US and UK admit Iraq poll won’t end violence
BAGHDAD: Violence in Iraq is unlikely to subside after Sunday’s election and may well get worse before it gets better, US and British officials say, a sentiment seconded by many Iraqis.
But the officials maintain the mainly Sunni Muslim insurgency against American and British troops and their Iraqi government allies is cracking and will be defeated in time.
In the run-up to Sunday’s poll, expectations have been widespread for a spike in Iraq’s regular fare of suicide bombs, mortar attacks and shootings.
Activity has indeed risen from 29 attacks on US and Iraqi forces countrywide last Saturday, to 45 on Monday and 98 on Thursday. But the violence has been less dramatic than feared.
That may be due to extraordinary security measures put in place by US and Iraqi forces in the past few days, limiting the ability of insurgents to operate. Or it could be because militants are biding their time, waiting for their moment.
Either way, it may not be long before those opposed to Sunday’s vote launch an onslaught to make their hostility clear. Al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has vowed to do all he can to disrupt the poll.
“This insurgency’s going to continue and it could very well get worse in the short term,” a senior US diplomat said this week, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if there was an increase in political assassinations in the weeks ahead.
“People need to know that this is a long-term process. There is not a quick fix, it’s not going to get better overnight.”
Iraqis also expect a surge in violence after Sunday, reckoning insurgents will seek revenge, targeting local security forces and voters, whose fingers will be marked with hard-to-remove ink after they cast their ballots.
“If the election goes well, the insurgents are going to be angry, they’re going to want to get their own back,” Zayed Ahmed, a security guard in Baghdad, said on Saturday.
“They will attack us, and denounce the Shi’ites, but then I think this thing will begin to go away,” he said. Other Iraqis voice similar views, although they remain fearful and expect it to be a some time before the militant war wanes.
Some US and British officials are casting Sunday’s vote as a referendum, seeing participation as a thumbs-down to the violence gripping Iraq for nearly two years.
“Every vote on Sunday is a vote against the insurgency,” a senior British military officer said this week, although he added that he didn’t expect attacks to decline any time soon.
He said that while militants are still capable of carrying out attacks almost at will, they are becoming less effective, and Iraqi security forces are more adept at outwitting them. There are signs suicide car bombers are losing their edge. He puts the improvement down to the Iraqi security forces. They are being rapidly beefed up, have a more aggressive approach and are developing better intelligence, he said.
“People in the insurgency are beginning to see that time is running out. When they see the step up in quantity and quality of the Iraqi forces in the coming months, it’s really going to have an impact,” he said.
“They know the insurgency is taking them nowhere. It’s weakening and it’s going to be defeated, sooner or later.” reuters