Election offensive

Al-Ahram Weekly, Egypt
Oct 21 – 27, 2004

Election offensive

Intensifying US military operations in Iraq is designed to minimise
any damage to Bush’s re-election chances, reports Khaled Dawoud from

Before Ramadan had even begun US officials were predicting an upsurge
in violence during the month of fasting, hardly good news for
President Bush’s reelection campaign.

In recent polls Bush has looked increasingly vulnerable over Iraq,
with his administration’s conduct of the war regularly recording a 58
per cent disapproval rating. The US president has faced growing
criticisms, not only over the absence of any exit strategy but also
over inadequate planning for the conflict itself. With the number of
US soldiers killed in military operations now standing at 1,100, and
a further 6,000 wounded, the nightmare scenario for Bush’s campaign
managers is the possibility of even heavier US casualties ahead of
the closely contested 2 November US election.

Pentagon officials have apparently decided that their best option is
to go on the offensive instead of waiting for attacks by Iraqi
resistance fighters, one result being the sudden escalation of
violence in Falluja which has left scores of Iraqi civilians dead,
including children.

US officials claim the town is a haven for resistance fighters,
including those loyal to Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi whose group, Al-
Tawhid wa Al-Jihad, the US State Department this week added to its
list of terrorist organisations. Al-Zarqawi already tops Washington’s
most-wanted list together with Osama Bin Laden: a $25 million reward
has been posted for information leading to the capture, or death, of

Falluja, already under tight siege, has been subject to sustained
artillery and aerial bombardment by US troops. The operation, say
military spokesmen, has nothing to do with US elections but is
intended to secure the town ahead of Iraq’s own January poll.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said he expected
American troops to continue working alongside the newly formed Iraqi
army to secure control of major cities in the Sunni Triangle ahead of
the vote: “We’ll see our coalition forces working with Iraqis, going
in other towns in the [Sunni] Triangle because the Triangle is the
centre of gravity of all of this. In military terms, this is where
the main attack, main effort has to be. And if we can get the
Triangle under control, then you give those people the freedom to
participate in the political process and take their anger out, or
their disappointments out, in the political process and not on the

Some commentators argue that the recent spate of offensive operations
in Iraq is an attempt to undermine the arguments of anti- war critics
who claim that, with Iraq spiralling out of control, the January
elections will have to be cancelled.

US occupation authorities have already given their blessing to a plan
by Iraq’s interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, to trade weapons for
cash in Sadr city, a stronghold of Shia resistance led by Moqtada
El-Sadr. The deadline for the exchange has been extended several
times, and on Monday Allawi announced the same scheme would be
extended to cover other large cities. The sudden rehabilitation of
Al-Sadr, who led a bloody rebellion in the holy city of Najaf earlier
this summer, is another indication of the compromises the Bush
administration is willing to make to calm the situation in Iraq ahead
of US elections.

Such compromises, though, have yet to staunch the flow of bad news
coming out of Iraq. The recent refusal by 19 US soldiers based in
south Iraq to drive fuel trucks to the city of Taji because, they
claimed, of inadequate vehicle maintenance and the absence of any
protection from armoured vehicles and helicopters, was quickly seized
on by the Kerry campaign.

Though Pentagon spokesmen sought to play down the incident,
describing it as “isolated”, it played into the hands of President
Bush’s opponent, who has repeatedly attacked the administration for
sending American troops to Iraq without adequate or sufficient

The Kerry campaign has highlighted reports of how families of some US
soldiers had to buy their relatives bullet proof jackets before the
army provided them with badly needed supplies. US soldiers on the
ground in Iraq have also been quoted as saying they had to improvise
armour for vehicles in order to protect them from road side bombs.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials remained tightlipped on their request
to move British troops into central Iraq. The move, intended to free
US troops for operations in Falluja and other resistance strongholds,
lends weight to charges that the Bush administration did not send
enough troops to Iraq in the first place.

The Pentagon request follows disclosures that a number of close US
allies are planning to pull out of Iraq in response to the
deteriorating security situation. Poland and Ukraine have both
announced they will withdraw troops at the beginning of next year
while Armenia, which had planned to send a nominal 50 troops, said
this week it had changed its mind, fearing reprisals against Iraq’s
small Armenian minority.

On Monday The Washington Post reported that Lieutenant General
Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of US troops in Iraq, had written
to the Pentagon at the beginning of the year warning of inadequate
troop numbers and urgently requesting spare parts. That letter
coincided with announcements by the White House and the Pentagon that
US occupation troops in Iraq had everything necessary to fulfil their

Despite mounting evidence no one expects the Bush administration to
concede it has put a foot wrong in Iraq two weeks before the
elections. Should Bush win on 2 November, though, the White House
will revise its Iraq strategy in a tacit admission that something
more than the minor “miscalculations” Bush recently conceded have
been made.

Until then Iraqi civilians and more US troops will continue to pay a
heavy price.