Accessibility links

Corruption Watch: August 28, 2003

28 August 2003, Volume 3, Number 30
By Roman Kupchinsky

The rising tide of attacks on civilian infrastructure targets in Iraq has noticeably changed the nature of the guerilla/terrorist war in that country. A truck-bomb attack outside the United Nation's Baghdad headquarters on 19 August killed at least 17 people, including UN special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. The attack was one in a series of seemingly uncoordinated actions.

An earlier disruption to the water supply in Baghdad and the sabotage of an oil pipeline caused widespread dismay among the population, which often blames the United States for being unable to insure the country's peaceful transition to democratic rule.

The suicide bombing at the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad on 7 August, which killed 17 people, was judged by some to be further proof that those responsible for this, and other acts, are doing so to show the population of the country that U.S. forces have limited control over Iraq and that the anti-American forces operating in the country can choose their targets and successfully strike at will. Nobody has taken credit for those attacks and it is not known if the perpetrators were guerilla fighters controlled by deposed President Saddam Hussein, Al-Qaeda fighters, or other groups.

Analyzing these events for "The New York Times" on 20 August, Thom Shanker writes: "In recent weeks terrorists have conducted almost daily attacks on the American military. But after the bombing today there is a growing belief that anti-American fighters, whatever their origin and inspiration, have adopted a coherent strategy not only to kill members of allied forces when possible, but also to spread fear by destroying public offices and utilities."

Jessica Stern, a lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, noted the growing alienation of the population from the U.S. forces in Iraq in an op-ed article for "The New York Times" on 20 August. Stern writes: "According to a survey this month by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, nearly half of the Iraqis polled attribute the violence to provocation by American forces or resistance to the occupation (even more worrisome, the Arabic word for "resistance" used in the poll implies a certain amount of sympathy for the perpetrators). In the towns of Ramadi and Falluja, where many of the recent attacks have taken place, nearly 90 percent of respondents attributed the attacks to these causes."

"Stratfor" on 20 August noted that: "The incident (bombing of the UN headquarters) is part of a string of strikes against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. Taken in isolation, the attack against the U.N. headquarters is not particularly significant: Though tragic, it alone will not alter the U.S. military's situation in Iraq. However, as part of an emerging pattern, it signals a substantive strategy shift for the Iraqi guerrillas, who increasingly are focusing their strikes on infrastructure as opposed to isolated shootings."

The result of this strategy could force the United States to assign more military personnel to guard the numerous power plants, water-supply conduits, and the like. This, in turn, might necessitate the need for additional troops -- either from the United States or a multinational UN force to fill the gaps.

Another possible reason for the attacks on noncombatants and use of sabotage can be tied to the formation of the Iraqi Governing Council and its legitimacy in the eyes of the population. On 12 May, AP quoted Adel Nuri Muhammad, a leader of the Kurdistan Islamic Union as saying: "If the Americans do not get this done quickly [give the Governing Council more powers] they will lose even more legitimacy and popularity in the eyes of the Iraqi people and they will put themselves under enormous pressure. The new government, if it is a strong government, will have the respect of the Iraqi street, and people will obey it."

It is not uncommon that in such a situation, the opponents of such a governing council, in this case the pro-Hussein forces would gear their military and sabotage operations to discredit the Governing Council and show that it is incapable of governing.

Iraqi Governing Council member Nasir Chadirchi told Al-Jazeera in a 13 August interview that council members are working to revise parts of Iraq's penal code that relate to the current security problem. "Today, we began work on...some articles of the Iraqi Penal Code with regard to car theft, rape, sabotage of public services, and other issues," Chadirchi said. "Many articles will be changed and penalties will be made stricter." Asked about the legitimacy of the council, he replied: "The derived from the Iraqi people and UN Security Council Resolution 1483. We enjoy this legitimacy and we want to exercise it." (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003.)

In order to help legitimize the council, the United States presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council on 13 August seeking UN recognition of Iraq's Governing Council and authorizing a UN assistance mission to Iraq, "RFE/RL Newsline" reported on 14 August. The draft "welcomes the establishment of the broadly representative Governing Council of Iraq on 13 July" and calls the establishment of the council "an important step towards the formation by the people of Iraq of an internationally recognized, representative government that will exercise the sovereignty of Iraq." A possible response to this measure was the 19 August attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.

A similar strategy has been used in the Middle East, albeit for different reasons. In his memoirs, "The Revolt," Menachem Begin, a leader of the Irgun struggle against British rule in what was to later become Israel, wrote, "British Government departments have vast experience of ruling over foreign -- especially over backward -- peoples. We studied this experience. We learned that in general British officials avoid making their rule dependent on force, but rather on the power of prestige. They know that 'you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them.' It is much better to sit in their shadow.... History and our observations persuaded us that if we could succeed in destroying the government's prestige...the removal of its rule would follow automatically. Thenceforward we gave no peace to this weak spot. Throughout all the years of our uprising, we hit at the British Government's prestige, deliberately, tirelessly, unceasingly."

A large shipment of Russian-made military equipment was seized on 22 August at Riga International Airport by Latvian security and customs officials, AP reported the same day. Security officials said they believed that the shipment, which was due to depart on 17 August on a chartered plane, was bound for Iran.

Security police spokeswoman Kristine Apse told AP that "counterintelligence experts from the Latvian military were brought in to help identify the seized items. The experts determined the equipment was not likely destined for use by the Iranian army because it is old."

The equipment was more likely meant for use by "terrorist organizations for their equipment repairs and modernization," Apse said.

The shipment had a declared value of $315,000 and was financed through offshore bank accounts. Apse said police are investigating a Latvian company thought to be involved, but offered no further details.