Sometimes you read things in the paper that make you wonder. Yesterday two news stories about Iraq in the Globe and Mail newspaper made me wonder about the fate of that poor country. Now that the Democratic Party controls Congress, the withdrawal of American troops is a matter of how soon, not if; but nobody seems to know, and maybe even care, what that means for Iraqis.
The top United States commander in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, had the gall to appear before the Senate Armed Service Committee and say the situation in Iraq was improving. Only last August he had warned of the potential for a full-scale sectarian civil war as the justification for continued presence of 141,000 American troops in Iraq. Now he’s using the opposite argument in an attempt to not only prevent a schedule for troop withdrawals being decided on, but to possibly increase the number of troops in Iraq.
Refuting his claims of improvement, another story from the same day had an update on the mass kidnapping of employees from the Ministry of Education (an unknown number had been rounded up at gunpoint by men in uniform on Tuesday, loaded into vehicles and driven away) and listed the combined civilian and military casualty report for the day.
Twenty Iraqis were killed and forty-seven were wounded. Eleven of those deaths were caused by a car bomb, three by a suicide bomber driving his car bomb into a tent where a funeral was being held, two were Shiites killed by gunmen, and a police officer was killed in a drive-by shooting, as well as various other individual killings throughout the country.
Journalists continue to be singled out for special attention as two more were killed yesterday. Since 2003, 91 journalists have been killed in Iraq, many of them specifically targeted by killers as both of Wednesday’s victims appeared to be. Gunmen intercepted Fadia Mohammed al-Taie’s car. She and her driver were shot, while Luma al-Karkhi was also shot on her way to work.
Finally, the American military announced the death of four American servicemembers who had been killed in fighting on Tuesday. With the death of a soldier attached to the 1st Armoured Division and three Marines in Regimental Combat Team Seven, the number of American war dead in Iraq has now reached 2,856.
If this is a fairly typical day in Iraq, and it is beginning to seem like you can’t open a paper without reading about either a fresh grave being discovered or another suicide bomb going off, it wouldn’t appear there has been any abatement in violence whatsoever. Given the attitude of the Prime Minister towards the sentencing of Saddam Hussein, (he sounded like he was ready to lead a lynch mob himself) and the threats of retaliation from Sunni Muslims for the death sentence, it appears the divide between the factions is worsening.
But according to General Abizaid, that’s not the case. While arguing to the Senate Sub-Committee that any attempt to impose a timetable for the withdrawal of troops would impede commanders in the field in their attempts to continue the training of Iraqi troops and police, he also claimed the situation on the ground was improving.
While admitting there was still a problem, he claimed that Iraqis were starting to show confidence in their government’s abilities. He didn’t say what they had confidence in, but guaranteeing their security can’t be high on the list. When the government can’t even tell how many of their employees were kidnapped, let alone prevent them from being snatched from their place of work as happened on Tuesday, it’s hard to imagine anybody believing in their ability to guarantee safety and security.
It appears the general is trying to walk the fine line between threatening Congress with disaster and promising them success. The problem with this formula is that while there is ample proof of threats to peace and security, there is very little he can offer as proof of success. The newly elected Democratic House and Senate aren’t going to be satisfied with vague assurances about almost turning the corner and seeing a turning point.
They were elected in part because of widespread dissatisfaction with the war and the length of time that American troops have been deployed. Barely a third of the American population in a recent poll support the Administration over the war. Even President Bush is saying he’d welcome advice from anybody on how to best find a resolution to the mess.
When the future chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed from Rhode Island, (he will become chair in January when the results from the November 7th election results take effect) asked General Abizaid how much time was left before the situation is completely out of control and descends into civil war, the response was four to six months. Senator Reed’s reaction was that this should be the deadline for starting the withdrawal of troops.
He wants the President to force the Iraqis to realize the enormity of their situation and get it together to take care of themselves. He figures the only way to do that is begin the withdrawal of troops. Fellow committee member and Democrat Senator Carl Levin of Michigan summed up his party’s position by saying that Americans could no longer protect Iraqis from themselves.
As the Democrats were elected because they promised an alternative to the administration’s position, it won’t matter what arguments General Abizaid made to them or what any of the other witnesses have to say. They are going to be pushing for the implementation of troop withdrawals from Iraq as soon as possible.
It won’t matter to them, or the two thirds of the population that support that view, what happens in Iraq after the American troops leave. It doesn’t matter that the invasion of Iraq created the situation and that many of those arguing against continued involvement initially supported it. What matters now is that it ends with as few more American deaths as possible.
Unless a deal can be worked out with United Nations peacekeepers to replace American troops in key places, the chances of Iraq coming through this in one piece are minimal. We are finally seeing the results of the Bush administration’s lack of planning when it came to this war. In a country like Iraq, with sharp religious divisions, it was naïve to think all the problems would be solved by the overthrow of Hussein.
No matter how you look at it, or what you want, there will be no graceful way out of this mess for the Americans and their military. For the sake of the Iraqi people, I hope somebody thinks of something soon or the only thing left to wonder will be what was the point of it all.