Baghdad, city of bombs
( 2003-11-03 17:32) (economist.com)
When Paul Wolfowitz, America¡¯s deputy defence secretary, toured Iraq last weekend he was supposed to be talking up the progress made since the war to topple Saddam Hussein. Instead, he got a first-hand view of the violence wracking the country. Mr Wolfowitz was staying in the Rashid Hotel in central Baghdad when a barrage of missiles struck the building on the morning of Sunday October 26th. One floor below his room, an American colonel was killed. After being hustled out of the building, Mr Wolfowitz vowed manfully that such attacks would not deter America. ¡°We are getting the job done despite the desperate acts of a dying regime of criminals,¡± he said.
The White House publishes Mr Bush's comments at his press conference on Iraq. The US Central Command and the US Defence Department provide up-to-date news on the security situation in Iraq. See also the US State Department's information on Iraq and the UN's Iraq section. The Coalition Provisional Authority oversees the reconstruction efforts.
As the attacks mount (there are now about 25 a day), America is putting on a brave face. At a hastily called news conference on Tuesday, President George Bush acknowledged the obvious, that ¡°Iraq is a dangerous place¡±, but insisted that America's strategy was unchanged. Some officials have dismissed the bombers¡¯ tools¡ªimprovised explosive devices, AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and the like¡ªas flimsy when set against America¡¯s high-tech arsenal. But even these simple weapons have accomplished their goal of sowing discontent among both American occupiers and Iraqis. Many Iraqis have admitted being afraid to work for the Americans, and both the United Nations and the Red Cross will reduce their international staff in Iraq further after Monday's bombings. Moreover, the attacks appear to be getting more sophisticated, presumably as the resistance organises itself. There may be fewer looting incidents now than there were when Mr Bush proclaimed major combat operations over six months ago, but there are more guerrilla attacks, and they are better planned.
Paul Bremer, America¡¯s top administrator in Iraq, never tires of pointing out that most of the country is improving fast. He is right. Almost all of the attacks occur in a small section of central Iraq, known as the Sunni Triangle, whereas Shia and Kurdish areas, in the south and north respectively, tend to be calmer. Still, America has admitted that it was taken aback by the persistence of militants. ¡°We did not expect it would be quite this intense this long,¡± Colin Powell, America¡¯s secretary of state, told an NBC television programme. Mr Bush's decision to call a news conference highlights his concern about the political fallout back home. America is clearly struggling to penetrate the guerrillas¡¯ shadowy, diffuse network. Some of the attackers are remnants of Saddam¡¯s Baathist regime. Foreign fighters also appear to be involved. America has accused Syria of allowing guerrillas to slip across the border into Iraq; one of Monday's bombers (whose attack was foiled) was carrying a Syrian passport, according to an American general.
When will the atrocities end? The answer seems something of a conundrum. The attacks now target the American occupiers. But America may not leave Iraq until it is satisfied that the security situation is stable. Already, the upsurge of violence has forced America to put more troops there than military planners originally projected. Moreover, even if America pulled out soon (which it will not), the militants would almost certainly continue fighting, this time for political control.
America has other worries on its mind besides security. Chief among these is money. Rebuilding Iraq will cost $55 billion, according to projections by the World Bank, the United Nations and American officials in Iraq. America expects to stump up $20 billion of that; the rest must come from elsewhere. A donors¡¯ conference last week in Madrid netted another $17 billion or so. That amount still does not fill the gap. Moreover, aside from America's contribution it will mostly come in the form of loans, not grants, thus adding to Iraq¡¯s enormous pre-war debt. (James Wolfensohn, the World Bank's president, said on Wednesday that creditors should write off at least two-thirds of Iraq's debt.) Even if America somehow manages to bring the attacks against foreigners and Iraqi ¡°collaborators¡± under control, it still faces a long and hard exercise in nation-building.
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