[lit-ideas] Twenty-one reasons Iraq is not working

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2006 23:35:02 -0700 (PDT)


Twenty-one reasons Iraq is not working
By Tom Engelhardt 

Recently, in one of many speeches melding his "global
war on terror" and his war in Iraq, US President
George W Bush said: "Victory in Iraq will be difficult
and it will require more sacrifice. The fighting there
can be as fierce as it was at Omaha Beach or
Guadalcanal. And victory is as important as it was in
those earlier battles. 

"Victory in Iraq will result in a democracy that is a
friend of America and an ally in the war on terror.
Victory in Iraq will be a crushing defeat for our
enemies, who have staked so much on the

battle there. Victory in Iraq will honor the sacrifice
of the brave Americans who have given their lives. And
victory in Iraq would be a powerful triumph in the
ideological struggle of the 21st century." 

More than three years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq,
Bush likes to refer to that country as the "central
front [or theater] in our fight against terrorism",
and a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), part of
which was recently leaked to the press and part then
released by the president, confirms that Iraq is now a
literal motor for the creation of terrorism. As the
document puts it, "The Iraq conflict has become the
'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep
resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world, and
cultivating supporters for the global jihadist
movement." A study by a British Ministry of Defense
think-tank seconds this point, describing Iraq as "a
recruiting sergeant for extremists across the Muslim

So what exactly does "victory" in Bush's Iraq look
like 1,288 days after the invasion of that country
began with a "shock and awe" attack on downtown
Baghdad? A surprising amount of information related to
this has appeared in the press in recent weeks, but in
purely scattershot form. Here, it's all brought
together in 21 questions (and answers) that add up to
a grim but realistic snapshot of Bush's Iraq. The
attempt to reclaim the capital, dipped in a sea of
blood in recent months - or the "battle of Baghdad",
as the US administration likes to term it - is now the
center of administration military strategy and
operations. So let's start with this question: 

How many freelance militias are there in Baghdad? The
answer is "23" according to a "senior [US] military
official" in Baghdad - so write Richard A Oppel Jr and
Hosham Hussein in the New York Times; but according to
US National Public Radio, the answer is "at least 23".
Antonio Castaneda of the Associated Press says there
are 23 "known" militias. However you figure it, that's
a staggering number of militias, mainly Shi'ite, but
some Sunni, for one large city. 

How many civilians are dying in the Iraqi capital,
because of those militias, numerous (often
government-linked) death squads, the Sunni insurgency,
and al-Qaeda in Iraq-style terrorism? More than 5,100
people in July and August, according to a recently
released United Nations report. The previous, still
staggering but significantly lower figure of 3,391
offered for those months relied on body counts only
from the city morgue. The UN report also includes
deaths at the city's overtaxed hospitals. With the
Bush administration bringing thousands of extra US and
Iraqi soldiers into the capital in August, death tolls
went down somewhat for a few weeks, but began rising
again toward month's end. August figures on civilian
wounded - 4,309 - rose 14% over July's figures and, by
late September, suicide bombings were at their highest
level since the invasion. 

How many Iraqis are being tortured in Baghdad at
present? Precise numbers are obviously in short supply
on this one, but large numbers of bodies are found in
and around the capital every single day, a result of
the roiling civil war already under way there. These
bodies, as Oppel of the Times describes them, commonly
display a variety of signs of torture, including
"gouged-out eyeballs, wounds in the head and genitals,
broken bones of legs and hands, electric and cigarette
burns ... acid-induced injuries and burns caused by
chemical substances, missing skin ... missing teeth
and wounds caused by power drills or nails". The UN's
chief anti-torture expert, Manfred Nowak, believes
that torture in Iraq is now not only "totally out of
hand" but "worse" than under dictator Saddam Hussein. 

How many Iraqi civilians are being killed countrywide?
The UN Report offers figures on this: 1,493 dead, over
and above the dead of Baghdad. However, these figures
are surely undercounts. Oppel points out, for
instance, that officials in al-Anbar province, the
heartland of the Sunni insurgency "and one of the
deadliest regions in Iraq, reported no deaths in

Meanwhile, in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad,
deaths not only seem to be on the rise, but higher
than previously estimated. The intrepid British
journalist Patrick Cockburn recently visited the
province. It's not a place, he comments
parenthetically, "to make a mistake in map-reading".
(Enter the wrong area or neighborhood and you're
dead.) Diyala, he reports, is now largely under the
control of Sunni insurgents who are "close to
establishing a 'Taliban republic' in the region". On
casualties, he writes: "Going by the accounts of
police and government officials in the province, the
death toll outside Baghdad may be far higher than
previously reported." The head of Diyala's provincial
council (who has so far escaped two assassination
attempts) told Cockburn that he believed "on average,
100 people are being killed in Diyala every week".
("Many of those who die disappear forever, thrown into
the Diyala River or buried in date-palm groves and
fruit orchards.") 

We're talking about close to 40,000 Iraqi deaths a
year. We have no way of knowing how much higher the
real figure is. 

How many American and Iraqi troops and police are now
trying to regain control of the capital and suppress
the raging violence there? About 15,000 US troops,
9,000 Iraqi army soldiers, 12,000 Iraqi national
police and 22,000 local police, according to the
commander of US forces in Baghdad, Major General James
Thurman - and yet the mayhem in that city has barely
been checked at all. 

How many Iraqi soldiers are missing from the US
campaign in Baghdad? Six Iraqi battalions or 3,000
troops, again according to Thurman, who requested
figures from the Iraqi government. These turn out to
be Shi'ite troops from other provinces who have
refused orders to be transferred from their home areas
to Baghdad. In the capital itself, US troops are
reported to be deeply dissatisfied with their Iraqi
allies. ("Some US soldiers say the Iraqis serving
alongside them are among the worst they've ever seen -
seeming more loyal to the militias than the

How many Sunni Arabs support the insurgency? About 75%
of them, according to a Pentagon survey. In 2003, when
the Pentagon first began surveying Iraqi public
opinion, only 14% of Sunnis supported the insurgency
(then just beginning) against US occupation. 

How many Iraqis want the US to withdraw its forces
from their country? Except in the Kurdish areas of
northern Iraq, strong majorities of Iraqis across the
country, Shiite and Sunni, want an immediate US
withdrawal, according to a US State Department survey
"based on 1,870 face-to-face interviews conducted from
late June to early July". In Baghdad, nearly 75% of
residents polled claimed that they would "feel safer"
after a US withdrawal, and 65% favored an immediate
withdrawal of US and other foreign forces. 

A recent Program on International Policy Attitudes
(PIPA) poll found 71% of all Iraqis favor the
withdrawal of all foreign troops on a year's
timetable. (Polling for Americans is a dangerous
business in Iraq. As one anonymous pollster put it to
the Washington Post, "If someone out there believes
the client is the US government, the persons doing the
polling could get killed.") 

How many Iraqis think the Bush administration will
withdraw at some point? According to the PIPA poll,
77% of Iraqis are convinced that the US is intent on
keeping permanent bases in their country. As if
confirming such fears, this week Jalal Talabani, the
Kurdish president of the US-backed Iraqi government
ensconced in the capital's well-fortified Green Zone,
called for Iraqis to keep two such permanent bases,
possibly in the Kurdish areas of the country. He was
roundly criticized by other politicians for this. 

How many terrorists are being killed in Iraq (and
elsewhere) in the "global war on terror"? Fewer than
are being generated by the war in Iraq, according to
the just-leaked NIE. As Karen De Young of the
Washington Post has written: "The war in Iraq has
become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent
Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of
potential terrorists around the world whose numbers
may be increasing faster than the United States and
its allies can reduce the threat, US intelligence
analysts have concluded." 

It's worth remembering, as retired Lieutenant-General
William Odom, former director of the National Security
Agency, told a group of House Democrats this week,
that al-Qaeda recruiting efforts actually declined in
2002, only spiking after the invasion of Iraq. Carl
Conetta of the Project for Defense Alternatives sums
the situation up this way: "The rate of terrorism
fatalities for the 59-month period following September
11, 2001, is 250% that of the 44.5-month period
preceding and including the 9/11 attacks." 

How many Islamic extremist websites have sprung up on
the Internet to aid such acts of terror? About 5,000,
according to the same NIE. 

How many Iraqis are estimated to have fled their homes
this year because of the low-level civil war and the
ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods? A total of 300,000,
according to journalist Patrick Cockburn. 

How much of Bush's Iraq can now be covered by Western
journalists? About 2%, according to New York Times
journalist Dexter Filkins, now back from Baghdad on a
Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. Filkins
claims that "98% of Iraq, and even most of Baghdad,
has now become 'off-limits' for Western journalists." 

There are, he says, many situations in Iraq "even too
dangerous for Iraqi reporters to report on". (Such
journalists, working for Western news outlets, "live
in constant fear of their association with the
newspaper being exposed, which could cost them their
lives". Filkins added: "Most of the Iraqis who work
for us don't even tell their families that they work
for us.") 

How many journalists and "media support workers" have
died in Iraq this year? Twenty journalists and six
media support workers. The first to die in 2006 was
Mahmoud Za'al, a 35-year-old correspondent for Baghdad
TV, covering an assault by Sunni insurgents on two
US-held buildings in Ramadi, capital of al-Anbar
province, on January 25. He was reportedly first
wounded in both legs and then, according to witnesses,
killed in a US air strike. (The US denied launching an
air strike in Ramadi that day.) 

The most recent death was Ahmed Riyadh al-Karbouli,
also of Baghdad TV, also in Ramadi, who was
assassinated by insurgents on September 18. The latest
death of a "media support worker" occurred on August
27: "A guard employed by the state-run daily newspaper
Al-Sabah was killed when an explosive-packed car
detonated in the building's garage." 

In all, 80 journalists and 28 media support workers
have died since the invasion of 2003. Compare these
figures to journalistic deaths in other US wars: World
War II (68), Korea (17), Vietnam (71). 

How many US troops are in Iraq today? About 147,000,
according to General John Abizaid, head of US Central
Command, significantly more than were in-country just
after Baghdad was taken in April 2003 when the
occupation began. Abizaid does not expect these
figures to fall before "next spring" (which is the
equivalent of "forever" in Bush administration
parlance). He does not rule out sending in even more
troops. "If it's necessary to do that because the
military situation on the ground requires that, we'll
do it." Finding those troops is another matter

How is the Pentagon keeping troop strength up in Iraq?
Four thousand troops from the 1st Brigade of the 1st
Armored Division, operating near Ramadi and nearing
the end of their year-long tour of duty, have just
been informed that they will be held in Iraq at least
six more weeks. This is not an isolated incident,
according to Robert Burns of the Associated Press.
Units are also being sent to Iraq ahead of schedule. 

US Army policy has been to give soldiers two years at
home between combat tours. This year alone, the time
between tours has shrunk from 18 to 14 months. "In the
case of the 3rd Infantry," writes Burns, "it appears
at least one brigade will get only about 12 months
because it is heading for Iraq to replace the extended
brigade of the 1st Armored." 

And this may increasingly prove the norm. According to
senior Rand Corporation analyst Lynn Davis, main
author of "Stretched Thin", a report on US Army
deployments, "soldiers in today's armored, mechanized
and Stryker brigades, which are most in demand, can
expect to be away from home for a little over 45% of
their career". 

The army has also maintained its strength through a
heavy reliance on the Army Reserves and the National
Guard, as well as on involuntary deployments of the
Individual Ready Reserve. Thom Shanker and Michael
Gordon of the New York Times recently reported that
the Pentagon was once again considering activating
substantial numbers of Reserves and the National Guard
for duty in Iraq. This is despite, as journalist Jim
Lobe has written, "previous Bush administration
pledges to limit overseas deployments for the Guard".
(Such an unpopular decision will surely not be
announced before the mid-term elections next month.) 

As of now, write Shanker and Gordon, "so many [US
troops] are deployed or only recently returned from
combat duty that only two or three combat brigades -
perhaps 7,000 to 10,000 troops - are fully ready to
respond in case of unexpected crises, according to a
senior army general". 

How many active-duty US Army troops have been deployed
in Iraq? About 400,000 troops out of an active-duty
force of 504,000 have already served one tour of duty
in Iraq, according to Peter Spiegel of the Los Angeles
Times. More than one-third of them have already been
deployed twice. 

How is Iraq affecting the army's equipment? By the
spring of 2005, the US Army had already "rotated 40%
of its equipment through Iraq and Afghanistan". Marine
Corps mid-2005 estimates were that 40% percent of its
ground equipment and 20% of its air assets were being
used to support current operations, according to
analyst Carl Conetta. In the harsh climate of Iraq,
the wear and tear on equipment have been enormous.
Conetta estimates that whenever the Iraq and
Afghanistan wars end, the postwar repair bill for army
and marine equipment will be in the range of US$25
billion to $40 billion. 

How many extra dollars does a desperately
overstretched US Army claim to need in the coming
defense budget, mainly because of wear and tear in
Iraq? A total of $25 billion above budget limits set
by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld this year;
more than $40 billion above last year's budget. The
amount the army claims it now needs simply to tread
water represents a 41% increase over its current share
of the Pentagon budget. 

As a "protest", Army Chief of Staff General Peter
Schoomaker chose not even to submit a required budget
to Rumsfeld in August. The general, according to the
Los Angeles Times' Spiegel, "has told congressional
appropriators that he will need $17.1 billion next
year for repairs, nearly double this year's
appropriation - and more than quadruple the cost two
years ago". This is vivid evidence of the literal wear
and tear the ongoing war (and civil war) in Iraq is

How is Iraqi reconstruction going? More than three
years after the invasion, the national electricity
grid can only deliver electricity to the capital, on
average, one out of every four hours (and that's
evidently on a good day). At the beginning of
September, Iraq's oil minister spoke hopefully of
raising the country's oil output to 3 million barrels
a day by year's end. That optimistic goal would just
bring oil production back to where it was more or less
at the moment the Bush administration, planning to pay
for the occupation of Iraq with that country's "sea"
of oil, invaded. 

According to a Pentagon study, "Measuring Security and
Stability in Iraq", released in August, inflation in
that country now stands at 52.5% (Damien Cave of the
New York Times suggests that it's closer to 70%, with
fuel and electricity up 270% from the previous year);
the same Pentagon study estimates that "about 25.9% of
Iraqi children examined were stunted in their physical
growth" due to chronic malnutrition, which is on the
rise across Iraq. 

How many speeches has Bush made in the past month
extolling his "war on terror" and its Iraqi "central
front"? Six, so far, not including press conferences,
comments made while greeting foreign leaders, and the
like: to the American Legion National Convention on
August 31, in a radio address to the American people
on September 2, in a speech to the Military Officers
Association on September 5, in a speech on "progress"
in the "global war on terror" before the Georgia
Public Policy Foundation on September 7, in a TV
address to the nation memorializing September 11, and
in a speech to the UN on September 19. 

* * * 

This week, the count of American war dead in Iraq
passed 2,700. The Iraqi dead are literally
uncountable. Iraq is the tragedy of our times, an
event that has brought out, and will continue to bring
out, the worst in us all. It is carnage incarnate.
Every time the US president mentions "victory" these
days, the word "loss" should come to our minds. A few
more victories like this one and the world will be an
unimaginable place. 

Back in 2004, the head of the Arab League, Amr Mussa,
warned: "The gates of hell are open in Iraq." Then it
was just an image. Remarkably enough, it has taken
barely two more years for us to arrive at those gates
on which, it is said, is inscribed the phrase,
"Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." 

Tom Engelhardt is editor of Tomdispatch and the author
of The End of Victory Culture. His novel, The Last
Days of Publishing, has recently come out in

(Copyright 2006 Tomdispatch. Used by permission.)

Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam?  Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around 
To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts:

  • » [lit-ideas] Twenty-one reasons Iraq is not working