- The Washington Times - Friday, April 2, 2004

It happened again. Last time it was in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. There, in October 1993, a wild mob attacked downed American helicopter pilots and crew, dragging them from the wreck of their Blackhawk, mutilating their bodies and humiliating the U.S. effort to help the war-ravaged East African nation out of misery and the grip of ruthless warlords. From that infamous firefight a book, then a movie, emerged.

This time it happened in the tumultuous hotbed Iraqi city of Fallujah, in what is often called the “Sunni Triangle.” An enraged mob shot and killed four foreign reconstruction workers Wednesday, hacked the corpses to pieces and then suspended body parts from a nearby bridge. A group of men dragged one of the corpses into the street and ripped it apart, according to one report. Someone else then tied a chunk of flesh to a rock and tossed it over a telephone wire.

Meanwhile, less than 15 miles away, in the same area of the increasingly violent Sunni Triangle an explosive charge blew up near a U.S. military patrol, killing five U.S. troops. One year after the fall of Saddam Hussein and 11 months after President George W. Bush declared major combat operations in Iraq over, U.S. military officials say there is now an average of 26 attacks against coalition troops every day.

The steadily deteriorating security situation in the Fallujah area, west of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, has become so dangerous that no American soldier or Iraqi security staff responded to the murderous attack against the ill-fated contractors. The Sunni Triangle is rapidly becoming a sort of Iraqi version of the Bermuda Triangle for any foreigner who dares venture in. They might enter in, but never leave alive.

There are a number of police stations in Fallujah and a base of more than 4,000 Marines nearby. But even while the two vehicles burned, sending plumes of thick, black smoke over the shuttered shops of the city, there were no ambulances, fire engines or security sent to try to save the victims of Wednesday’s attack. This time, there were no Blackhawks flying to the rescue. Fallujah’s streets were abandoned to the chaotic, violent crowds rejoicing amid battered human remains.

We are now less than 90 days from the scheduled hand-over date of July 1, when the U.S. administration in Iraq in principle is due to return sovereignty to an Iraqi government. With mounting attacks and insecurity rising, it would be pertinent to ask: In what shape will the country be — and more specifically, to whom will the United States turn over the country?

Some American officials involved in the postwar planning of Iraq compare the situation in present-day Iraq to that of post-World War II Germany and Japan — defeated armies, bombed cities, devastated economies, ravaged infrastructures and no existing political structure to assume the mantle of leadership.

What they tend to omit saying is that in both Germany and Japan there was no conspicuous resistance to American and Allied occupation. Additionally, Japan retained its emperor, who continued wielding enormous prestige and authority and assisted the U.S. occupation and reconstruction there.

Such is not the case in Iraq, which has never been closer to civil war. Doubtless, some will criticize such predictions as naysaying and defeatist. However, it might be worth recalling that predictions of attacks by anti-occupation resistance — whether remnants of the defeated Ba’ath Party, Islamist activists from outside the country, or a combination of both — were made well before the start of the war.

The situation today, as the clock ticks down on direct U.S. involvement in Iraq, is appallingly frightful, with terrorism yet again rising. The targets now, besides the coalition forces, include Iraqis working for, or associated with, Westerners.

The regime change, for which more than 600 Americans and hundreds of British, Italian and U.N. personnel as well as countless of Iraqis have given their lives, is indeed a dark memory. But no one now knows precisely what the future may hold. Will Iraq be able to make the transition to democracy? Or will power be usurped by a few, as seems likely at this point?

Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large for UPI and The Washington Times, noted this week that Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi “has emerged as the power behind a vacant throne” barely a year after returning from a 45-year exile.

Mr. Chalabi, it seems, is positioning to be the new eminence grise — the real power behind the presidential throne.

Will Iraq be able to sustain itself as a unified country after the July 1 handover, or will it risk being ripping apart internally? Unlike the Mogadishu firefight, the plot of the book and the movie on this story are far from finished.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.



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