Anarchy engulfs the new Iraq


Agamemnon, the general of ancient Greece who was charged with rescuing Helen from Troy, said that starting a war was like throwing a pebble into a lake -- you never know where the last ripple will end up. The ripples sent out following the war in Iraq have barely reached the banks and look likely to turn into waves .

Just over 10 weeks have passed since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, and in that time Iraq has been plunged into unimaginable chaos and disorganisation .

The situation was brought home last week with the announcement that Valerie Amos, the secretary of state for international development, who is in charge of British efforts to reconstruct Iraq, is unable to visit the country for fear of guerrilla attacks, while the British commander Major General Freddie Viggers said British troops may be required in Iraq for four years because of the continued resistance.

Although the war might have been won with relative ease, the peace is looking more fragile each day. Any goodwill felt by the Iraqis towards the allied forces has quickly evaporated and turned into anger and resistance.

The Americans are becoming frustrated as the growing movements are now killing an average of one soldier a day. According to US Commander Lieutenant General David McKiernan, it has turned into 'a cycle of action, reaction and counter-action'.

This equates to more than 50 US troops killed since President George Bush declared the war over on May 1 -- nearly half of the total number of US troops killed in the war itself. How long before the bodybag-adverse American public questions this strategy ?

Resistance is being waged by Saddam loyalists, Sunni radicals, non-Iraqi Islamic fighters and disgruntled ex-soldiers, with much of the fighting in the 'Sunni triangle' north and west of Baghdad. The chief resistance group is the Party of the Return, or Hizab al-Awda, which consists of small cells of up to two dozen men in the main cities. They are believed to be working with elements of the Fedayeen (Saddam's former militia) who are scattered throughout the country.

The resistance hasn't yet evolved into any kind of coherent force, making it difficult for the Americans to police, but last week alone US troops made more than 400 arrests . And the news that Saddam and his sons are probably alive and well and still in Iraq is fuelling resistance against the 150,000 occupying troops -- not a huge force in a country of 22 million people.

Fighting has yet to spread to the south, where British troops are based and where Shi'ite Islamist groups are gaining political strength. The continued occupation and Iranian influence are likely to result in future volatility in this area, and the pro-Iranian Shi'ite leader, Ayatollah Hakim, has predicted that armed resistance will grow.

Iraq is a country with a strong social fabric, but public order has disintegrated into lawlessness and near-anarchy. Public institutions are looted, and anyone with the remotest links to the Ba'ath party is cast aside -- that's most of the population, including the 400,000 soldiers from the Iraqi army sacked by the interim administration.

All essential services and infrastructure have been devastated. The impact of war and regime collapse on top of 12 years of stifling sanctions has turned Iraq into a wasteland.

The nightly curfew prevents anyone leaving home after 11pm, so Iraqis who lived in fear under Saddam's regime are today too afraid to walk American-policed streets. This is particularly difficult in the unbearable summer heat, with temperatures of up to 50{C, and because Iraq is a country where life is lived on the streets during the night as well as the day. People used to eat at 10pm or later and didn't venture out until after the sun had set, but now they return home before dusk. Unsurprisingly, it's hard to see this as liberation for a proud people who have been turned into victims.

However, there is at least the solace that Saddam's brutal dictatorship has ended . Political opponents no longer disappear without trace to be tortured or imprisoned. The climate of fear and paranoia has ended. There is a free press, and media and political parties can organise as they wish.

Iraqi political parties want a broadly representative coalition to elect a transitional government, yet the head of the Coalition Protection Agency (CPA), Paul Bremer, will only consider an advisory council chosen by him. He even went so far as to proclaim illegal any 'gatherings, pronouncements or publications' which call for the return of the Ba'ath party or for opposition to the US occupation. This is surely a sign of control and sends the conflicting message that it is OK to demonstrate in Tehran but not in Baghdad. Bremer has also insisted the Iraqi people will be free to choose their future 'even if it is socialism'.

But sweeping changes are taking place. In a bid to kick-start the economy, Iraq will resume its oil exports at the Turkish oil terminal of Ceyhan this week, as sources at the Ministry of Industry and Minerals admit that dozens of Iraqi companies will be privatised without waiting for a new government to be in place . Of some 100 state-owned enterprises in Iraq, the industry ministry controls 48 -- which employ 96,000 people.

With $100 million promised for reconstruction to help jump-start the economy, $15m will go to each of the three administrative regions set up by the US , $20m will be spent on repairing ministry buildings damaged in the war and $35m will go to complete public works projects.

For the foreseeable future, it seems the US will take a unilateral approach to the reconstruction even though EU leaders yesterday called for the United Nations to be given a leading role in the process. Detailed proposals for the management of Iraqi oil receipts released last Tuesday threaten to sideline the UN and give US commitments to the 'vital' post-war role for the organisation a rather hollow ring.

It is instructive to consider the situation in Afghanistan 20 months after the invasion. The deteriorating security scenario is now so bad that the US and Pakistani intelligence officials recently met with Taliban leaders in an effort to devise a political solution to prevent the country from being ripped apart.

It remains to be seen whether America can ride out its storm in Iraq.