by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
July 13, 2007
THE MADNESS OF IRAQ
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Is President Bush delusionalwhen it comes to the Iraq war?
In a recent speech at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., Mr. Bush called al-Qaeda "the main enemy" in Iraq, even though his own intelligence agencies have rejected that assertion.
According to the McClatchy News Service, the President referred to al-Qaida 27 times in the speech in a calculated attempt to tie the lingering outrage of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks with the ongoing "surge" of U.S. forces in Iraq.
The problem is that al-Qaeda had no presence in Iraq until the U.S. invasion in 2003. U.S. military and intelligence officials say the group calling itself "al-Qaeda in Iraq" represents only a small fraction of the threat to American soldiers and is not under the control of Osama bin Laden or his top aides. Questioned on that point at a press conference yesterday, Mr. Bush maintained that "Al Qaeda in Iraq has sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden," but acknowledged most of the original group's leaders are dead or in captivity.
The main catalyst for bloodshed in Iraq is the sectarian fighting between Sunnis and Shiites, which U.S. military and intelligence officials say is the greatest source of violence and insecurity in the country. Again, this violence did not exist until the U.S. invasion - a fact that President Bush glosses over in his speeches. Instead, the President boasts that sectarian deaths rose shraply after the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra last year and fallen dramatically sicne the surge.
President Bush pleads for patience in Iraq, but the American people have no stomach to see more of their sons and daughters sacrificed in a increasingly futile war.
One of the conditions that Congress made earlier this year for continued funding of the war was that yhr President certify on July 15 and Sept. 15 that the Iraqis were living up to the promises they made to the United States.
The Administration is in the process of completing the July 15 report to Congress. According to those who have seen the draft version, the U.S.-backed government in Iraq has not met any of its targets for political and economic reform, nor has it met any of its goals of taking more responsibility for security.
The Administration's reaction to this assessment was to downplay the report and try to come up with alternative ways of measuring progress.
Congress will be told that violence is down in Iraq, even though the first six months of 2007 have been the deadliest for U.S. troops and the civil unrest that plagues most of Iraq has not abated.
Congress will be told that it really isn't that big a deal that the Iraqi parliament can't agree on oil revenue sharing, holding provincial elections or de-Baathification of the government.
Congress will be told that the Administration was unable to foresee that the benchmarks set for the Iraqi government would not be met - just like it couldn't foresee jetliners being flown into skyscrapers or that the levees in New Orleans would fail. Besides, those benchmarks were unrealistic, anyway.
In other words, the White House is moving the goalposts yet again and is trying to spin defeat into progress. You won't hear these facts cross President Bush's lips, but this is where the situation in Iraq stands as of now.
Iraq is now considered the No. 1 terrorist training ground in the world, according to the CIA. It ranks as the world's second most unstable country, according to the 2007 Failed States Index, issued by the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine. In case you're wondering, Sudan took top honors.
There are now about 160,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, or nearly 40,000 more than May 1, 2003, when Mr. Bush proclaimed that "major combat operations" had ended. There are also another 100,000 or so "private" armed contractors (a.k.a., mercenaries) in Iraq.
Since the so-called surge began in January, more than 540 U.S. soldiers have been killed. This compares to 354 U.S. deaths between January and June 2006. Deaths by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have doubled in the first six months of this year; as of July 13, 50 U.S. servicemen have died in IED attacks in the past month.
There have been more than 80 attacks on the Green Zone, the fortified heart of Baghdad where the U.S. embassy is located, between March and June of this year. The U.S. military estimates that only 40 percent of the city is under the control of American and Iraqi security forces.
In short, despite the increase of U.S. forces in Iraq, there is more violence and more death. On average, about 100 Iraqis are killed in bombings or shootings every day. There are about 2 million refugees within Iraq, and another 2 million who have fled the country. More than half are under the age of 12. Iraq is now one of the world's most serious humanitarian catastrophes, as conditions worsen and more people are displaced by war.
Taken together, what we are seeing in Iraq is a mess that has gotten so large and so out of control that one can argue that it scarcely matters whether U.S. troops are there or not. And what we are seeing in Iraq will continue to get worse until another solution is found.
The Senate has begun debate of a $649 billion defense bill. Democrats have offered an amendment, authored by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., that would order troop withdrawals to begin in four months with the goal of completing a pullout by the spring of 2008.
Most Republicans don't support Levin's timetable, but some - including Sen. Judd Gregg, Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine - support a measure requiring the Bush Administration to adopt the policy recommendations made by the Iraq Study Group last year, which include a redeployment of troops by next spring.
Either way, an exit strategy is needed. The additional military force that the United States has poured into Iraq this year has not brought stability to that country. It is time for our soldiers to leave Iraq, and it is time for the Administration and Congress to reach out to the international community and come up with a way to negotiate a peace deal.
Staying on the current course in Iraq means continuing a war that currently has no purpose and no end date. The Bush Administration has an obligation to the citizens of both the United States and Iraq to end this war now.
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.