With no end in sight to the recent escalation in violence between Iraqi insurgents and coalition forces, Deutsche Welle spoke to German Army Gen. Klaus Reinhardt about the prospects for peace in Iraq.
The insurgents of Falluja
The violent clashes that erupted across Iraq in recent days have been the worst since combat operations officially ended in May. But a rash of foreign kidnappings, which have been an effective method for Iraqi resistance fighters to put pressure on the United States-led occupying forces, are proving even more troublesome. About 40 hostages from 12 countries are reportedly being held; and there has been no further news about two German security agents who are believed to be dead.
Despite the coalition troops' failure to stamp out the insurgency, U.S. President George W. Bush insists Washington will stay the course in Iraq, and even send more troops if needed. In a prime-time news conference on Tuesday, Bush repeated his conviction that the invasion was the right decision. But he remained vague on the question of who will assume power when the coalition forces transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30.
German General Klaus Reinhardt.
Given these developments, German Army Gen. Klaus Reinhardt (photo), the former commander of the NATO-led Kosovo force KFOR, is pessimistic about the prospects for peace and stability in Iraq. Deutsche Welle spoke with Reinhardt about the latest uprising against the occupying powers in Iraq, and what, if anything, the U.S. can do to regain the support of the Iraqi people.
In Iraq, we're seeing daily attacks on the occupying powers and their supporters and now the frequent hostage takings -- what kind of war has this become for the US and its allies?
It's become a proper guerrilla war, and the insurgents have resorted to the simplest of methods, namely hostage-taking, to put political pressure on the allies to remove the occupying forces. It's a very difficult situation, because when hostages are involved the question always arises, what should one do to free them? And the political pressure on the U.S. has massively increased because of this strategy. In addition to this, in Falluja, we have the Sunnis, as well as the forces for radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who are fighting against the Americans. So there's a multi-faceted uprising against the U.S., and now the Americans have to use all the means at their disposal -- particularly political means -- to somehow get the population in Iraq behind them again.
Does that mean that you don't see any further military means by which the U.S. could get the conflict back under control?
Military force could certainly be used to dampen the conflict, but it won't bring about any sort of lasting peace or order in the country because violence only fosters counter-violence. We see this in Falluja at the moment. The Americans started an operation to avenge the deaths of the four murdered U.S. soldiers, and this action caused considerable losses on both sides, as well as among the civilian population. That has brought about renewed resistance there. We also see that the Shiites and Sunnis are trying to band together against the Americans under the motto that they are first and foremost Iraqis and Muslims and, secondly, Sunnis and Shiites. And this could very quickly lead to the start of a fundamental uprising.
The U.S. has obviously underestimated the amount of resistance to an occupying power in Iraq. In your opinion, was this development to be expected? What have the Americans done wrong?
In the decisive time directly after the war ended, when the wave of plundering and murdering began, the Americans put the basic requirements of the civilian population in question. It was during this time that the waterworks, the power networks and many schools, for example, were destroyed. And that's when the Americans basically lost the trust of the Iraqi people, who were hoping that life would get better after Saddam Hussein. As long as the Americans aren't able to improve conditions for the Iraqis, as long as they are unable to change how they are perceived from occupier to friends committed to helping Iraq over the long term, then it seems to me that the Americans have lost their credibility.
Could the difficulties also lie in the fact that the U.S. has very little experience as an occupying power compared with, for example, Britain?
Well, the U.S. performed the role of occupier very well in Germany after World War II, but after that, they seemed to always rely very heavily on military strength to overpower the populations in countries they'd invaded, and with violence, they've only ever had limited success. Particularly in Muslim countries where the clan structures are very strong, where clans have traditionally been responsible for avenging the deaths of their members, the U.S. has used military force. In doing so, it has created a basic perception in those populations of the Americans as occupiers, and that's always a negative perception.
You've said that the best chance now lies in political dialogue, but have the Americans through their use of military force lost all credibility when it comes to a political solution?
I think the dialogue has to be led with those people who are supposed to have a say in the future of Iraq. The Americans want to hand over power to Iraq's governing council, but the question is firstly, do they have the right people on the council, and secondly, shouldn't those people who are supposed to take over Iraq's political leadership as of July already be more strongly involved in matters so that they could encourage their fellow Iraqis to abandon violence and distance themselves from those who are carrying out violent acts.