by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
April 10, 2008
PROGRESS? FIVE YEARS AFTER BAGHDAD'S FALL, THERE ISN'T MUCH
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The dog-and-pony show that was the testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker is now done.
They vigorously tried to put a fresh coat of lipstick on the pig that is the ongoing U.S. occupation of Iraq. But as they departed Capitol Hill, there was news of increased violence in the Sadr City slum of Baghdad that left nearly two dozen Iraqis dead on Wednesday. Seventeen U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since Sunday.
Yet Crocker and Petraeus keep talking about the progress made in Iraq since the so-called surge last year.
Wednesday's violence was yet another sign that there is little progress to be seen. In the words of reporter Nir Rosen in the latest issue of The Nation, Baghdad today is a set of "fiefdoms run by warlords and militia men" with "no reconciliation among the various warring communities."
Here's an example of the "progress." A couple of weeks ago, there was a big battle in Basra between the Iraqi army, trained and funded by the United States, and the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
You might figure that after $22 billion and years of training by U.S. forces, the Iraqi army could hold its own against a partially trained and not as well-equipped militia.
Instead, according to published reports, about one-third to half of the Iraqi soldiers and policemen either deserted, surrendered or fought half-heartedly until they could be saved by U.S. firepower. The other Iraqis, that supposedly "ragtag" militia, fought with more initiative and skill against a supposedly superior force until they were called off the battlefield by al-Sadr.
Old military hands who remember the American experience in Vietnam know exactly what happened in Basra. It was no different than countless battles in Vietnam, when U.S. forces trained and supplied the Vietnamese army, only to see them repeatedly routed on the battlefield by the Vietcong.
When you are a local force, fighting in your own town for your own family and your own relatives and neighbors, you are probably going to fight with more urgency and more intensity than a nominally "local" army that's trained, supplied and advised by an occupying foreign power.
That's what happened in Vietnam. That's what's happening in Iraq. The military of the government our nation is backing in Iraq has no real reason to support our interests. It cannot fight unless our tanks and planes and artillery are behind them. And even if they might, the pull of familial and religious loyalties is far stronger than any loyalty to a government that is seen as the puppet of the Americans.
This is the trap that too many who still believe in the U.S. war effort in Iraq fall into. When all is said and done, the United States invaded Iraq under false pretenses. The war has never had legitimacy. The longer U.S. forces stay in Iraq, the more we compound the effect of all the wrongs that have been committed over the past five years.
We can't buy the loyalty of the Iraqis. And no matter how long our troops stay in Iraq, we will remain uninvited intruders.
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, retired Lt. Gen. William Odom concluded that "we face a deteriorating political situation with an overextended army."
He said the only step that "can break the paralysis now gripping U.S. strategy in the region" is to commit to a rapid and orderly withdrawal from Iraq. "Those who link instability with a U.S. withdrawal have it exactly backwards," Odom said.
Unfortunately, since this is an election year, nobody has the guts to come right out and speak the truth about the current situation in Iraq. The Republicans still cling to visions of victory, and the Democrats are too timid to refute the Bush Administration's narrative that all is well in Iraq.
All is not well. Iraq remains a broken country - one that we broke with our invasion and have never fully put back together. Unless we bring our soldiers home and honestly focus on bringing political, economic and social stability to Iraq through non-military means, our nation will end up stuck in Iraq for a very long time to come.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.