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On How al-Anbar isn't that Safe - and on How its "Calm" is Artificially Produced
Friday, 07 September 2007 10:28
by Juan Cole

Bush made a surprise visit to Al-Anbar Province on Monday, as part of his propaganda drive to get Americans to think we should stay in Iraq because "progress" is being made.

The debate over al-Anbar province is driven by the Bushies' desire to find any 'good news' to grasp at. Indeed, from 2003 forward, their criterion for objective reporting on Iraq was that it gave the 'good news.' When there obviously wasn't any good news, they started ignoring Iraq, as at Fox [Republican TV] Cable News.

Now the 'good news' appears (I swear to God) to be that you can "walk" in Iraq. That's the good news. The 7 billion people in the world walk every day, in most of the world's locales. Now it is an achievement to walk. That's good news of the highest order. Only, if you are American in Fallujah you might need a company of Marines with you so that you can . . . walk. (See below).

Is al-Anbar Province really paradise, as Bush suggested?

Al-Anbar residents killed 20 US troops in July. The total US fatalities in July were 79 according to icasualties.org, and some of those were presumably from accidents, etc. So al-Anbar, despite being reduced to the stone age, managed to kill a fourth or more of all US troops killed in combat in July. Al-Anbar is roughly 1/24 of Iraq by population. So it killed six times more US troops than we would have expected based on its proportion of the Iraqi population.

That's what the Bushies are celebrating, that the deadly al-Anbar has been wrestled down to only killing a fourth of the US troops killed in a month. It used to be more.

In mid-July, There were about 100 violent attacks in a single week in al-Anbar. That's a bright spot. That's progress. Since the year before, there were 400 violent attacks in that same period.

Well, yes, that's a relative improvement. But a hundred violent attacks in a week? That's being touted as good news to be ecstatic over? There were probably on the order of 1100 attacks that week in all of Iraq. So al-Anbar generated nearly one-tenth of all attacks. But it is only 1/24 of Iraq by population, so it is more than twice as dangerous with regard to the number of attacks than you would expect from its small population.

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Fallujah, of course, was a trouble spot for the US military. I entertain dark suspicions that Bush had it destroyed for reasons of revenge. The November 2004 US assault damaged 2/3s of the buildings. Tens of thousands of former residents are still refugees.

One of the ways "calm" has been produced in the city is to simply forbid vehicular traffic. Since May, if you wanted to get somewhere in Fallujah, you have had to walk. So when the National Review tells us things are suddenly miraculously "calm" in al-Anbar, this is being produced artificially. Things would be calm in most hot spots if you could ban all forms of locomotion save walking.

The problem with producing calm by banning traffic is that it leaves you with a Somalia level of economic activity. IPS notes,

' Residents say unemployment is above 80 percent. Most of the rest who have some work are government employees. The huge industrial area has been closed by U.S. and Iraqi Army units '

80 percent unemployment? Now that is calm.

"Calm" has also been produced by death squad activity. IPS notes,

' Hundreds of suspected resistance fighters are now held at the Fallujah police station. Many have been killed on the streets; the police speak of finding "unidentified bodies". Several of those found dead had been arrested earlier, eyewitnesses and families of several of the men killed have said.'

So obviously if you round up a lot of young men and hold them without charge, and if you wipe out some others, "calm" is produced.

Another way of producing "calm" is to silence local journalists. Some have been arbitrarily arrested and then let go, with instructions to report the news as the Iraqi police tell them to. So we don't really know much about what is actually happening in Fallujah.

IPS quotes a local Sunni cleric:

' "To say Fallujah is quiet is true, and you can see it in the city streets," said Shiek Salim from the Fallujah Scholars' Council. "The city is practically dead, and the dead are quiet.'

So, all these measures — banning traffic, rounding up young men, silencing the journalists, etc. — have at least ended the attacks on US troops, right? Wrong.

It was only last week; I mean, August 28 was not that long ago, but this one is already forgotten:

"BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber detonated a vest packed with explosives in a Sunni Arab mosque in Fallujah yesterday, killing 10 worshipers, including the imam, and shattering what had been a period of relative calm for a region once the most volatile hotbed of Iraq's insurgency."

Now, if ten worshippers were killed in a church just last week in a small US city of 200,000, would Congressmen be flocking there to proclaim how wonderful the security situation was?

Just a month before, a bomber killed two policemen in Fallujah and wounded 11 others.

On July 23, a female suicide bomber killed 7 policemen at a checkpoint in downtown Ramadi.

On July 8, a truck bomb killed 23 persons at a police recruiting center in Haswa, al-Anbar province.

On Monday there was this in Ramadi:

' A suicide car bomb attacked an Iraqi security checkpoint on highway near the city of Ramadi in the western province of Anbar on Monday, killing two security members and wounding three others, a provincial police source said. '

Think Progress noticed this exchange between CNN's Wolf Blitzer and starry-eyed returnee from Fallujah, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA).

"BOUSTANY: We’re clearly seeing some major improvements. Clearly in the Anbar Province, we’ve seen significant improvement. We were able to walk the streets of Fallujah. Sectarian deaths are down.


BLITZER: And Congressman Boustany, you say that the number of casualties is going down. But we took a closer look — and The Los Angeles Times did as well — citing Iraqi Health Ministry numbers. In June, it was 1,227 civilian deaths in Iraq. In July, it went up to 1,753 civilian deaths in Iraq. And in August, the month that just ended, 1,773 civilian deaths in Iraq. Those numbers are going in the wrong direction.

BOUSTANY: Well, I think what I mentioned earlier, Wolf, was the number of attacks. And, clearly, we have to look at all the metrics very carefully.

BLITZER: But statistics — you can play a lot of room with statistics. In terms of dead people, civilians, Iraqi dead people, those numbers are high and they’re getting worse, despite the increased military troop levels of the United States, the so-called surge having been in effect over the past couple of months.

BOUSTANY: Well, Wolf, I want to point out that just two or three months ago, I would have never thought that four members of Congress would be able to walk through the streets of Fallujah. That’s a major…

BLITZER: But you had a lot of security with you. You had a lot of U.S. military protection.

BOUSTANY: We had a platoon of Marines.

BLITZER: Yes, well, a platoon of Marines is a lot of Marines to walk through Fallujah. . .

Good for Wolf!

As for Bush,he knows that good news would be the Sunni Arabs in al-Anbar gladly signing on to the al-Maliki government.
From 1999 until 2004, Juan Cole was the editor of The International Journal of Middle East Studies. He has served in professional offices for the American Institute of Iranian Studies. He was elected president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America in November 2004. In 2006 Cole was nominated to teach at Yale University and was approved by Yale's sociology and history departments; however, the senior appointments committee overruled the nomination.Cole continues to teach at the University of Michigan.
He blogs at www.juancole.com 
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