that the US has bet on. And in the hectic actions on the part of the coalition forces, the common people are the worst hit. Even before the US marines started sifting through Falluja, several thousand inhabitants fled their homes, many more, who could not, are facing the worst, -- death. Deaths that we may not see on TV.


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