28 October 2003
Whoever was responsible for the series of attacks in Baghdad yesterday, and more than one group may have been involved, they were successful in their murderous intent.
With scores killed and more than 100 people wounded, it was the bloodiest day in the Iraqi capital since hostilities, formal hostilities that is, ceased a few months ago. It was also an especially grievous terrorist assault because, on this occasion, the Red Cross has been targeted, a clearly non-combatant body intent on nothing more than providing humanitarian relief to the long- suffering Iraqi people.
Perhaps the Red Cross HQ was perceived as a soft Western target; perhaps the terrorists were driven to distraction by the presence in Baghdad of the aggressively neo-conservative deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Mr Wolfowitz managed to escape a missile attack on the al-Rashid hotel over the weekend. In any case, life for the aid agencies, occupying forces and ordinary Iraqis alike is not getting very much better very quickly.
Needless to say, the Red Cross must not leave Iraq or scale down its operations there in response to the outrage. As with the bombing of the UN headquarters, the terrorists obviously want that to happen, to destabilise the situation and increase the pressure on the Allies. The UN has already reduced its presence in Iraq.
One of the many obligations the Americans and British have as a result of their ill-starred invasion is to all the international bodies and aid agencies, whose job has been made infinitely more difficult because of the presence of thousands of Allied troops on Iraqi soil. The US and British governments owe it to the Red Cross, the UN and others to make their work as secure as possible, without making them into clients of the Allied occupation - a difficult balance to achieve.
Longer-term issues are also raised by the continuing terrorism. The obvious question is whether the American-led coalition needs to change its strategy, if "strategy" is not too ambitious a word for the present policy of the occupation powers. The Iraqi governing council plainly does not enjoy the allegiance of many Sunni Iraqis and is increasingly detached from the Shia community. In their enthusiasm for deploying Turkish troops, the Americans even risk alienating the Kurds, previously extremely reliable and indeed grateful allies.
Having fractured the Baathist regime, the Allies have still not been able to put anything in its place remotely resembling a strong civil authority with a monopoly on internal law and order. Indeed, the Allies seem to be intent on keeping such matters to themselves; hence, perhaps, the number and frequency of terror attacks on Iraqi police stations, sometimes with Allied soldiers inside.
This is not a plea for the return of some "strong man" to rule Iraq, still less for the return of Saddam, embarrassingly still at large. It is, however, to signal that the current occupation enjoys little domestic legitimacy and still less among the international community. That is a problem. It could be solved, or at least alleviated, by internationalising the Iraqi state, that is placing it under some sort of UN-mandated rule. It is no guarantee of peace - after all, the UN has been a terrorist target in the past - but, crucially, it would end the perception, and to some degree the reality, of America as an imperialist, hegemonic occupying power. It could - just - mark the beginning of a free, federal Iraq with a more representative government. The alternative is an indefinite US-led occupation more and more under siege and less and less in control of events.
The terrorists want the Allied occupation to become heavier, harsher, with more brutality to provoke more Iraqis into more acts of resistance. In fact, it doesn't matter how many American, British, Polish or Turkish troops are sent to Iraq; it is a foreign occupation, essentially an unstable situation, and it is no way to win the peace.