Saturday, August 11, 2007

Are Things Getting Better?

I haven't commented on the spate of "good news" coming out of Iraq lately, so let's review some recent developments.

Writing in the NY Times, two liberal academics pining for jobs in the next Clinton administration say this is a war we just might win: "Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms."

The Associated Press chimes in with a similar analysis: "The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working."

The claims of military success have stanched, for now, the political bleeding, and there has been a minor uptick in support of the war as a result.

I won't waste time with O'Hanlon and Pollack, who both supported the war and were instrumental in providing intellectual cover on the left for Democratic politicians. Read some of Glenn Greenwald if you're interested in seeing these fellas dispatched.

But is security improving in Iraq? As recently as June, Reuters reported that daily attacks by guerrillas averaged 178 per day--a new high. With 80 confirmed deaths, the month of July was the least deadly for American soldiers since last November, or so the story goes. In fact, when the real tally was announced, there were 88 confirmed casualties, six more than March when the surge began.

Moreover, Iraqi civilian casualties skyrocketed: "Iraqi government figures released on Wednesday showed a sharp rise in the number of Iraqi civilians killed in July to 1,653 from 1,227 in June." Even this figure is likely low, given the penchant of the Iraqi government to undercount civilian deaths.

But all of this military "success" is meaningless if the political train rolls off the tracks. The administration has been making the case that Sunis are slowly turning against al-Qaida in the Anbar province. Even if true, that in no way implies reconciliation with the Shiite government. In fact, Sunnis are walking out of the Maliki government.

As importantly, Maliki is losing support from other Shiite and secular parties. Juan Cole writes: "The Maliki government has lost the confidence of three other political parties, the Islamic Virtue Party (15 seats in parliament), the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr (30 seats), and just on Monday, the Iraqi National List led by former appointed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. All have pulled their ministers from his government. The government of the major province of Basra, source of Iraq's petroleum exports and its major port, has collapsed. The governor, from the Islamic Virtue Party, failed a vote of no confidence by the provincial council, spearheaded by a rival Shiite faction, but he refuses to resign even though Maliki backed his removal. And if Basra collapses socially and with regard to security, it is unlikely that the Baghdad government can survive."

Even Secretary of Defense Gates calls results on the political front "disappointing."

In short, be leery of buying into a blizzard of propaganda. That's how we got into this mess in the first place.

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