In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Iraq:A House of Cards

Posted by smeddum on August 22, 2008


Outside of the blackout accounts of the genocidal destruction,this a more honest account of how things are in Iraq than we usually get from the US mainstream press. There is ultimately a break in logic. ”A full circle” leaves us with the idea that Iraq was a threat to the US; a false premise

This post was written for The New York Times by a Western security
adviser who has worked for journalistic and non-journalistic
organizations in Iraq. His name has been withheld for safety reasons.

I have been involved in looking after commercial clients since early
1997, working across a variety of industries and many countries,
including mining and oil operations in volatile regions throughout
Africa and with journalists and other organizations in Iraq since

Iraq is far and away the most complex scenario, for sure. Right from
the get-go in 2003, while journalists and other clients were traveling
right across the country, Iraqis were very welcoming. But what was
very obvious to me was that there was very little progress in the
reconstruction of their country. That manifested itself in the lack of
power and water utilities, which affected the general public countrywide.

I also felt uneasy then that the activity of private security
companies and of the military was overly (and famously) aggressive, as
it is today.

I figure from 2003 to 2006 that a slow loathing of all things Western
manifested itself among Iraqis, including, for the most part,
journalists. And I include myself. We just represented all things here
that were Western. This is the first time I had encountered this
dynamic, at least to this extent.

Those who had former insurgency experience, although it may have been
named something else in areas such as Northern Ireland, readily
predicted where all this was heading as early as 2003 in terms of the
methodology of attack. We had seen it all before. I remember a young
freelance journalist was shot dead by a gunman who emerged out of a crowd near the university in Baghdad in 2003.

Then came the more complex attacks, using more than one weapon, often
rocket-propelled grenades. So, SAF (small arms fire),
followed by complex SAF attacks and drive-by shootings, CWIEDs (Command
Wire Improvized Explosive Devices),
RCIEDs (radio-Controlled Improvized Explosive Devices), VBIEDs
(Vehicle-Borne Improvized Explosive Devices), VCIEDs
(Vehicle-Concealed Improvized Explosive Devices), VOIEDs
(Victim-Operated, or booby traps) PBIEDs (Personnel-Borne Improvized Explosive Devices), kidnappings and abductions and EFP (Explosively-Formed Projectiles).

The list continues, and we must not forget the criminality that
co-existed here. When we used to take roadtrips out of Baghdad to Amman,
in particular, there were several instances of people being robbed,
chased and shot at. There were the beheadings, the ambushes and the
abductions either by criminals or groups trying to force the hands of
western governments.

The situation was probably as severe a security scenario as one could imagine.

It slowly dawned on journalists that the neutral stance upon which
they so often rely elsewhere wasn’t effective here, journalists became
fair game, easy options and were actively targeted. That made the Iraq
scenario unique, for journalists in particular. I don’t
think that has existed in any other recent situation, other than
perhaps Lebanon in the early 1980s.

Out of that realization, basic safety strategies were adopted by most of
the Western media groups that operate in Baghdad. Throughout, Western
newspapers have just gone ahead and got on with it — taking whatever
precautions they can, trying to achieve safety and security while
working in the Red Zone, working always on the principle of using the
minimum number of people on the ground for the briefest period of time
to achieve your journalistic objectives.

While all of this was being played out from 2003 to 2006, I could not
help but notice that there was still no real reconstruction in
progress. The, in turn, meant support for the Americans and the Iraqi
authorities was diminishing among the general population.

Reconstruction was hampered by myriad insurgency groupings, which
made it impossible in some periods for them to work.

I took a year out in 2007 to work in other parts of the world. This
was the period of the early surge. I returned in 2008 to find a
prolonged and concerted mortar and rocket attack on the Green Zone.

The second half of the year has been very different and I think it has
a lot to do with the Awakening Groups and other groups that have
sought cooperation in certain areas.

There is still a high risk. Things seem better, but it all seems to me
like a house of cards that could topple at any time if things don’t
go right politically. Here we are in the second half of 2008 and there
is still no real visible reconstruction. OK, the occasional park has
been renovated, but when people go home there is often no electricity,
brownouts are commonplace, water and basic
utilities are less than adequate to say the least.
It’s just not happening, after five long years for the Iraqi people.

I liken the last five years in terms of attacks and methodology to a
library, with each of the techniques used as books. At present many of
those books are firmly on their shelves, and closed. And while, yes,
it’s true that there is a de-escalation, should the fragile scenario
that we find ourselves in right now break and a fragmented insurgency
start to appear again in real and dramatic force, any one of those
books – those individual attack methodologies – can be plucked off the
bookshelf and brought back into use by anyone. We should always be
mindful of that.

The whole fragility of what exists today, with the potential of
instability left by troop withdrawals, leaves a great degree of
uncertainty about where Iraq is heading. If we are not careful and the
scenario changes, we could find ourselves way back at the beginning.

Full circle.

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