Friday, June 20, 2003

# Posted 10:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IRAQI CONFUSION CONTINUES: As I have observed more than once before, it is often impossible to reconcile conflicting accounts of whether the occupation of Iraq is accomplishing anything at all. Nick Kristof describes it as a fiasco. Tom Friedman points to some important accomplishment but thinks we could be doing better.

Unsurprisingly, Paul Bremer is proud of what he has accomplished. More interesting, however, is Bremer's stated intention of opening Iraq to international trade and investment. The directness of Bremer's announcement suggests that he isn't concerned about potential critics who will immediately denounce the opening of the Iraqi economy as a reflection of American self-interest.

The most disturbing criticism of the occupation comes from even-tempered WaPo columnist David Ignatius, who charges that Bremer "is turning what was a war of liberation into a war of occupation." Ignatius' case in point is the planned election in Najaf that Bremer cancelled at the last minute.

While Ignatius' concern about elections is well-meant, his demand for national -- as opposed to local -- self-government seems dangerously misguided given the intensity of fighting in central Iraq. I am much more confident in the United States' ability to lead the charge against the Ba'ath than I am in the ability of an interim Iraqi government.

"Leading the charge", however, is not the same as doing all the work. Perhaps to complement the NYT's insistence that our soldiers' morale is dangerously low, the WaPo now has a front-page report making exactly the same point. While I am often suspicious of the way in which the most critical soldiers get the most attention in such stories, it does seem fair to say that we are asking our troops to do a job they weren't exactly trained for.

On the combat front, things seem to be going rather well despite reckless descriptions of anti-Ba'athist operations as a quagmire. If you read the WaPo's latest report on the capture of the Ace of Diamonds, you begin to get a sense of how desperate the top leadership of the deposed government has become.

Abid Hamid Mahmoud spent his last hours as a fugitive in the house of a couple who didn't even want him there. Mahmoud had no significant weapons, cash resources, nor means of transportation. (The WaPo article clarifies earlier reports which suggested that Mahmoud was found along with $8.5 million in cash. In fact, the cash was found during a different raid.)

Mahmoud's desperate condition suggests that the Ba'ath has not been effective in organizing resistance and that it's support among the population is rather shallow. With any luck, such conditions will result in the ultimate capture of Saddam Hussein, who has been pronounced alive (if not well) according to US experts. [UPDATE: Mahmoud himself has claimed that Saddam is alive.]

Finally, we come to the greatest mystery of all: The WMD. While no new evidence has turned up, uber-expert Ken Pollack (and former Clinton NSC staffer) has published a long essay in the NYT which argues that the President was fundamentally right about Saddam's WMD presenting a very serious threat, even if certain administration officials exaggerated at times in order to make a compelling case for an immediate invasion.

So, how is the occupation going? It could be a lot worse.
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