Monday, February 21, 2005

The Infrastructure War against Baghdad

The New York Times reports extensively on the Iraqi insurgent campaign against Baghdad's infrastructure, specifically oil refining, electricity production and water supply. According to the Iraqi oil minister:
" "There is an organization, sort of a command-room operation," Thamir Ghadhban, the Iraqi oil minister, said Thursday in an interview. In his area of responsibility, Mr. Ghadhban said, "the scheme of the saboteurs is to isolate Baghdad from the sources of crude oil and oil products."

"And they have succeeded to a great extent," he said.

Mr. Ghadhban supported his assertions with a map showing that in November, December and January, in widely scattered attacks, insurgents simultaneously struck all three crude oil pipelines feeding the Doura fuel refinery in Baghdad. The refinery is the nation's largest producer of gasoline, kerosene and other refined products. During that period, more than 20 attacks occurred on a set of huge pipelines carrying things like oil, kerosene, gasoline and other fuels to Baghdad from oil fields and refineries in the north. In contrast, in the same region, the map shows an economically crucial crude oil pipeline - one that carries oil for export - was not attacked even once.

The map was prepared by his ministry by cataloging the exact coordinates, dates and nature of the attacks and combining that information with a detailed schematic of the web of pipelines, fuel depots, roads and refineries in and around Baghdad.

Those attacks caused widespread disruptions, including severe gasoline shortages. And Mr. Ghadhban said that when he tried to make up for the shortages by trucking the fuel in with tankers, saboteurs went after the fuel convoys and the bridges that they crossed to reach Baghdad."
Apparently, the campaign is now so well-organised that the targeting seems to take account of information as deep as the government's holdings of spare parts. Attacks on oil exports have apparently been canned in favour of a strategy of denying fuel to Baghdad, rather along the lines our dear colleague John Robb speaks of.

What could be the aim? Robb argues that it is to render the maintenance of the city itself increasingly costly and difficult. Presumably this would be intended to keep Iraq ungovernable with the pay-off that, were an insurgent-supported government to emerge, the squeeze could be lifted at once thus offering the public an immediate reward. But this also involves possibly undermining support for the insurgency among Baghdadis: choking off the city's energy sources is about the most indiscriminate weapon possible. Robb also used the term "controlled chaos" with regard to the use of "loyalists" in Iraq, as we discussed this weekend, and I think this is actually more like it. If they have the subtlety to control their campaign with regard to holdings of spares, then they also have the subtlety to control it according to political events and to geography/demography. Perhaps the aim is a sort of economic ethnic cleansing: if the shutdowns bear more heavily on the poor, and the poor of Baghdad are disproportionately Shia, this could be an effort to drive them out to the south.

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