February 13, 2004

Balkanization Afoot in Iraq?


From a FT piece (headlined above the cover in paper edition):

"A confidential report prepared by the US-led administration in Iraq says that the attacks by insurgents in the country have escalated sharply, prompting fears of what it terms Iraq's "Balkanisation". The findings emerged after a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the top US general in Iraq, John Abizaid, on Thursday.

"January has the highest rate of violence since September 2003," the report said. "The violence continues despite the expansion of the Iraqi security services and increased arrests by coalition forces in December and January."

The report, which is based on military data and circulated to foreign organisations by the US aid agency USAid, diverges with public statements by US officials who claim that security in the country is improving.

"The security risks are not as bad as they appear on TV," Tom Foley, the coalition official overseeing Iraq's private-sector development, said at the US Commerce Department headquarters in Washington on Wednesday. "Western civilians are not the targets themselves. These are acceptable risks."

According to the report, "January national review of Iraq", strikes against international and non-governmental organisations increased from 19 to 26 in January. It said that high-intensity attacks involving mortars and explosives grew by 103 per cent from 316 in December to 642 in January; non-life threatening attacks, including drive-by shootings and rock-throwing, soared by 186 per cent from 182 in December. It also recorded an average of eight attacks a day in Baghdad alone, up from four a day in September, and a total of 11 attacks on coalition aircraft."

O.K. but why the language about Balkanization?

This bit:

"The report makes clear how dependent Iraq's stability is on investment in the country's economy. "A fear of some is the 'Balkanisation' of Iraq if security, economic and infrastructure situations do not improve," it says.

It attributed much of the civilian violence to rising ethnic tensions between Kurds, Shias and Sunnis, noting that several bodies were found in the south "with hands bound and bullet wounds to the head."

Others like Martin Indyk, as I've blogged before, find Iraq-as-Yugoslavia arguments overwrought.

Speaking of overwrought, is this story about a leaked USAID memo: a) for real and, if so b) too pessimistic regardless?

Even the NYT sees qualified progress.

"Since peaking in mid-November, attacks against American soldiers have dropped by more than half, and the gun battles between American soldiers and Iraqi insurgents that used to mark daily life in many cities and towns seem in many places to be on the wane.

At the same time, attacks have increasingly focused on Iraqi civilians, particularly those who are seen to be collaborating with the American-led occupation.

And the attacks are less likely to involve rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs from Baathist arsenals.

Instead, suicide bombings have aimed to inflict maximum damage on Iraqi institutions like the police and military that are central to the American effort to turn over the reins of government by June 30."

Hard to say which story better captures the state of play. Guess that's part of the proverbial "fog of war."

But I would say that I think the FT is the most credible paper in the U.K.

Put differently, if this article had appeared in the Guardian or, even worse, the Independent--I would dismiss it with nary a thought.

But if it's in the relatively august pages of the FT--I take it pretty seriously, ie. the chances that there is a real USAID report that really is this gloomy and that really was leaked is pretty high.

More soon on Iraq's future--particularly the specter of inter-communal strife.

UPDATE: Any readers who have more information on the merits of the FT story, or any links to additional press coverage re: the alleged USAID report generally, are invited to E-mail such information in.

Thanks in advance.

Posted by Gregory at February 13, 2004 03:25 PM
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