After five months of confusion, bickering, dickering, dithering, and strong-arm tactics from Zalmay Khalilzad, our ambassador to Iraq and various high American officials arriving on the fly, Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki has reportedly chosen his cabinet and a government will evidently be established in Baghdad's Green Zone. At the moment, its reach seems unlikely to extend much beyond the American-protected berms and fortifications of that citadel-mini-state. In the meantime, what governmental authority still existed in Iraq seems to be rapidly on the wane -- and not just in largely Sunni areas of the country either. (In parts of Sunni al-Anbar province, however, according to Mathieu GuidÃ¨re and Peter Harling of Le Monde Diplomatique, control seems to be passing into other "governing" hands: "A formal procedure is in place for lorry drivers to pay an insurance fee [to insurgent groups] that allows them to cross the governorate, as long as they are not supplying the enemy.")
In the city of Basra, in the Shiite south, the reliable British journalist Patrick Cockburn reports that, according to an Iraqi defense ministry official, an average of one assassination an hour is taking place, and local police "no longer dare go to the site of a murder because they fear being attacked." Indeed, when a tribal leader was recently killed by men in police uniforms, a local police station was promptly sacked and 11 policemen killed. Reprisal murders of every sort seem to be sweeping the country as a complex, low-level civil war only grows more intense. In fact, Middle Eastern scholar Juan Cole now regularly begins his daily blog at his Informed Comment website with lines like: "The Iraqi Civil War took the lives of another 42 persons on Tuesday.")
None of this seems to have slowed the Sunni insurgency. It is, if anything, better organized than a year ago and, as a result, American military deaths for the first half of May now stand at 45, the highest figure in many months, though those deaths are happening in twos and threes, largely due to roadside bombs, and rarely make the front pages of American newspapers anymore. At the same time, the use of air power and artillery against Iraqi cities, towns, and villages by the U.S. military remains commonplace (though, again, barely noted in the American press). Here are typical passages buried in Iraq round-up stories: This in relation to the town of Yusufiyah: "The ground troops called for more air support, and jets and helicopters pounded the enemy positions, killing approximately 20 more suspected insurgents... a powerful airstrike by U.S.-led forces caused many families in the area to flee. The strike killed several civilians... and leveled houses. 'We spent a long, scary night with our families and children,' Qaraghouli said." Or this little phrase in relation to fighting in the city of Ramadi: "...U.S. troops engaged in intense, close-quarters combat with a large force of insurgents, killing several with gunfire and artillery strikes, according to residents of the area."
Here's a typical U.S. Air Force description of a day's action in Iraq: "Air Force F-15 Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons and Navy F/A-18 Hornets provided close-air support to coalition troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Al Hawijah, Al Iskandariyah, Al Mahmudiyah, Baghdad and Hawijah." (Full reports on daily air action can be found by clicking here.)
The results of the U.S. occupation are increasingly apparent for anyone who cares to look, most recently in a UN-backed government survey of malnutrition among Iraq's children, which has soared to "alarming levels." (Nearly one in ten children "aged between six months and five years, suffered acute malnourishment," according to the report, far beyond levels of malnutrition in the worst moments of Saddam's rule.)
At his blog, AP Reporter Robert Reid catches something of what daily life is like in electricity-starved Baghdad, even for a Western reporter, with a description of how to shower when the water briefly and miraculously starts flowing. "It's pitch dark, but at my age, I know where the body parts are anyway... Now comes the tricky part: shaving in the dark. Only a real optimist would even bother to take an electric razor to Baghdad. I fumble in the dark, my hands finding the shaving cream on the counter and the razor, hidden on the corner where it fell in my earlier search for the soap..." And so on -- in the capital of ever-devolving Iraq.
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, and of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing.]