By Freedom Newspapers
The latest quarterly report from the Pentagon on the war in Iraq confirms the general impression most of us get from daily news reports. After a brief period following the U.S. “surge” in troop strength, when violence declined, “the aggregate level of violence in Iraq remained relatively unchanged during this reporting period.”
Unfortunately, since violence did decrease for a while, that means the trend is upward.
Specifically, attacks on civilians and Iraqi and American troops increased about 2 percent over the previous quarter, averaging 1,000 a week from January through May, the highest level since the war began. Suicide attacks almost doubled, from 26 in January to 58 in April.
The report did say even though it is on the upswing now, violence in Baghdad and in Anbar province, where the U.S. troops are concentrated, did decline somewhat from the previous quarter. But that was trumped by increasing violence in outlying provinces, suggesting that some of the insurgent fighters simply moved on to different cities when the Americans moved in.
The 230 American deaths in April and May was the highest two-month total since the war began.
Republican and administration spokespeople are downplaying the report, saying the evaluation that counts will come in September. Unfortunately, the current trend doesn’t suggest things will be much better, although that could change in a summer offensive.
Both supporters and critics of the war say that in an insurgency-style sectarian guerrilla war like Iraq, the purely military aspects of the conflict are less important than the political side. The Iraqi government was able to respond fairly promptly to a new bombing at the Askiriya or “golden dome” mosque in Samarra — the same Shia mosque whose bombing in February 2006 seems to have been the catalyst for the current round of sectarian violence — with a curfew in Baghdad and the arrest of some of the mosque guards suspected of being involved in the bombing.
But most of the benchmarks the U.S. government says the Iraqi government was supposed to meet by now have not been met.
By now U.S. officials had hoped the Iraqi government would have enacted an oil revenue-sharing law, made significant progress toward revising the new constitution and reversed the Draconian de-Baathification policy so low- to mid-level officials from the former regime can move into jobs for which it has been difficult to find qualified people. The de-Baathification reversal was supposed to convince Sunnis they would have a place in the Shia-dominated government and decrease support for insurgency.
Unfortunately, none of these benchmarks has been accomplished. The oil agreement, scheduled for March, might get done by September. A committee on the constitution was formed in October with a four-month deadline but has made virtually no progress. The de-Baathification reversal was stymied by Ahmed Chalabi, the former Pentagon protégé whose only position of influence now is as head of the de-Baathification commission.
It is remotely possible all these negative trends will turn around, but if they have not done so by September it will be time to start developing a serious withdrawal plan.
The U.S. military was magnificent during the invasion and has performed with courage and dedication. But the military was not designed to police a foreign country while its political and religious factions fight it out.
Ultimately the Iraqis must take full responsibility for their own country. Even if that means a period of even more intense bloodshed for a while, it is not a task Americans can perform for them.