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|Will Iraq Turn Into Somalia?|
Washington, 4 July 2003 (Arab News) - Since early May, one American soldier, on average, has been killed by hostile action every two days in carrying out the military occupation of Iraq. The death toll of six British soldiers, killed in one day in southern Iraq, was the largest daily casualty toll for the UK forces including the early days of battle.
If this is peace, why does it seem like continuing war? US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has sought to diminish the effect of the casualties, comparing the fatalities to the high death toll on Washington D.C. streets in the drug and gang wars of the past.
But the situation in Iraq has begun to resonate with the press and television, with some commentators suggesting that the military forces were woefully unprepared for the kind of violent anarchy that should have been anticipated by the Pentagon planners.
Some Americans who were opposed to the war in the first place have begun to demand that American forces be removed before the casualties climb any higher.
The developing situation has begun to have an eerie resemblance to an earlier military fiasco, the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia in 1993, when 18 American soldiers were killed in an urban brawl with thousands of Somalis.
That battle - recounted in the book, Blackhawk Down, by reporter Mark Bowden - was the result of a gaping cultural gap between the American troops who were there on a humanitarian mission to feed the population and the Islamic tribesmen who saw the Americans as a colonial troop come to subjugate them.
The pictures of American corpses being dragged through the streets of the crowded Somali city as children poked them with sticks and kicked them were run endlessly on CNN. President Bill Clinton, on a political trip in the western United States at the time, was stunned by what he saw: How could this happen?
The first act of the tragedy that ensued was the precipitous withdrawal of the American troops, which officially came under a United Nations command. That triggered a new wave of tribal warfare and the end of humanitarian food supplies for the Somalis who had already been on the brink of starvation. Thus the Somalis were the first victims as the food supplies dried up.
In a wider repercussion, the Clinton administration like the current Bush administration in Washington was already focused on reelection. Clinton made the decision that the US forces would no longer get entangled in tribal or cultural wars that they were not prepared to fight or did not really understand.
Then came the Rwanda genocide. Although it was known in Washington what was happening in Rwanda - one of the largest and most brutal ethnic massacres in recent history - the United States stood aloof. Following the American lead, so did the Europeans. This has been succeeded by other, sometimes incomprehensible, struggles in the Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In all of them, the United States remained essentially uninvolved. When the Bush administration took control, the new mantra was that Iraq was an imminent threat to the United States and Saddam Hussein had to be removed. The second clause in the Bush mantra - in remembrance of Somalia and the disastrous political fallout of those ghastly televised pictures - was: The United States will not become involved in nation building.
Ironically, Bush has done a full about-face, having realized that nation-building is an unavoidable corollary to regime-removing - as in Afghanistan and now in Iraq.
The Bush administration is now at the decision point. It is whether to cut its losses in Iraq and avoid another Somali political catastrophe, or to increase its involvement and further raise the stakes in Iraq.
Among the issues at risk is President George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004.