Analysis: Mogadishu revisited?

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI International Editor   |   March 31, 2004 at 5:08 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 31 (UPI) -- It happened again. Last time it was in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, in October 1993, that a wild mob attacked downed American helicopter pilots and crew, dragging them from the wreck of their Blackhawk, mutilating their bodies and in the process humiliating the U.S. effort to help the war-ravaged East African nation out of its 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 being often referred to as 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 shaping up to become a sort of Iraqi version of the Bermuda Triangle for any foreigner who dares venture in it. They might get in, but never leave it 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 dispatched to try and rescue the victims of Wednesday's attack. This time, there were no Blackhawks to fly to the rescue. Instead, Fallujah's streets were abandoned to the jubilant, chaotic and violent crowds who rejoiced 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 is -- in principle -- due to return sovereignty of the country to an Iraqi government. With mounting attacks and insecurity in Iraq rising, a pertinent question to ask at this time would be: In what shape will the country be, and more specifically, to whom will the United States turn the country over?

Some American officials involved in the post-war 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 resistance to the American and Allied occupation. Additionally, Japan retained its emperor who continued to wield enormous prestige and authority and assisted the American occupation and rebuilding efforts.

Such is not the case in Iraq where the country has never been closer to the brink of civil war. Doubtless, there will be those who will criticize such predictions as nay saying and defeatist. However, it might be worth recalling that predictions of attacks by anti-occupation resistance -- be it remnants of the defeated Baath Party, Islamist activists from outside the country, or a combination of the two -- were made well before the start of the war.

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

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

Arnaud de Borchgrave, UPI's editor at large, noted Monday that Ahmad Chalabi, the Pentagon's heartthrob, barely a year since he returned to his homeland after 45 years of exile, "has emerged as the power behind a vacant throne."

Chalabi, it seems, is positioning to become the new éminence grise -- the real power behind the presidential throne.

Will Iraq be able to sustain itself as a unified country after the July 1 hand over, or will it risk being ripping apart by internal civil strife? Unlike the Mogadishu firefight, the plot of the book and the movie on this story is far from finished.

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